The Fertile Crescent Cradle of Civilization

In his brilliant and informative book , Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fate of Human Societies , (Norton, 1999), Jared Diamond traced the remarkable scope of the role played by the dwellers of the Fertile Crescent , the Sumerians, in the history of civilization.

* Part of Southwest Asia area known as the Fertile Crescent (because of the crescent-like shape of its uplands) appears to have been the earliest site for a whole string of developments including cities, writing, empires, and what we term civilization (p 135).

* The Fertile Crescent was perhaps the earliest center of food production in the world, and the site of origin of several of the modern world's major crops and almost all its major domesticated animals (p 134).

* Most food production depended initially on Fertile Crescent domesticates. Their spread was soon followed by that of other innovations originating in or near the Fertile Crescent, including the wheel writing, metalworking techniques, milking, fruit trees, and beer and wine production…The Sphinx and the pyramids were built by people fed on crops originally native to the Fertile Crescent, not to Egypt (p 182).

* By the time of Christ cereals of Fertile Crescent origins were growing over the 8 000- mile expanse from the Atlantic coast of Ireland to the Pacific coast of Japan (p 185).

* Pottery appeared in the Fertile Crescent (and China ) by around 10 000 years ago (p 254).

* Chiefdoms arose by around 5500 B.C. in the Fertile Crescent and by around 1000 B.C. in Mesoamerica and the Andes (p 273).

*Tribal organizations began to emerge around 13 000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent and later in some other areas (p 271).

*States arose around 3700 B.C. in Mesopotamia and around 300 B.C. in Mesoamerica, over 2000 years ago in the Andes (p 278).

* With the possible exceptions of the Egyptian, Chinese, and Easter Island writing, all other writing systems devised anywhere in the world, at anytime, appear to have been descendants of systems modified from or at least inspired by Sumerians or early Mesoamerican writing (p 224).

* The two indisputably independent inventions of writing were achieved by the Sumerians of Mesopotamia somewhat before 3000 B.C. and by Mexican Indians before 600 B.C….The independent invention that we can trace in greatest detail is history's oldest writing system, Sumerian cuneiform. For thousands of years before it jelled , people in some farming villages of the Fertile Crescent had been using clay tokens of various simple shapes for accounting purposes (p 218).


Following are four tables redrawn here from the book:

Historical Trajectories Of Eurasia and the Americas
Approximate Date of Adoption Eurasia Native America
Fertile Crescent China England Andes Amazonia Mesoamerica Eastern U.S.
Plant Domestication 8500 B.C. by 7500 B.C. 3500 B.C. by 3000 B.C. 3000 B.C. by 3000 B.C. 2500 B.C.
Animal Domestication     8000 B.C. by 7500 B.C. 3500 B.C. 3500 B.C. ? 500 B.C. -
Pottery      7000 B.C. by 7500 B.C. 3500 B.C. 3100-1800 B.C. 6000 B.C. 1500 B.C. 2500 B.C.
Villages     9000 B.C. by 7500 B.C. 3000 B.C. 3100-1800 B.C. 6000 B.C. 1500 B.C. 500 B.C.
Chiefdoms     5500 B.C. 4000 B.C. 2500 B.C. by 1500 B.C. A.D. 1 1500 B.C. 200 B.C.
Widespread metal tools or artifacts (copper and/or bronze) 4000 B.C. 2000 B.C. 2500 B.C. A.D. 1000 - - -
States     3700 B.C. 2000 B.C. 500 A.D. A.D. 1 - 300 B.C. -
Writing     3200 B.C. by 1300 B.C. A.D. 43 - - 600 B.C. -
Widespread iron tools     900 B.C. 500 B.C. 650 B.C. - - - -
Source: Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond, pp 362-363, Norton, 1999. Redrawn by Nadine Boutros
Early Major Crop Types Around the Acient World            
Area Crop Type
  Cereals, Other Grasses Pulses Fiber Roots, Tubers Melons
Fertile Crescent emmer wheat, einkorn wheat, barley pea, lentil,                    chickpea flax - muskmelon
China foxtail millet, broomcorn millet, rice soybean, adzuki bean, mung bean hemp - [muskmelon]
Mesoamerica corn common bean, tepary bean, scarlett runner bean cotton (G. hirsutum), yucca, agave jicama squashes           (G. pepo, etc.)
Andes, Amazonia quinoa, [corn] lima bean, common bean, peanut cotton (G. barbadense) manioc, sweet potato, potato, oca squashes (G. maxima, etc.)
West Africa and Sahel sorghum, pearl millet, African rice cowpea, groundnut cotton (G. herbaceum) African yams watermelon,     bottle gourd
India [wheat, barley, rice,      sorghum, millets] hyacinth bean, black gream, green gram cotton (G. arboreum), flax - cucumber
Ethiopia teff, finger millet,               [wheat, barley] [pea, lentil] [flax] - -
Eastern United States maygrass, little barley, knotweed, goosefoot - - Jerusalem artichoke squashes           (G. pepo)
New Guinea sugar cane - - yams, taro -
Source:Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond, pp 126-127, Norton, 1999. Redrawn by Nadine Boutros
Approximate Dates of First Attested Evidence for Domestication of Large Mamal Species  
Species Date (B. C.) Place
Dog 10 000 Southwest Asia (the Fertile Crescent) , China, North America
Sheep 8 000 Southwest Asia
Goat 8 000 Southwest Asia
Pig 8 000 China, Southwest Asia
Cow 6 000 Southwest Asia, India, (?) North Africa
Horse 4 000 Ukraine
Donkey 4 000 Egypt
Water Buffalo 4 000 China?
Llama/alpaca 3 500 Andes
Bacterian camel 2 500 Central Asia
Arabian camel 2 500 Arabia
Source: Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond, p 167, Norton, 1999. Redrawn by Nadine Boutros
Species Domesticated in Each Area
Area Domesticated Earliest Attested Date of Domestication
Region   Plants Animals
Independent Origins of Domestication
1. Southwest Asia wheat, pea, olive Sheep, goat 8500 B.C.
(Fertile Crescent)          
2. China rice, millet pig, silkworm by 7500 B.C.
3. Mesoamerica corn, beans, squash turkey by 3500 B.C.
4. Andes and Amazonia potato, manioc llama, guinea pig by 3500 B.C.
5. Eastern United States sunflower, goosefoot none 2500 B.C.
?  6. Sahel sorghum, African rice guinea fowl by 5000 B.C.
?  7. Tropical West Africa           African yams,oil palm none by 3000 B.C.
?  8. Ethiopia coffee, teff none ?
?  9. New Guinea sugar cane, banana none 7000 B.C.?
Local Domestication Following Arrival of Founder Crops from Elsewhere
10. Western Europe poppy, oat none 6000-3500 B.C.
11. Indus Valley sesame, eggplant humped cattle 7000 B.C.
12. Egypt sycamore fig, chufa donkey, cat 6000 B.C.
Source: Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond, p 100, Norton, 1999. Redrawn by Nadine Boutros