Tuesday, May 31, 2016

7 Mysterious and Amazing Water Supply Systems of the Ancient Times

A network of pipes in the Philippines is one of the ways to convey potable water to urban and rural communities. Today, it is quite easy to build complex water supply systems using advanced engineering and construction techniques. This is not the case in the olden times where water is considered almost as precious as gold. Well, we still treat water as an essential resource in order to live today, but back then they had a hard time bringing it to their villages considering they lack modern tools to do it.

How did early humans transport water to their settlements using their primitive tools and methods? Interestingly, ancient civilizations were able to build water supply systems which are considered as some of the greatest feats of engineering and architectural marvel. This was during a time when HDPE or PVC pipes like the ones found in the Philippines or any plastic pipes are not invented yet. Here are some examples:

The Nazca Holes

Image Source: BBC
We haven’t yet solved the mystery behind the Nazca Lines of Peru that consists of over a thousand figures of biomorphs and geoglyphs deliberately “drawn” in the Nazca desert by ancient Peruvian Nazca people (100BC to 800AD). Another puzzle emerged from this place which is not composed of lines but gaping spiral holes as pictured below. These are called puquios, “a sophisticated hydraulic system constructed to retrieve water from underground aquifers,” Rosa Lasaponara of the Institute of Methodologies for Environmental Analysis in Italy explains in BBC. Despite being the most arid places on Earth, the puquios were used for agriculture, irrigation and domestic needs that can last a whole year.

Angkor Wat’s Hydraulic System

The Angkor Wat (“temple city”) in Cambodia was commissioned by King Suryavaram II in 12th century to honor their Hindu god Vishnu. Deep within the temples of Angkor is a sophisticated water supply system created by Khmer engineers. As stated by BBC, around 9th century, they were “storing and distributing vast quantities of precious seasonal monsoon water using a complex network of huge canals and reservoirs.” However, due to worsening climate and mismanagement, the Khmer civilization collapsed along with its hydraulic system.

The Acequias of New Mexico

The past is in the past. But what if this past is the only solution to save the present? The snow in Rocky Mountains in New Mexico is melting fast. The melting snow is not going down the rivers but evaporating up in the air. The rivers are the source of irrigation in the area but without the snow in the mountain, water scarcity is inevitable. This is why the locals revived the ancient irrigation systems called acequias, a network of hand-dug conduits. This is a smart move because Sam Fernald of New Mexico State University tells Frontera Desk that “it’s better to store water underground in northern areas because it’s cooler and, you don’t have evaporation.”

The Aqueducts of Ancient Rome

Image Source:

Of course, we wouldn’t forget one of the popular water systems of the ancient world, the Roman aqueducts. It is derived from two Latin words, aqua (“water”) and ducere (“to lead”). Ancient Romans were sticklers for cleanliness so it is understandable for them to build a “water bridge” to satisfy their needs. According to Crystalinks, the aqueducts provided a constant supply of water used in public baths, latrines, fountains and private households. It served a million of residents at the time.

The Kahrizes of Nakhchivan

Thanks to the ingenuity of their ancestors the people of Nakhchivan Autonomous Region (NAR) in Azerbaijan are now benefitting from old water supply systems. Thru the collaboration of NAR and Switzerland, they launched a project called “Community-Owned Sustainable Water Use and Agricultural Initiatives (COSWA)” to make this possible, International Organization of Migration of Switzerland reports. Since 2011, the region receives three times as more water from the underground water supply systems.

Nabataeans’ Water Channeling Technology 

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We don’t know much about the Nabataeans (586 BC) aside from the fact that they were ancient Semitic people and built an empire in the canyon of Petra in Jordan. The question is: how did they survive in such dry and arid climate? Based on an article in Ancient Origins, they made a “water channeling technology… including the construction of aqueducts, terraces, darns, cisterns, and reservoirs, as well as methods of harvesting rainwater, flood water, groundwater, and natural springs.” In short, all possible sources of water are harvested and utilized. They even have underground cisterns with waterproof cement to prevent the water from seeping into the earth, the article states.

Ancient India’s Water Management System

Around 2500-1700 BCE, the Indus Valley Civilization emerged at Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro, near the Indus River in India. During that time, the people of ancient India developed a water management system that was ahead of its time. In an article in 6bridges, it says that the people built drainage systems, wells, water tanks, canals, sewage systems, and bunds. Ancient History Encyclopedia tells that their houses had wells and bathrooms. The people used brass vessels to purify water, which microbiologists believed can help combat many water-borne diseases.

Towns in Harappa have distinct features. In Lothal, they had a water purification system with aeration chambers, lime and charcoal. In Dholavira, they had a water conservation system consisting of channels and reservoirs made of stone. The town of Rajasthan built a rooftop water harvesting system.

These are especially astonishing accomplishments more so because their time is the reflection of what we have today and they didn’t need a pipes to make irrigation history.

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