The epic Sumerian tale of Gilgamesh describes vast tracts of cedar forests in what is now southern Iraq. According to the story, Gilgamesh defies the gods by cutting down the forest, and in return the gods say they will curse the land with fire and drought. In fact, the Sumerians likely deforested the land, causing widespread desertification. By 2100 B.C., soil erosion and salt buildup had devastated agriculture, forcing residents to move north to Babylonia and Assyeria. Further evidence for this theory? Some of the first laws ever written to protect forests were decreed in the Sumerian settlement of Ur.