The Cradle of Civilization is the location where early humans gave up their nomadic, hunter-gatherer lifestyles to settle down and develop civilization for the first time. It was the beginning of agriculture, animal domestication, language, science, and social classes — the precursor to society as we know it today. The area known as the Fertile Crescent is where the earliest civilizations grew and is thus known as the Cradle of Civilization.

Where is the Fertile Crescent?

Riyadh skyline at night, the capital of Saudi Arabia
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The Fertile Crescent is a boomerang-shaped area in the Middle East that spans from the Nile to the Persian Gulf. The soil in this region was indeed very fertile, and abundant fresh water was available from the many rivers. It was a haven for edible wild plants. When early people came to the area, they began to experiment with growing and domesticating the plants, which became the earliest form of agriculture. Soon, they realized that they could support entire societies without having to move around to hunt wild animals and gather fruits and vegetables.

Early Civilization

Aerial view of the coast of Turkey
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With the availability of food in the region, the typically small nomadic tribes could now support a larger population. People started banding together to form communities. Mesopotamia is frequently regarded as the earliest civilization. People were building permanent structures and domesticating animals as early as 11,500 BCE.

The name "Mesopotamia" is based on a Greek word meaning “between two rivers.” It was located in parts of modern-day Iran, Syria, and Turkey between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Mesopotamians are credited with many important inventions that we still use today:

  • Irrigation
  • Written language (called Cuneiform)
  • Mathematics
  • Time (they divided units into 60 parts and created the seconds and minutes that are still used today)
  • Sailboats
  • The wheel
  • Schools

They were also the first to create urban societies. Cities like Eridu, Babylon, and Ur were built all over ancient Mesopotamia and included walls and planned, permanent housing. The division of labor was no longer just between people in a household but spread throughout the society. People held jobs and opened businesses for the first time in history.

Other Civilizations

Aerial view of the pyramids of Giza
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While the Mesopotamians are considered the earliest civilization, they weren’t the only ones starting to put down permanent roots in the Cradle of Civilization. To the west, the Egyptians were starting to practice agriculture on the banks of the Nile River before 6000 BCE. Like the Mesopotamians, they also developed a unique system of writing, used mathematics and, as you know, built immense cities and structures. The pyramids, built around 2500 BCE, are still considered an architectural marvel even by today’s standards.

The Cradle of Civilization Today

Aerial view of the Nile in Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda
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A land so plentiful and perfect for civilization should still be thriving today, right? Unfortunately, the area of the Fertile Crescent isn’t as fertile today as it was thousands of years ago. In order to keep up with growing populations, many of the rivers have been dammed to provide water for the cities.

Now, much of the land that spawned the invention of agriculture is no longer suitable to grow crops. The land is dry and cracked. Many farmers had to leave the area because they couldn’t produce their grains and vegetables. While there have been several attempts to replenish the land by removing dams and fostering new environmental programs, much of the region is still embroiled in political turmoil, which effectively stops any progress from being made. By some accounts, the Fertile Crescent will totally disappear by the end of this century due to dams, construction projects, and climate change.