The region has been called the "cradle of civilization" because it is where settled farming first emerged as people started the process of clearance and modification of natural vegetation in order to grow newly domesticated plants as crops. Early human civilizations such as Sumer flourished as a result. Technological advances in the region include the development of agriculture and the use of irrigation, of writing, the wheel, and glass.
This fertile crescent is approximately a semicircle, with the open side toward the south, having the west end at the southeast corner of the Mediterranean, the center directly north of Arabia, and the east end at the north end of the Persian Gulf (see map, p. 100). It lies like an army facing south, with one wing stretching along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean and the other reaching out to the Persian Gulf, while the center has its back against the northern mountains. The end of the western wing is Palestine; Assyria makes up a large part of the center; while the end of the eastern wing is Babylonia.
This great semicircle, for lack of a name, may be called the Fertile Crescent.1 It may also be likened to the shores of a desert-bay, upon which the mountains behind look down—a bay not of water but of sandy waste, some eight hundred kilometres across, forming a northern extension of the Arabian desert and sweeping as far north as the latitude of the northeast corner of the Mediterranean. This desert-bay is a limestone plateau of some height—too high indeed to be watered by the Tigris and Euphrates, which have cut cañons obliquely across it. Nevertheless, after the meager winter rains, wide tracts of the northern desert-bay are clothed with scanty grass, and spring thus turns the region for a short time into grasslands. The history of Western Asia may be described as an age-long struggle between the mountain peoples of the north and the desert wanderers of these grasslands—a struggle which is still going on—for the possession of the Fertile Crescent, the shores of the desert-bay.
1 There is no name, either geographical or political, which includes all of this great semicircle (see map, p. 100). Hence we are obliged to coin a term and call it the Fertile Crescent.
The area has borne the brunt of the tectonic divergence between the African and Arabian plates and the converging Arabian and Eurasian plates, which has made the region a very diverse zone of high snow-covered mountains.
It is in this region where the first libraries appeared, about 4,500 years ago. The oldest known libraries are found in Nippur (in Sumer) and Ebla (in Syria), both from c. 2500 BCE.
Both the Tigris and Euphrates start in the Taurus Mountains of what is modern-day Turkey. Farmers in southern Mesopotamia had to protect their fields from flooding each year; northern Mesopotamia had just enough rain to make some farming possible. To protect against flooding, they made levees.
Since the Bronze Age, the region's natural fertility has been greatly extended by irrigation works, upon which much of its agricultural production continues to depend. The last two millennia have seen repeated cycles of decline and recovery as past works have fallen into disrepair through the replacement of states, to be replaced under their successors. Another ongoing problem has been salination—gradual concentration of salt and other minerals in soils with a long history of irrigation.
Prehistoric seedless figs were discovered at Gilgal I in the Jordan Valley, suggesting that fig trees were being planted some 11,400 years ago.Cereals were already grown in Syria as long as 9,000 years ago. Small cats (Felis silvestris) also were domesticated in this region. In addition to cereals, legumes including peas, lentils and chickpea were domesticated in this region.
Modern analyses comparing 24 craniofacial measurements reveal a predominantly cosmopolitan population within the pre-Neolithic, Neolithic and Bronze Age Fertile Crescent, supporting the view that a diverse population of peoples occupied this region during these time periods. In particular, evidence demonstrates a strong Sub-Saharan African presence within the region, especially among the Epipalaeolithic Natufians of Israel. Similar arguments do not hold true, however, for the Basques and Canary Islanders of the same time period, as the studies demonstrate those ancient peoples to be "clearly associated with modern Europeans". Additionally, no evidence from the studies demonstrates Cro-Magnon influence, contrary to former suggestions.
Consequently contemporary in-situ peoples absorbed the agricultural way of life of those early migrants who ventured out of the Fertile Crescent. This is contrary to the suggestion that the spread of agriculture disseminated out of the Fertile Crescent by way of sharing of knowledge. Instead the view now supported by a preponderance of the evidence is that it occurred by actual migration out of the region, coupled with subsequent interbreeding with indigenous local populations whom the migrants came in contact with.
Diffusion of agriculture from the Fertile Crescent after 9000 BCE
Linguistically, the Fertile Crescent was a region of great diversity. Historically, Semitic languages generally prevailed in the lowlands, whilst in the mountainous areas to the east and north a number of generally unrelated languages were found, including Elamite, Kassite, and Hurro-Urartian. The precise affiliation of these, and their date of arrival, remain topics of scholarly discussion. However, given lack of textual evidence for the earliest era of prehistory, this debate is unlikely to be resolved in the near future.
The evidence that does exist suggests that, by the third millennium BCE and into the second, several language groups already existed in the region. These included:
^Breasted, James Henry (1914). "Earliest man, the Orient, Greece, and Rome"(PDF). In Robinson, James Harvey; Breasted, James Henry; Beard, Charles A. (eds.). Outlines of European history, Vol. 1. Boston: Ginn. pp. 56–57. "The Ancient Orient" map is inserted between pages 56 and 57.
^Clay, Albert T. (1924). "The so-called Fertile Crescent and desert bay". Journal of the American Oriental Society. 44: 186–201. doi:10.2307/593554. JSTOR593554.
^Kuklick, Bruce (1996). "Essay on methods and sources". Puritans in Babylon: the ancient Near East and American intellectual life, 1880–1930. Princeton: Princeton University Press. p. 241. ISBN978-0-691-02582-7. Textbooks...The true texts brought all of these strands together, the most important being James Henry Breasted, Ancient Times: A History of the Early World (Boston, 1916), but a predecessor, George Stephen Goodspeed, A History of the Ancient World (New York, 1904), is outstanding. Goodspeed, who taught at Chicago with Breasted, antedated him in the conception of a 'crescent' of civilization.
Anderson, Clifford Norman. The Fertile Crescent: Travels In the Footsteps of Ancient Science. 2d ed., rev. Fort Lauderdale: Sylvester Press, 1972.
Deckers, Katleen. Holocene Landscapes Through Time In the Fertile Crescent. Turnhout: Brepols, 2011.
Ephʻal, Israel. The Ancient Arabs: Nomads On the Borders of the Fertile Crescent 9th–5th Centuries B.C. Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1982.
Kajzer, Małgorzata, Łukasz Miszk, and Maciej Wacławik. The Land of Fertility I: South-East Mediterranean Since the Bronze Age to the Muslim Conquest. Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2016.
Kozłowski, Stefan Karol. The Eastern Wing of the Fertile Crescent: Late Prehistory of Greater Mesopotamian Lithic Industries. Oxford: Archaeopress, 1999.