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What is the oldest civilization in the world? - Answers

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What is the oldest civilization in the world?

Map of Mesopotamia the Oldest Civilization in the World

The world’s oldest civilization is the ancient Mesopotamian civilization. Mesopotamia dates back to around the 4th millennium BCE, though its beginnings go back even further, to around 4500 BCE. While there have been plenty of older settlements discovered all around the world, Mesopotamia is the oldest of what is truly considered a civilization. In fact, some of the oldest settlements have been found in Mesopotamia itself.

So how does one determine what is a settlement and what constitutes a civilization? Most of human history in the pre-historic age is a story of nomads and tribes. They would go from place to place, stay as long as the conditions suited them, and leave when they felt it was getting difficult. It was only when societies began to organize themselves around a particular area and learned to master the land and utilize it to their collective benefit, that civilized society took shape.

The term Mesopotamia comes from the Greek for ‘between two rivers’ and historically referred to the land between the Tigris and the Euphrates. This corresponds to most of the present-day Iraq, and parts of Syria and Turkey. While we use the term Mesopotamian civilization as a blanket term, several successive civilizations sprang up in that area, all of which can lay claim to being part of Mesopotamian civilization. Some of the prominent civilizations that developed in the region were; the Sumerians, the Akkadians, the Assyrians, and famously, the Babylonians.

Three significant developments around the 4th millennium BCE led to the growth of Mesopotamia as a civilization. The first was the development of the concept of a city; Uruk is considered to be the first city ever, and its organized living laid the foundations for civilization.

Secondly, the early Mesopotamians had begun to master agriculture. This allowed the business of providing food to be taken care of by some, leaving others free to pursue other things, like defense, exploration, research, etc. Significant in the development of agriculture was the development of irrigation techniques as well, many of which are applied in parts of the world even today.

Thirdly, Mesopotamia was the place where writing developed and flourished. The original writing system used by the Mesopotamians was called cuneiform, which was basically writing on clay using a blunt reed.

The impact of Mesopotamian civilization is felt strongly even today. Several historical concepts of equal rights for citizens owe their origin to the Mesopotamians. Even our practice of dividing an hour into 60 minutes and a minute into 60 seconds comes from here.

These factors have led to the area of Mesopotamia being called the ‘cradle of civilization’ and the area in and around it is known as the ‘fertile crescent,’ as a reference to the advanced farming techniques developed on the fertile soil there.

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