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River Valley Civilizations

Grade 6 | Argumentative | Source-Based

Source Lexile®: 630L-1160L

Learning Standards



Prompt: Some of the earliest civilizations on Earth began in the areas we know today as Egypt and the Middle East. This area, known as the Fertile Crescent and "the cradle of civilization," thrived for thousands of years and produced several advances in the way people lived and adapted to the geographic features of the land.


Read the following sources about the key features of Egypt and Mesopotamia. Write an essay that makes a claim about the physical geography of the River Valley and how it affected the development of its civilizations. Use evidence from multiple sources to support your claim.



Source 1

How Did Mesopotamia's Geography Lead to Its Development? (Secondary Source)

by Kevin Wandrei


Mesopotamia, centered in modern-day Iraq, is regarded as the birthplace of civilization. While the region was widely occupied by humans as early as 12,000 B.C.E., historians believe that large civilizations began in Mesopotamia between 4,000 and 3,000 B.C.E. Mesopotamia's development in this period was supported by a series of geographical factors, including rivers and fertile lands.



The Fertile Crescent


Mesopotamia's soil was uniquely fertile, which gave humans reason to settle in the region and begin farming. As early as 5,800 B.C.E., people were living in the area known as the "Fertile Crescent" to take advantage of the rich soil. The soil's richness came from runoff from nearby mountains, which regularly deposited nutritious silt onto the river floodplain. This region stretched from modern-day Kuwait and Iraq northward to Turkey. Before the settlement of Mesopotamia, neolithic humans were largely hunters and gatherers who did sporadic farming. Mesopotamia's unique fertility allowed humans to settle in one place to farm.



Trade Routes


Mesopotamia's rivers and location in central Asia supported extensive trade routes. In the time of Mesopotamia, smaller civilizations existed to the west in Europe and North Africa and to the east in India. For these regions to trade, they needed to traverse Mesopotamia's territory between them. This allowed Mesopotamia to access resources not native to its region, like timber and precious metals. In turn, Mesopotamia developed key aspects of civilization, like a token system to keep trading records.



Tigris and Euphrates


While Mesopotamia's soil was fertile, the region's semi arid climate didn't have much rainfall, with less than ten inches annually. This initially made farming difficult. Two major rivers in the region -- the Tigris and Euphrates -- provided a source of water that enabled wide-scale farming. Irrigation provided Mesopotamian civilization with the ability to stretch the river's waters into farm lands. This led to engineering advances like the construction of canals, dams, reservoirs, drains and aqueducts. One of the prime duties of the king was to maintain these essential waterways.



Flat With Few Mountains


The Mesopotamian region is relatively flat with few mountains and few forests. This made the people who lived there vulnerable to foreign invasion and conquest, because there were few natural places to hide. Vulnerability spurred the development of major organizational aspects of human civilization like government, professional warfare, and concepts of empire. By the first millennium B.C.E., the region was home to the world's first multinational empire, the Assyrian Empire. Assyria introduced government innovations such as dividing its empire into provinces. Mesopotamia's geography also made governance challenging, and numerous rebellions occurred in the early millennia.




Source 2

Gifts of the Nile (Secondary Source)

Ancient Egypt had many natural barriers. The mountains to the south helped to separate Egypt from the rest of Africa. There are deserts to the east and west of the Nile River. You could reach Egypt. They did not live in isolation. They were not alone in the ancient world. They knew that. But still, their natural barriers helped them to develop a culture uniquely Egyptian.


The Nile is the longest river in the world. It is shaped like a lotus flower, the design seen in ancient Egyptian art, math, and hieroglyphics. It runs south to north, beginning in the mountains in the south and ending 4,000 miles later at the Mediterranean Sea. Each spring, snow on the mountains would melt. The Nile River would flood. This was a very good thing. When the flood waters receded, they left behind fertile soil. Crops could easily be grown in this black, rich soil. The ancient Egyptians called this soil the "The Gift of the Nile".


The Nile provided other gifts to the ancient Egyptians. Papyrus, used for everything, grew wildly along its banks. It provided water for cooking and bathing. Fish and waterfowl were plentiful. Wild vegetables could be found, along with bird eggs. Egypt is located in the middle of a desert. But life along the Nile was splendid.




Source 3

The Egyptian Empire, 15th century BC (Secondary Source)








Source 4

Fertile Crescent Map (Secondary Source)





“Fertile Crescent Map Image” by is licensed under CC Sharealike 3.0.










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