Sudanese Nubian farmers turned out to be real inventors of hydraulic systems. Archaeologists discovered hundreds of breakwaters, which were used to trap fertile silt, irrigate land, limit coastal erosion, protect against seasonal flooding, create optimal fishing pools and prevent crops from being blown over by sandy winds. These structures proved so effective that they are still used by local residents today.
The oldest known breakwaters in the world were thought to have been built on the Yellow River in China. However, researchers from Australia and Britain discovered that the Nubians had used them 2500 years before the farmers in China did. Thus, the breakwater found in Sudan is the oldest in the world.
Many of the breakwaters found are submerged in active channels, so the researchers can not establish the exact date of their appearance, but the age of those on the dried river bed near the ancient fortress city known as Amara West is 3000 – 3300 years. This gives researchers reason to believe that life was boiling nearby. Including the breakwaters helped connect the peoples of Ancient Egypt and Nubia, facilitating the movement of resources, armies, people, and ideas up and down the Nile.
The breakwaters were not only efficient, but also durable. According to the researchers, “this durable hydraulic technology played a crucial role in allowing communities to grow food and thrive in Nubia’s complex landscapes for more than 3,000 years.” From conversations with Nubian farmers, archaeologists learned that breakwaters were still being built in the 1970s.
However, despite their effectiveness and durability, breakwaters could not save the region from climate change. Around 1000 BC, the dry climate became too inhospitable, and in 200 BC the flooding of the river in some regions ceased forever, and the breakwaters fell into disrepair and others were flooded.
Nevertheless, the discovery of these breakwaters allows us to see how ancient civilizations coped with the difficulties associated with irrigation and flood protection. It also underscores the importance of preserving and studying historical finds to understand our past and future.