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What are the major physical features of the area that encompassed Mesopotamia?
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There are both fertile plateaus and river valleys.
Mesopotamia encompasses the land between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, both of which have their headwaters in the mountains of Armenia in modern Turkey. Both rivers are fed by numerous tributaries, and the entire river system drains a vast mountainous region. Overland routes in Mesopotamia usually follow the Euphrates because the banks of the Tigris are frequently steep and difficult. The climate of the region is semi-arid with a vast desert expanse in the north which gives way to a 6,000 square mile region of marshes, lagoons, mud flats, and reed banks in the south. In the extreme south the Euphrates and the Tigris unite and empty into the Persian Gulf.
The arid environment which ranges from the northern areas of rain fed agriculture, to the south where irrigation of agriculture is essential if a surplus energy returned on energy invested (EROEI) is to be obtained. This irrigation is aided by a high water table and by melted snows from the high peaks of the Zagros Mountains and from the Armenian cordillera, the source of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, that give the region its name. The usefulness of irrigation depends upon the ability to mobilize sufficient labor for the construction and maintenance of canals, and this, from the earliest period, has assisted the development of urban settlements and centralized systems of political authority. Agriculture throughout the region has been supplemented by nomadic pastoralism, where tent dwelling nomads move herds of sheep and goats (and later camels) from the river pastures in the dry summer months, out into seasonal grazing lands on the desert fringe in the wet winter season. The area is generally lacking in building stone, precious metals and timber, and so historically has relied upon long distance trade of agricultural products to secure these items from outlying areas. In the marshlands to the south of the country, a complex water-borne fishing culture has existed since pre-historic times, and has added to the cultural mix.
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