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Old May 19th, 2014, 04:12 AM   #21

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Wasn't there a theory that the ancient civilisations of the Near East suffered a very similar problem? They had emerged in an environment that was ecologically fragile, but the land was also fertile and the climate good for farming. These people learned to exploit the land and their settlements spread along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, the ancient 'fertile crescent', down along the levantine coast of Syria, Lebanon and Palestine.

The problem was overgrazing and human population growth led to excessive pressure on the land. Territory was deforested, leaving the semi-arid lands vulnerable to desertification. Grazing animals out of control turned fertile land into a desert. The farming land itself was exhausted from over-use and the soil became depleted. Looking at some of the areas where ancient cities such as Ur lay today, they are in empty sand dunes. There is no vegetation whatsoever. Yet in ancient times, they were fertile lands. As the process gradually reduced the area of cultivable land over the centuries, so the power of the Near East gradually declined.

What's not clear to me though is the exact time period of these changes, and to what extent they were already underway in ancient times. I have an idea during the Parthian era, the irrigation systems had been allowed to break down and perhaps human civilisation was greatly cut back at around this time, giving several centuries for the natural environment to recover. But starting from when the Sassanids took over, I gather human development took pace again. I'd like to know more about the state of the region in the medieval period, as this seems to have been prosperous in the East but after c.1500 those countries seem to have stagnated and declined, and I wonder if there is any connection to the land.
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Old May 19th, 2014, 05:03 AM   #22
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When we speak about grazing it is very important what kind of animals are used. But in problematic regions we often have slippery slope. In best pastures people keep horses and cattle, sheep as I understand can live in worse conditions. Unfortunately one of the hardiest animals are goats. People in many countries keep goats in worst pastures, on the mountain slopes or dry semi deserts. Goats are especially destructive, they eat last shrubs, sometimes they pull even roots and eat them. So when goats are finished we have brand new dessert. It happened in the past, unfortunately it still happens now.

Growing Goat Herds Signal Global Grassland Decline : TreeHugger

So basically yes, soil erosion can be one of the reasons for decline of the ancient civilizations.
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Old May 19th, 2014, 07:21 AM   #23

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Quote:
Originally Posted by RoyalHill1987 View Post
Wasn't there a theory that the ancient civilisations of the Near East suffered a very similar problem? They had emerged in an environment that was ecologically fragile, but the land was also fertile and the climate good for farming. These people learned to exploit the land and their settlements spread along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, the ancient 'fertile crescent', down along the levantine coast of Syria, Lebanon and Palestine.

The problem was overgrazing and human population growth led to excessive pressure on the land. Territory was deforested, leaving the semi-arid lands vulnerable to desertification. Grazing animals out of control turned fertile land into a desert. The farming land itself was exhausted from over-use and the soil became depleted. Looking at some of the areas where ancient cities such as Ur lay today, they are in empty sand dunes. There is no vegetation whatsoever. Yet in ancient times, they were fertile lands. As the process gradually reduced the area of cultivable land over the centuries, so the power of the Near East gradually declined.

What's not clear to me though is the exact time period of these changes, and to what extent they were already underway in ancient times. I have an idea during the Parthian era, the irrigation systems had been allowed to break down and perhaps human civilisation was greatly cut back at around this time, giving several centuries for the natural environment to recover. But starting from when the Sassanids took over, I gather human development took pace again. I'd like to know more about the state of the region in the medieval period, as this seems to have been prosperous in the East but after c.1500 those countries seem to have stagnated and declined, and I wonder if there is any connection to the land.

Far as I understand it the main problem of Mesopotamia was salt leeched out of highlands to the north when the forests there were cut. So there was a twofold problem- silt which Mesopotamian were still successfully dealing with and salt which ruined the soil for cereal crops and led to decreasing harvest and land abandonment by farmers who stopped supporting the irrigation and only some shrubs and grasses could grow in the now salty soil which led to desertification. The southern alluvial plains near the great rivers were the most affected by this problem so some cities were still able to survive further up the rivers but there the floodplains were smaller and required more irrigation work each year for the same amount of crops- the era of the great Sumerian empires was over when the return on agricultural labor decreased by over 40% lowering the grain surplus nearly in half.

Archeologists have found some tablets from Hammurabi's time where the king is demanding to know the situation with his forests and ordering someone killed who had cut a branch off a tree because the chariot factories and armories were at a standstill due to lack of wood. 1 months work required 7,000 pieces of wood from probably about 1/3 that number of trees. That was only the amount needed officially... nearly everyone else who lived in the city also needed wood and the larger cities used thousands of trees per week.

Last edited by Ichon; May 19th, 2014 at 08:35 AM.
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