Ancient Mesopotamia – How the first farms began

Early farms in ancient Mesopotamia
Early farms in ancient Mesopotamia

Nearly 12,000 years ago, our ancient human ancestors were moving in greater numbers into ancient Mesopotamia, the land currently known as Iraq. These people entered the region as hunter-gatherers, but as their populations grew and they developed better tools, they eventually began to spend less time wandering from place to place in search of food and more time in one or a few locations, generally near the animals they hunted. By around 9,000 BCE, the ancient Mesopotamian clans began organizing themselves into small settlements. Instead of spending most of their time searching for food, they increasingly started to store the food that they already had as well as learn how to produce the plants that were to be found in their immediate vicinity. This is essentially how farming began.

Since a steady supply of water is essential for farming communities to prosper, it makes sense for them to live by a river. This is a large part as to why the major early settlements and cities of the world, whether in Mesopotamia, Egypt, India and China, were within close proximity to a river. In the case of Mesopotamia, these were two rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates.

The first farming techniques were extremely primitive. Plows were made of sticks and used to dig holes in the ground for planting seeds. Eventually, these early Mesopotamian farmers developed stronger plows and domesticated and tamed wild animals to pull them. The farmers learned that they could grow grain and store it by grinding it into flour, allowing them to consume their harvest in winter months, when the temperature was not warm enough to grow new crops.

As it took several months to plant seeds, grow and harvest a particular crop, the Mesopotamian clans had to remain in one area for a long time. Thus, they began to build more permanent settlements and live in small villages with round huts. These huts were primarily made of mud, reeds, wood, twigs and leaves. As can be imagined, they were not very sturdy. Most of these huts were also cut into the ground and needed a small ladder to be entered. Inside these primitive homes was a stone fireplace used for cooking and keeping warm at night.

As early Mesopotamian societies grew in population and became increasingly complex, better building techniques developed and buildings grew taller and more sturdy. This enabled them to withstand harsh weather conditions and allowed the settlements to become even more permanent. This is what also set the framework for the first great Mesopotamian cities such as Ur, Akkad and Babylon.

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