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From the royal tombs of Ur, the Standard of Ur mosaic, made of lapis lazuli and shell, shows peacetime.

A Functional and Fertile Crescent: Technological Advancements in the Cradle of Civilization

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The Fertile Crescent is the name given to the arc-shaped area of land that stretched across the Middle East from the northern end of the Gulf in the East to the Nile Valley in the West. It was here that the earliest civilizations appeared, hence its alternative name as the Cradle of Civilization. Agriculture was one of the first big changes to society, and following that several major technological advances were made to better adapt to a new way of life.

Where Was the Fertile Crescent?

The area known as the Fertile Crescent today, covers modern day Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Israel, and Egypt, as well as the southeastern part of Turkey and parts of western Iran. This was land that was relatively fertile for agriculture, thanks to several important rivers, including the Nile, the Tigris, and the Euphrates.

Map of the Fertile Crescent. (Nafsadh/CC BY SA 4.0)

Map of the Fertile Crescent. (Nafsadh/ CC BY SA 4.0 )

The term ‘Fertile Crescent’ is a fairly modern invention, and it is commonly believed to have been first coined by James Henry Breasted, an American Egyptologist from the University of Chicago, in his 1916 book, Ancient Times: A History of the Early World . The term became popular quite quickly, and has since been used to describe the geographical areas that were mentioned previously.

It was the area in which the first civilizations came into being. One of the major reasons for this was the development of agriculture. The fertility of the land, in addition to the presence of rivers that made irrigation easier, contributed to the adoption of agriculture in the region. This led to various significant changes in the lives of the people living there.

Ancient farmers. (Heritage of Japan)

Ancient farmers. ( Heritage of Japan )

To start, in the areas where agriculture developed, communities changed from being hunter-gatherers to agriculturalists. This also meant that they no longer needed to live as nomads moving from one place to another in order to obtain food, but could settle down in an area to tend to the land.

As agriculture provided a more secure food income than hunting and gathering, it also resulted in an increase in population. And in addition to planting crops, animals were also domesticated. In the Fertile Crescent, four of the five most important species of domesticated animals – cows, goats, sheep, and pigs - were available. Whilst horses were not found there at that time, they lived nearby.

Fertile Crescent Technology

This population growth led to other advances in the civilizations of the Fertile Crescent. For example, apart from providing a more stable source of food, agriculture also produced a surplus. This meant that a part of the population was now free to pursue other occupations, as there was no longer the need for everyone to produce his / her own food. This was the beginning of the division of labor, and social stratification in the Fertile Crescent. Apart from farmers, other classes in these emerging civilizations include rulers, merchants, and artisans.

‘The dawn of civilization - Egypt and Chaldaea’ (1897). (Public Domain) Apart from farmers, other classes in these emerging civilizations include rulers, merchants, and artisans.

‘The dawn of civilization - Egypt and Chaldaea’ (1897). ( Public Domain ) Apart from farmers, other classes in these emerging civilizations include rulers, merchants, and artisans.

This stratification led to further technological advances in the Fertile Crescent. As an example, the artisans, as they need not worry about obtaining food, were free to hone their craft and improve their products. This led to technological advancements in such areas as pottery making and metallurgy. Moreover, creative expression thrived hand-in-hand with these technological developments, as the objects produced by these craftsmen had practical and/or aesthetic value.

Pottery and cone mosaic pieces exhibit in the Oriental Institute Museum, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, USA. (CC0)

Pottery and cone mosaic pieces e xhibit in the Oriental Institute Museum, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, USA. ( CC0)

Another example of an important change brought about by social stratification was the development of writing, which was used for numerous purposes. For instance, in Mesopotamia, writing was used to as a means to maintain business records, such as the amount of grain that was traded. These records have been preserved on clay tablets, and thanks to them, we also know that a system of counting was developed to keep track of the amount of goods being received and given away. It is often thought that writing first served a practical purpose before being used to for more abstract purposes, for instance, to create literature.

An account of barley rations issued monthly to adults (30 or 40 pints) and children (20 pints) written in Cuneiform on clay tablet, written in year 4 of King Urukagina (circa 2350 BC). From Ngirsu, Iraq. British Museum, London. (Public Domain)

An account of barley rations issued monthly to adults (30 or 40 pints) and children (20 pints) written in Cuneiform on clay tablet, written in year 4 of King Urukagina (circa 2350 BC). From Ngirsu, Iraq. British Museum, London. ( Public Domain )

To conclude, it was in the Fertile Crescent that many important developments took place. Many of these continue to play a significant role in of our lives and societies even today, whether we realize it or not. Without them, civilization as we know it would be quite unimaginable.

Top image: From the royal tombs of Ur, the Standard of Ur mosaic, made of lapis lazuli and shell, shows peacetime. Source: CC0

By Wu Mingren

References

Adhikari, S., 2018. Top 11 inventions and discoveries of Mesopotamia. Available at: https://www.ancienthistorylists.com/mesopotamia-history/top-11-inventions-and-discoveries-of-mesopotamia/

ancientmesopotamians.com, 2017. Ancient Mesopotamins History, Timeline, Inventions and Life.
Available at: http://ancientmesopotamians.com/index.html

geography.name, 2018. Fertile Crescent. Available at: http://geography.name/fertile-crescent/

Gill, N. S., 2018. What Was the Fertile Crescent? Available at: https://www.thoughtco.com/fertile-crescent-117266

History.com Staff, 2017. Fertile Crescent. Available at: https://www.history.com/topics/fertile-crescent

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2016. Fertile Crescent. Available at: https://www.britannica.com/place/Fertile-Crescent

Comments

Yes - if we had not moved into agriculture things would be very different, and we would not be in the mess we are in now, with a planet which in all probability will soon cease to support us. - unless we put in place some pretty hefty changes - fast. .

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