What Is the Fertile Crescent?

American archaeologist James Henry Breasted coined the term “Fertile Crescent” in a 1914 high school textbook to describe this archaeologically significant region of the Middle East that contains parts of present day Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Israel, Syria, Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Cyprus.

On a map, it appears as a crescent or a quarter moon.In the south it extends to the Nile River on Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, while in the north it extends to the southern fringe of Turkey.The Fertile Crescent is bordered on the west by the Mediterranean Sea and on the east by the Persian Gulf.Through the Fertile Crescent flow the rivers Tigris and Euphrates.

In the past, the region was unusually fertile and had freshwater and brackish wetlands.A large variety of wild edible plants grew here.Around 10,000 B.C., humans began cultivating grains and cereals.B.C. B.C., when they moved from hunter-gatherer societies to permanent farming communities.

Ancient Mesopotamia

Mesopotamia is an ancient, historical region that lies between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in modern-day Iraq and parts of Kuwait, Syria, Turkey and Iran. Part of the Fertile Crescent, Mesopotamia was home to the earliest known human civilizations. Scholars believe the Agricultural Revolution started here.

The earliest occupants of Mesopotamia lived in circular dwellings made of mud and brick along the upper reaches of the Tigris and Euphrates river valleys. They began to practice agriculture by domesticating sheep and pigs around 11,000 to 9,000 B.C. Domesticated plants, including flax, wheat, barley and lentils, first appeared around 9,500 B.C.

In modern Syria, Tell Abu Hureyra, a small village along the Euphrates River, is one of the earliest archaeological sites to show signs of farming.It was inhabited from about 11,500 BCE to 7,000 BCE.Early residents hunted gazelles and other animals and harvested wild grains around 9,700 BCE.Stone tools for grinding grain have been uncovered at the site.

Ancient Nineveh (near present-day Mosul in Iraq) may have been settled as early as 6,000 B.C.In the lower Tigris-Euphrates valley, the Sumer civilization emerged around 5,000 B.C.

In addition to farming and cities, ancient Mesopotamian societies developed irrigation and aqueducts, temples, pottery, early systems of banking and credit, property ownership and the first codes of law.


The origins of Sumer civilization are debated, but archaeologists suggest Sumerians had established roughly a dozen city-states by the fourth millennium B.C., including Eridu and Uruk in what is now southern Iraq.