Geography of Mesopotamia

Mesopotamia refers to the land between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, both of which flow down from the Taurus Mountains. The climate of the region is semi-arid with a vast desert in the north which gives way to a 5,800 sq mile region of marshes, lagoons, mud flats, and reed banks in the south. In the extreme south, the Euphrates and the Tigris unite and empty into the Persian Gulf..

In ancient times, the annual flooding of the rivers was unpredictable and could destroy crops or lead to a drought that would dry them all out. By 6,000 BCE, irrigation canals brought water from rivers to fields where workers unclogged canals and built dams to hold back flood water.

This irrigation is aided by melting snow from the high peaks of the northern Zagros Mountains and from the Armenian Highlands. The usefulness of irrigation depends upon the ability to mobilize sufficient labor for the construction and maintenance of canals, and this, from the earliest period, has assisted the development of urban settlements and centralized systems of political authority.

The arid climate means that there are not large areas of wooded forests or jungle. This means wooded structures could not be built. In place of wood, buildings were made of clay and rock. Long-distance trade from outlying areas has also helped to provide resources that were not available.

Agriculture throughout the region has been supplemented by nomadic pastoralism, where tent-dwelling nomads herded sheep and goats from the river pastures in the dry summer months, out into seasonal grazing lands on the desert fringe in the wet winter season.. In the marshlands to the south of the area, a complex water-borne fishing culture has existed since prehistoric times, and has added to the cultural mix.

Mesopotamia has also been called the Fertile Crescent and the "cradle of civilization" because it is where settled farming first emerged as people started the process of clearance and modification of natural vegetation in order to grow newly domesticated plants as crops. Early human civilizations such as Sumer in Mesopotamia flourished as a result. Technological advances in the region include the development of agriculture and the use of irrigation, of writing, the wheel, and glass, most emerging first in Mesopotamia.