The use of water in arid southwestern Asia

From Neolithic wells to historical water systems


Ofer Bar-Yosef 奥菲•巴尔约瑟夫
Harvard University 哈佛大学人类学系


Southwest Asia was the arena of the origins of agriculture that commenced due to demographic pressures among hunting and gathering groups and contemporary climatic fluctuations during the Terminal Pleistocene and early Holocene (ca. 14,000 – 8,500 cal BC). This region, located at the northern edge of the Sahara belt is encircled by the Mediterranean Sea in the west, the Sinai Desert in the south and the Syro-Arabian Desert in the east, was vulnerable to minor and a few major climatic fluctuations that impacted the early sedentary communities. Digging wells since the early Neolithic age and the use of water channels were among the early reactions to the natural reduction of winter rains. Digging wells during the Chalcolithic period and the development of water system during the Bronze and Iron ages were among the techniques human developed while facing short water supplies for humans and animals, and in particular during times of social conflicts and wars. The knowledge of how to reach the water aquifer in various tomographic and geological situations resulted curing the late Holocene in the digging of numerous Qanats. These are underground tunnels, assisted by a series of dug-up wells, originating in underground springs, channeling water for irrigation along distances of many kilometers. Although this technique is better known from Persian history, additional innovating archaeological research techniques will demonstrate its prehistoric roots. It is not different from building dams and constructing water reservoirs known at least from the Fifth Millennium BC. Adequate water supplies for drinking and irrigation remained even today a critical problem for humans and animals survival in semi-arid regions such as Southwestern Asia.


Biographical Sketch

Received his Ph.D. in 1970, taught 1968 -1987 at Hebrew University, (from 1979 as Professor of Prehistoric Archaeology) and later in the Department of Anthropology, Harvard University 1988-2013, retired (continue to serve as ‘research professor). He was the joint excavator of Lower though late Paleolithic and early Neolithic open-air sites and caves in Israel, Sinai (Egypt), Czech Republic, Republic of Georgia, and China. He participated in three excavations in Turkey (University of Ankara 1990-2016). His field work is focused on early and late dispersals from Africa, Neanderthals and modern humans, and the transition from foraging to farming. Member of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA (since 2001) and a Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy (since 2005). He co-edited 20 volumes, and authored or co-authored some 400 papers and book chapters.