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The Fertile Crescent at maximum defined extent, with the names of ancient civilizations found there.
The Fertile Crescent is a crescent-shaped region containing the comparatively moist and fertile land of otherwise arid and semi-arid Western Asia, and the Nile Valley and Nile Delta of northeast Africa. The term was first used by University of Chicago archaeologist James Henry Breasted. Having originated in the study of ancient history, the concept soon developed and today retains meanings in international geopolitics and diplomatic relations.
In current usage the Fertile Crescent has a minimum extent and a maximum extent. All definitions include Mesopotamia, the land in and around the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The major nation in this region is Iraq, with small portions of Iran near the Persian Gulf, Kuwait to the south and Turkey in the north. More typically the Fertile Crescent includes also the Levantine coast of the Mediterranean Sea, with Syria, Jordan, Israel, Lebanon and the State of Palestine. Water sources include the Jordan River.
At maximum extent, the Fertile Crescent also may include Egypt and the Nile Valley and Delta within it. The inner boundary is delimited by the dry climate of the Syrian Desert to the south. Around the outer boundary are the arid and semi-arid lands of the Caucasus to the North, the Anatolian highlands to the west, and the Sahara Desert to the west.
The region is often called the cradle of civilization; it saw the development of many of the earliest human civilizations. Some of its technological inventions (but not necessarily first or uniquely) are writing, glass, and the wheel. The earliest known western civilizations manifestly arose and flourished using the water supplies and agricultural resources available in the Fertile Crescent. They were not necessarily the first or the only source of civilization, as Breasted believed. Moreover, plants and animals were not domesticated there but in the surrounding nuclear area, where the original plant species still grow wild.
Genetics and language
The modern-day North Caucasians (the Chechens, the Ingush, the Batsbi, and the people of Dagestan) have direct linguistic links to the Fertile Crescent.
Linguistically, most languages in the region and in the Fertile Crescent itself are relatively recent arrivals. Now, however, linguist Johanna Nichols of the University of California, Berkeley, has used language to connect modern people of the Caucasus region to the ancient farmers of the Fertile Crescent. She analyzed the Nakh–Dagestanian linguistic family, which today includes Chechen, Ingush, and Batsbi on the Nakh side; and some 24 languages on the Dagestani side ... Thus location, time, and vocabulary all suggest that the farmers of the region were proto-Nakh–Dagestanians. "The Nakh–Dagestanian languages are the closest thing we have to a direct continuation of the cultural and linguistic community that gave rise to Western civilization," Nichols says.
The Ingush have the highest (89%) frequency of J2 gene, and the Chechens have 57% respectively. J2 is closely associated with the Fertile Crescent.
The term "Fertile Crescent" was first used by University of Chicago archaeologist James Henry Breasted in his Ancient Records of Egypt, published in 1906. The region was so named because of its rich soil and crescent shape.
The modern-day countries with significant territory within the Fertile Crescent are Iraq, Kuwait, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and the State of Palestine, besides the southeastern fringe of Turkey and the western fringe of Iran.
Various different languages were spoken in the Levant. The precise affiliation of some, 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.
The evidence which does exist suggests that already by the third millennium BC, and into the second, several language groups existed. These included:
Sumerian - a non-Semitic language which displays a Sprachbund-type relationship with neighbouring Akkadian
Semitic languages - notably Akkadian.
Hurrian - a language isolate, later attested in the Urartian Empire. Some scholars postulate a link to Northeastern Caucasian languages.
Hattic - another language isolate, spoken originally in central Anatolia. Some scholars also postulate a link to Northeastern Caucasian languages
Indo-European languages - generally believed to be later intrusive languages, such as Hittite and the Indo-Aryan attested in the Mittani civilization.
As crucial as rivers and marshlands were to the rise of civilization in the Fertile Crescent, they were not the only factor in the area's precocity. The area is important as the "bridge" between Africa and Eurasia. This "bridging role" has allowed the Fertile Crescent to retain a greater amount of biodiversity than either Europe or North Africa, where climate changes during the Ice Age led to repeated extinction events when ecosystems became squeezed against the waters of the Mediterranean Sea. Coupled with the Saharan pump theory, this Middle Eastern land-bridge is of extreme importance to the modern distribution of Old World flora and fauna, including the spread of humanity.
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, fertile broad alluvial basins and desert plateau, which has also increased its biodiversity further and enabled the survival into historic times of species not found elsewhere.
The Fertile Crescent had many diverse climate, and major climatic changes encouraged the evolution of many "r" type annual plants, which produce more edible seeds than "K" type perennial plants. The region's dramatic variety of elevation gave rise to many species of edible plants for early experiments in cultivation. Most importantly, the Fertile Crescent was home to the eight Neolithic founder crops important in early agriculture (i.e. wild progenitors to emmer wheat, einkorn, barley, flax, chick pea, pea, lentil, bitter vetch), and four of the five most important species of domesticated animals—cows, goats, sheep, and pigs—and the fifth species, the horse, lived nearby.
The Fertile Crescent has an impressive record of past human activity. As well as possessing many sites with the skeletal and cultural remains of both pre-modern and early modern humans (e.g. at Kebara Cave in Israel), later Pleistocene hunter-gatherers and Epipalaeolithic semi-sedentary hunter-gatherers (the Natufians), this area is most famous for its sites related to the origins of agriculture. The western zone around the Jordan and upper Euphrates rivers gave rise to the first known Neolithic farming settlements (referred to as Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA)), which date to around 9,000 BC (and includes sites such as Jericho).
This region, alongside Mesopotamia (which lies to the east of the Fertile Crescent, between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates), also saw the emergence of early complex societies during the succeeding Bronze Age. There is also early evidence from the region for writing and the formation of statelevel societies. This has earned the region the nickname "The Cradle of Civilization."
Both the Tigris and Euphrates start in the Taurus Mountains of what is today Turkey. Farmers in southern Mesopotamia had to protect their fields from flooding each year, except northern Mesopotamia which 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.
In the current era, river waters remain a potential source of friction in the region. The Jordan River lies on the borders of Israel, the Kingdom of Jordan and areas administered by the Palestinian Authority. Turkey and Syria each control about a quarter of the river Euphrates, on whose lower reaches Iraq is heavily dependent. In Syrian nationalism, the region is held to be a natural nation and is referred to as the Syrian Fertile Crescent.
Our Syria has distinct natural boundaries and extends from the Taurus range in the northwest and the Zagros mountains in the northeast to the Suez canal and the Red sea in the south and includes the Sinai peninsula and the gulf of Aqaba, and from the Syrian sea in the west, including the island of Cyprus, to the arch of the Arabian desert and the Persian gulf in the east. This region is also known as the Syrian Fertile Crescent
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