The Origin Point of Civilization
What do we really mean when we utter the word ‘civilized society’? We often use this term about a past, evolved human society, which has heavily influenced to the way we live. But, what exactly have these ancient ‘civilized societies’ offered us? Well, they brought us a changeover, which made us the controllers of our natural environment (many might call it ‘beginning of the end’) rather than the other way. We, the humans roamed the earth as hunter-gatherers, depending upon wild resources for their nutritional requirements, were taught to exert a control over the food resources – the process we call as ‘agriculture.’ Where did this first center of agriculture developed? Many might think China or Egypt or even Indus valley, but the cradle of civilization 10,000 years ago, extending from the Nile Valley to the East Coast of Mediterranean Sea and up to the Persian Gulf. The high biodiversity region was called as “Fertile Crescent” (on a map it looks like a giant arc). Today countries like Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Syria, and Southwest Turkey encompass the ‘Fertile Crescent’ region.
The Neolithic Revolution was said to have began in 10,000 B.C.—the age when Stone Age Nomads decided to settle down as a community. However, the changes in the ‘Fertile Crescent’ is said to have come around the 8,500 B.C. In that era, the cultivation of plants and animal husbandry resulted in stabilization of food supply. Simultaneously, the population grew rapidly, making the members of community to devote them for food procurement, which in turn lead to stratified societies and elaborate civilizations. A social class formed, giving way to craftsmen, leaders and warriors. Pottery was invented, which allowed efficient storage of food and was also considered as the precursor of Metallurgy. Writing and eventually urbanization was developed. This may not be the exact chronological order, but these were the important developments that pushed us to form a civilized society. The Neolithic Revolution is vividly and excellently described in the book ‘Guns, Germs and Steel’, written by Jared Diamond.
The geographical area of ‘Fertile Crescent’ includes the foothills of the mountain ranges of the Near East, stretching from Asia Minor – contains the Taurus mountains — and Palestine to western Iran – the Zagros mountains. Despite the scarcity of water and cultivable land, these areas became one of the major food-producing regions of the old world. The change in climatic conditions around 9,000 B.C. brought steady improvements in the Fertile Crescent, encouraging the growth and spread of wild plants and animals. The scattered tress within the lush green lands became the native habitat of the early wild forms of wheat and barley (still grows even today). Within the adjacent century, the wild cereals were domesticated and cultivated along with major food plants including vegetables, fiber crops, spices, fruit and nut trees. To sustain this farm scene, the animals like dog, sheep, pig, cow and goats were all domesticated.
Later, when agriculture developed subsequently in other regions of the world — including Mesoamerica, Yangtze region of Southeast Asia (rice was first cultivated) and highlands of South America (potato and peanut were cultivated) – slowly, the dry land farmers of Fertile Crescent region took a major step by minimizing their dependence on rainfall. They gradually shifted from dry lands to the plains watered by Tigris and Euphrates. This paved way to Irrigated Farming systems, which resulted in high and stable crop yields. The sustainability of these high yields were maintained by proper management, irrigation scheduling and drainage systems. The Mediterranean region – its climate and landscapes – also remained as an ideal place for early cultivations. Among the 56 world species of large seeded grass, 32 are found wild in the Mediterranean area. Many of the plants that are domesticated in these regions form the economic basis for the world population today.
The political climate and the governments or kingdoms’ interest in agricultural innovation remained highly influential throughout most of the agricultural history in Fertile Crescent. The region had/has some of the highest population growth rates in the world and eventually the enhancing agricultural biodiversity also tended to negatively impact on the genetic biodiversity of the region. During the medieval Islamic period, the evolution of agricultural systems was facilitated by favorable land tenure and taxation systems. However, the region’s migrating population – for commercial and political purposes – contributed to the migration and diffusion of crop species. Oil made this region as the politically hottest area in the world. The perpetual battles and invasions are slowly taking away the fertility in ‘Fertile Crescent’, entirely changing its giant arc structure.