Farming was the mainstay of the economies of the societies of the ancient world, including those of Mesopotamia and the regions that adjoined it. In fact, most modern scholars think that agriculture originated around 9000 b.c. in the Near East in the so-called Fertile Crescent, the hilly region arcing eastward from Syria across the northern rim of Mesopotamia to the Persian Gulf. The prevailing theory is that farming spread southward into the northern Mesopotamian plains during the next few millennia. By the seventh millennium (the 6000s) b.c., agriculture was well established on the alluvial plains of Su-meria, to the northwest of the Persian Gulf.
   Thereafter, and for the rest of antiquity, a majority of people in Mesopotamia participated in agriculture either directly as farmers and herders or indirectly as land surveyors and administrators, tax collectors, food merchants, slaves, and so forth. Most of the farmers lived in small huts, often clustered in small rural villages for mutual protection. Typically, the farmers walked or rode in wagons to the fields at dawn and returned to the villages at sunset. Some of the prehistoric farming villages eventually grew into cities surrounded by tall defensive walls. These became the nuclei of city-states, such as Uruk, Ur, and Nippur, each of which was surrounded by its own farmlands and small villages.
   Chief Crops and Tools The chief crop raised by Mesopotamian farmers was barley, a salt-tolerant kind of wheat that grows well in Mesopotamia's somewhat salty soil. The barley kernels were used either in a thick porridge or were ground up into flour to make a flat bread that is still popular in most parts of the Near East. Barley grains were also used to make a tasty beer popular across Mesopotamia. Other common food crops included oil-rich sesame and linseed plants, lentils, peas, beans, garlic, cucumbers, lettuce, apples, figs, date palms, and grapes. To help shade ground crops such as beans and lettuce from the hot sun, Mesopotamian farmers developed a technique known as shade-tree gardening, in which these crops grew beneath the branches of palm and other fruit trees. Another important way to combat the heat and the evaporation it caused was to dig irrigation ditches, or canals, from nearby rivers. Such artificial waterways were employed particularly in southern Mesopotamia, where rainfall was less plentiful than it was in the northern plains.
   The tools used by Mesopotamian farmers were made mainly of wood. These included a wooden plow drawn by oxen, metal-tipped axes mounted on wooden handles, and, for harvesting crops, wooden sickles with sharpened flint blades attached to them. At first a helper followed the plowman and tossed seeds into the furrows the plow had created. But sometime in the second millennium b.c. a plow with a vertical funnel attached was introduced. The farmer filled the funnel with seeds, which fell into the furrows as the oxen pulled the plow through the field, although the older method was still widely used. Such planting took place in the fall or early winter. Harvest time was generally in April or May. Through centuries of trial and error, farmers in different parts of the region learned to follow the yearly timetables for planting and harvesting that produced the most plentiful crop yields. Some of this valuable information was eventually written down. In the twentieth century, archaeologists pieced together a farmer's almanac from scattered fragments, one of which was found at Ur by noted Assyriologist Charles Leonard Woolley. The document dates to about 1700 b.c. Another famous scholar, Samuel N. Kramer, made the following translation:
   When you are about to take hold of your field (for cultivation), keep a sharp eye on the opening of the dikes, ditches, and mounds (so that) when you flood the field the water will not rise too high in it. When you have emptied it of water, watch the field's water-soaked ground that it stays virile [fertile] ground for you. Let shod oxen (that is, oxen whose hooves are protected in one way or another) trample it for you; (and) after having its weeds ripped out (by them) (and) the field made level ground, dress it evenly with narrow axes weighing (no more than) two-thirds of a pound each. [Then] let the pickax wielder eradicate [the marks left by] the ox hooves for you (and) smooth them out. . . . When you are about to plow your field, keep your eye on the man who puts in the barley seed. Let him drop the grain uniformly two fingers deep (and) use up one shekel of barley for each garush [an area equal to about 27 square yards (22 sq. m)].
   Even when the farmers followed the correct methods and schedules, their crops sometimes grew poorly or, on occasion, failed completely. Among the factors contributing to low crop yield were insect pests, including locusts; plant diseases; mice and other rodents; and, of course, drought. Pest control was limited to barrier methods: One way to keep rodents away from harvested crops was to store the crops in baked clay or stone silos.
   Domesticated Animals Farmers also bred a number of domesticated animals. In addition to the oxen used for plowing, and eventually for eating, these included donkeys, cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, ducks, and geese. Perhaps the most numerous of these creatures were sheep, valuable as a food source as well as for their wool, which was used for making clothes. Flocks of sheep were typically tended by the farmer's children, although adult shepherds were not uncommon. Herds of sheep and goats were often moved from pasture to pasture, whereas cattle and pigs were usually kept in one area year-round. Cattle, sheep, and goats were also important for their milk and for their use as sacrificial animals. In addition to individual farmers and herders, large, wealthy organizations - notably temples and royal palaces - kept herds of animals.

Ancient Mesopotamia dictioary. . 2015.

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