West Asian Environment - Ancient Mesopotamia
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West Asian Environment

Afghan Snow
Snow in Afghanistan

West Asia is a dry place, where it's always hard to get enough water and there are a lot of fights over water. The easternmost part of West Asia is Afghanistan, which is mountainous and cold in the winter. On the other side of Afghanistan is China, and for the most part the people of West Asia have not been able to fight their way into China, but have always left Afghanistan as the border between the two.

Iran
Iran

As you go further west, you get into Iran, which is flatter than Afghanistan but still mostly green. Iran is quite hilly and green in the north, but gets flatter, drier, and more like a desert in the south along the Persian Gulf.

Iraq
Iraq

Then once you get into Iraq, the weather becomes drier again and more desert-like. But there are two big rivers that run through Iraq, the Tigris and the Euphrates.

The eastern part of Syria is still the desert, but then you start to get near the Mediterranean coast and the land starts to get more fertile and green, and more hilly again, in western Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel, and Turkey. Only in the south, in Israel's Negev and Saudi Arabia, is it still desert.
But running from the hills of Turkey down through the whole desert of Syria and Iraq, on down into the Persian Gulf, are the two big rivers of the Tigris and the Euphrates. The land between these two rivers, and for a little bit on either side of them, is very green and fertile, and as it gets down toward the Persian Gulf it turns into enormous salty marshes or swamps. This land is called Mesopotamia (mess-oh-po-TAME-ee-ah), which means the land between the rivers, in Greek.

But a lot has changed here in the last 12,000 years, and much of it is because of things people did.

The first, and most important, change had nothing to do with people. It was the end of the last Ice Age, about 10,000 BC. Gradually the earth began to get warmer, and the big glaciers began to melt. The climate of West Asia got a little warmer and drier, and some places which had been forests turned into grassland, and some places which had been grassland turned into deserts. The story of the Garden of Eden may be a memory of this happening (which would have been very hard on the hunter-gatherers living in West Asia at this time, and may have led to the first experiments with farming).

Another effect of the warming was that the melting glaciers added a lot of water to the oceans all over the world, and sea level rose in the Mediterranean Sea. By around 7000 BC, this led to a big ecological change in the Black Sea, which seems to have been a freshwater lake before this time.

Damaging the West Asian environment

Bibliography and further reading about the West Asian environment:

The Ancient Euphrates (Geography of the World Series), by Charnan Simon (2004). Easy reading.

Middle East, by Ian A. Morrison (1991). Geography and culture, for young adults.

Climate Change - Environment and Civilization in the Middle East, by Arie S. Issar and Mattanyah Zohar (2004). By specialists, for specialists.

Egyptian Environment
Indian Environment
Greece Environment
African Environment
More about West Asia
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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