The Fertile Crescent is the oldest known civilization. It is the area watered by the Euphrates and Tigris and its tributaries, roughly comprising modern Iraq, Kuwait, Arab Republic of Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Jordan.
The name does not refer to any particular civilization using that name. Over the course of several millennia, many civilizations developed, collapsed, and were replaced in this fertile region.
The history of the land and its people dates back more than to 7,000 BC.
The Fertile Crescent stands alongside Egypt, the Indus River, and China as a birthplace of permanent human culture. Unlike Egypt and China, there has not been a continuous memory of the past here; the very existence of Assyria, Babylonia, and Sumeria had become arguable. The archeological discoveries of the past 150 years have abundantly demonstrated, however, just how much the world owes these peoples even today.
The following tales reveal a great deal about the culture of the Fertile Crescent
Ever wondered where the term "honeymoon" comes from? Most of us think of it as a modern concept coiued somewhere in Europe during the Renaissance or the period preceding it. Well, this is not quite right. We can trace the beginning of "honeymoon" far back beyond the dawn of recorded time. Apparently, it accompanied the development of beer - that first alcoholic beverage known to civilization.
But where and how?
4,000 years ago in Babylon, it was an accepted practice that for a month after the wedding, the bride's father would supply his son-in-law with all the mead or beer he could drink. In ancient Babylon, the calendar was lunar-based - based on the cycle of the moon. The month following any wedding was called the "honey month" which evolved into "honeymoon". Mead is a honey beer and what better way to celebrate a honeymoon. In the Fertile Crescent the term "honey month" (shahr al-Assal) is still used.
Natural glass has existed since the beginnings of time, formed when certain types of rocks melt as a result of high-temperature phenomena such as volcanic eruptions, lightning strikes or the impact of meteorites, and then cool and solidify rapidly.
Stone-age man is believed to have used cutting tools made of obsidian (a natural glass of volcanic origin also known as hyalopsite, Iceland agate, or mountain mahogany) and tektites (naturally-formed glasses of extraterrestrial or other origin, also referred to as obsidianites).
According to the ancient-Roman historian Pliny (AD 23-79), Phoenician merchants transporting stone actually discovered glass (or rather became aware of its existence accidentally) in the region of Syria around 5000 BC. Pliny tells how the merchants, after landing, rested cooking pots on blocks of nitrate placed by their fire. With the intense heat of the fire, the blocks eventually melted and mixed with the sand of the beach to form an opaque liquid.
A Syrian-Belgian-British archaeological mission unearthed 3,800-year-old Babylonian beer-making instructions on cuneiform tablets at a dig in northern Syria.
Abdel-Massih Baghdo, director of the Hassakeh Archaeological Department, claimes that the 92 tablets were found in the 14th layer of Tell Shagher, a site just north of Hassakeh. He said the tablets showed beer-making methods and tallied quantities of beer produced and distributed in the region."
Hassakeh, 400 miles northeast of Damascus, is known these days for its wheat production. Recent archaeological discoveries have pushed back the dates for early beer production.
Archaeologists from the University of Chicago have also found the remains of a 5,500-year-old Syrian city featuring massive defensive walls, a commercial-scale bakery and the world's oldest known brewery. "They were almost certainly a beer-drinking people," said Professor McGuire Gibson of the UC's Oriental Institute.
While excavating an ancient Syrian city last September, archaeologists unearthed a 4,300-year-old clay figurine that stands as the oldest known sculpture of a domesticated horse, according to the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute.
The discovery suggests that horses played a more important role in the rise of early civilizations than researchers have often assumed, contends Thomas Holland, an Oriental archaeologist. He directed the team that found the skillfully crafted figurine at Tell Es-Sweyhat, about 200 miles northeast of Damascus. Other evidence points to the domestication of horses in central Asia at least 6,000 years ago.
The meaning of the horse sculpture to its makers and the predominant function of horses in their culture remain unclear, asserts anthropologist Juris Zarins of Southwest Missouri State University in Springfield. Zarins did not participate in the dig, but he has examined the equine find.
"This is without a doubt the best early example of a domesticated horse sculpture," Zarins maintains.
On the slope of a desert plateau in Syria, excavations have uncovered what seems to qualify as an archaeological smoking gun confirming the manufacture and use of spear points by Neandertals. The evidence for this controversial proposition consists of an inch-long piece of a sharpened, triangular, stone point embedded in a neck bone of a wild ass, an extinct ancestor of donkeys. When intact, the point had extended an estimated 2 1/2 inches and was attached to a shaft or a handle, according to a scientific team led by Eric Boeda of the University of Paris. As a Neandertal thrust the spear into the ancient creature's neck, both the point's tip and its base broke off, the researchers assert.
Initial measurements of radioactive decay in soil at the Syrian site yield an estimated age of more than 50,000 years for the new find. Stone points, ranging in size from less than 1 inch to several inches long, have turned up at many Neandertal sites located in Europe and the ME. Some archaeologists believe that Neandertals may have used the stone points for cutting carcasses abandoned by predators.
Two stone implements dating to at least 36,000 years ago bear traces of a sticky black substance once used to attach them to a handle, according to a new report.
The discovery of the gluelike material, identified in chemical analyses as bitumen, pushes back substantially estimates of when adhesives were first used in tool making. Until now, the earliest evidence of this technique appeared at Middle Eastern sites no more than about 10,000 years old. "These new data suggest that [Stone Age] people had greater technical ability than previously thought.
The artifacts, which run from 2 inches to 3.5 inches in length, come from a site in the Syrian desert known as Umm el Tlel. Each was struck from a specially prepared lump of stone, a technique that became widespread between 35,000 and 100,000 years ago in North Africa and nearby Mediterranean regions.
Bitumen traces appear at convenient spots for attaching a handle to the sharp-edged stones. Chemical features of the bitumen indicate that it was heated and applied to the implements as a glue.
Tales from Fertile Crescent History