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Natural Environment How Human History has been impacted by the environment, science, nature, geography, weather, and natural phenomena


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Old May 20th, 2016, 03:29 PM   #1

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Was Middle East a fertile land during Antiquity?


Some argue that Near East, where the earliest cultures of the world were born, was much more fertile than what it is now, and that it has suffered a process of desertification because of intensive agriculture. Is there any evidence to back this claim?
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Old May 21st, 2016, 05:39 AM   #2

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A lot of large animals are now extinct there: Lion, Syrian Brown Bear, Cheetah, Leopard, Hyena, Ostrich, etc.
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Old May 24th, 2016, 06:55 AM   #3

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Some argue that Near East, where the earliest cultures of the world were born, was much more fertile than what it is now, and that it has suffered a process of desertification because of intensive agriculture. Is there any evidence to back this claim?
This has been a debated subject for a long time. That the Sahara is still increasing in expanse and aridity is observable. However, there are reasons to see this as a more fickle process - note that due to tectonic movement the Straits of Gibraltar were sealed off at least once, possibly as many as ten times, and since the Mediterranean evaporates readily, the basin went largely dry when the Straits were blocked. You can only imagine the waterfall when the Atlantic was allowed back in via an earthquake (one estimate has the Mediterranean basin requiring 400 years to refill)

I also note the loss of a major river network linking the Black Sea to areas like Afghanistan that effectively eroded the former empire of Alexander with the loss of major cities as enviroments became unsustainable.

Climate has been in a process of change for a very long time. We are currently in an interglacial period (yes, the ice ages may well be back with a vengeance in 50/60,000 years time) and still 'recovering' from the last major glaciation. The activity of human beings is demonstratable - we have had a hand in forcing many species toward extinction though that end is rarely our own work alone.

It is true that marginal land was heavily grazed as ancient civilisation increased in numbers and demand for food. I don't much about this but I do hear that Egypt was once struck by a terrifying and deadly famine because they had grown large and dependent by their agricultural success - the very same may well bite us globally again at some point as scientists now predict that rising populations will have to be fed by insect protein because traditional farming will fall short. The folly of allowing human numbers to escalate is obvious.

What is also clear is that distant prehistory shows a very fertile North Africa, and the expansion of humanity into Asia Minor and Europe coincides with the loss of these enviroments to the drying process. This process has taken a long time and continues today. So to some extent the answer is yes, parts of the known world in ancient times were better for habitation, but the jury is still out on where and to what extent.
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Old June 29th, 2016, 09:49 AM   #4

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A lot of large animals are now extinct there: Lion, Syrian Brown Bear, Cheetah, Leopard, Hyena, Ostrich, etc.
due to hunting, such as the Barbary Lion.

However, the climate has changed since the Ice Age. Much of the Sahara was green post-Ice Age, but in its present state is about 6000 years old.
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Old July 19th, 2016, 08:45 AM   #5

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due to hunting, such as the Barbary Lion.

However, the climate has changed since the Ice Age. Much of the Sahara was green post-Ice Age, but in its present state is about 6000 years old.
Sahara has been expanding for about 10,000 years and there are some areas of Roman settlement now covered by sand so we know the area of desert has expanded significantly since approx 2,000 years ago.

As for modern Iraq and the area between the mountains of Iran and the Persian Gulf there is significant evidence that the area was slightly more wet and fertile than it currently is but keep in mind it was never oasis like in broad areas unless made so by human hands during times of large human habitation. Salinity in the soil due to poor agricultural/water control is well established in some area but there is also a lack of research to identify how widespread such issues were and thus exactly how much conditions have changed over the course of human civilization.

Basically there were 3 main water sources during antiquity- the 2 large rivers Tigris and Euphrates and associated marshlands, drainage from Zagros mountains, and natural springs fed by underground aquifers which are now greatly depleted.

http://www.iranicaonline.org/uploads...001_f3_300.jpg

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Old August 29th, 2016, 07:20 PM   #6

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I saw a program about the rise of the Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau. With monsoon rains moving from the Pacific inland...the mountains and plateau block them. Some stated the drying out began in 8,000 BCE.
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Old September 22nd, 2016, 04:16 AM   #7
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The Fertile Crescent was more than likely more, well, fertile back in antiquity than it is now. The reason being for this switch is highly debated. The extinction of animal species is also mostly due to over hunting and domestication rather than lack of crops.
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Old September 22nd, 2016, 04:22 AM   #8

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There was also the River Oxus flowing through Afghanistan and linking to the Black Sea, an important waterway in ancient times. You'll struggle to find the river today.
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Old September 22nd, 2016, 05:59 AM   #9
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There was also the River Oxus flowing through Afghanistan and linking to the Black Sea, an important waterway in ancient times. You'll struggle to find the river today.
The River Oxus certainly flowed into the Caspian Sea, but I can't find a source saying there was a passage from the Caspian Sea to the Black Sea. The part of the river which flows from Afghanistan into the Aral Sea still survives however.
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Old September 26th, 2016, 10:01 AM   #10

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the rise of the Tibetan Plateau and Himalayas which are still growing in yearly inches started blocking the rains from the east about 7,000 years ago.

The Gobi is a rain shaow desert, formed by the Himalayan mountain range blocking rain-carrying clouds from the Indian Ocean reaching the Gobi territory.

(I found an interesting explanation)
It turns out there's a strong tendency for land at 30 Latitude to become desert. In the Northern Hemisphere there's the American Southwest, the Sahara, the Arabian Desert, etc. In the Southern hemisphere there's the Atacama Desert, the Kalahari, the Australian Outback, and so on. This isn't just coincidence, but is tied to a phenomenon known as the "Hadley Cell", a sort of conveyer belt that circulates our atmosphere.

Imagine a planet with an atmosphere just sitting in space - the equator is naturally going to receive more sunlight than the poles, and so the equator will be warmer and the poles will be colder. We know that warm air rises and cold air falls, so this should set up a global circulation of air: warm air rises at the equator, moves towards the pole at high altitude, descends at the pole, then returns to the equator close to the surface.


This is how global circulation works on planets that rotate very slowly (most likely Venus and Titan). However, on planets like ours that rotate a bit more quickly, there's another force to contend with: the Coriolis force. In order to conserve angular momentum, the Hadley Cell can't make it all the way to the poles, so it ends up descending earlier than that...on planets that are as big and rotate as quickly as Earth, this cutoff point occurs right around 30 Latitude.

when warm air ascends at the equator, it starts out very moist, filled with water vapor. As that air continues to rise, though, it expands in the lower pressures aloft and cools, and all that water vapor condenses and rains out - this is why there tends to be lots of rain near the equator. Even though the water has rained out, though, that air continues along the Hadley Cell...but its now dried out. All that dry air then descends at 30 Latitude, so those latitudes get very little rain, and tend to be deserts.

(throw the mountain ranges to the east in and you have the desertification of the Middle East and North Africa.)
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