The Middle East was home to Sumerian civilization, one of the world's first civilizations. In part because of its location and other environmental features, the ancient Middle East posed unique challenges to this early civilization. The Sumerians were the first of many peoples to contribute to the civilization of the region. They made distinctive contributions that influenced a long line of later people both in the Middle East and in other parts of the world.
Gilgamesh, king of Uruk, sought eternal life and obtained the plant of youth. However, a snake ate it, which, according to the legend, is why people do not live forever.
Sumerian civilization rose more than 5,000 years ago along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in what is today Iraq. The Tigris-Euphrates Valley lies in eastern end of the Fertile Crescent, an area that stretches in an arc from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea.
Early on, the fertile soil of the Tigris-Euphrates Valley attracted Stone Age farmers, who began to raise crops on the land. In time, their descendants produced the surplus food needed to support growing populations. Much later, the ancient Greeks called the Tigris-Euphrates Valley Mesopotamia, which means “between the rivers.” Around 3300 B.C., the world's first civilization developed in southeastern Mesopotamia, in a region called Sumer.
The Tigris and Euphrates rivers flow from the highlands of modern-day Turkey through Iraq into the Persian Gulf. In the spring or early summer, melting snows from the mountains can cause the rivers to overflow. In some years, savage floods cause huge damage. Despite the danger of flooding, farmers planted a variety of crops. Silt left by floodwaters made the soil fertile.