The domestication of animals and plants

Around 12,000 years ago the most recent ice age was drawing to a close (see the section "Ice ages of the past—and future?" on pages 61-69). The global climate was growing warmer and the great ice sheets and mountain glaciers were retreating. In the Zagros Mountains, where modern Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey meet, people had lived until then in caves and hunted wild game, mainly sheep and goats. At about that time sheep became the more important source of their food and there is archaeological evidence that they were starting to keep flocks of them; sheep were being domesticated. The map on page 47 shows the location of the

The domestication of animals and plants

Zagros Mountains and the Taurus and Anti-Taurus Mountains of Turkey. Shading indicates the mountains and the map shows the position of some modern cities.

As the climate continued to grow warmer and the glaciers in the Zagros Mountains retreated to higher elevations, plant life advanced to higher levels. The newcomers included grasses that produce edible seeds—the ancestors of modern wheat and barley. People moved out of their caves and took to living in permanent dwellings in the foothills.

To the west and south of the mountains, on the plain lying between the rivers Tigris to the north and Euphrates in the south in modern Iraq, people began cultivating wheat and barley, and as well as sheep they tended goats and pigs and kept dogs. Agriculture had commenced. This region is approximately crescent-shaped and it is sometimes called the Fertile Crescent. It is also known by its Greek name, Mesopotamia, from mesos, meaning "middle," and potamos, meaning "river"—the land "between the rivers."

Temperature and rainfall continued to rise gradually, and between about 5000 b.c.e. and 3000 b.c.e. the climate in Europe was up to 3.6°F (2°C) warmer than it is now. Cultivation spread to the Nile valley and to the Indus valley in northwestern India. Then the global temperature fell and climates became drier in Arabia, Afghanistan, Egypt, and central Asia. There was less pasture for game and fewer plants to gather for food. Farming is hard work, but it guaranteed the food supply in the great river valleys where there was still enough water flowing down from the mountains The Zagros and Taurus to sustain the crops and livestock. People moved into the valleys and had Mountains and to be accommodated. Cities were built and some scientists have suggested the Fertile Crescent

that these desert refugees became the slaves on whom the great civilizations depended for labor.

Whether or not that is what happened, there seems little doubt that the first great cities were built at a time when the climate was becoming cooler and drier. Depressions that move generally from west to east and bring rain to middle latitudes shifted to a more northerly track. This was a climatic change, and in responding to it the Mesopotamians and Egyptians built the cities and invented the urban way of life that are the foundations of modern western civilization.

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