Archaeologists have discovered ancient irrigation structures on the Nile River that were built more than 3,000 years ago. These structures, including stone walls and half-walls, were created by Nubian communities and inhabitants of ancient Egyptian cities to retain the fertile silt during the annual Nile flood and to grow crops without additional irrigation.
Researchers from the University of Manchester used satellite imagery, drone photography and ground surveys, as well as historical sources, to locate nearly 1,300 half-ponds near the river between the 1st Nile Threshold in southern Egypt and the 4th Threshold in Sudan. Hundreds of ancient impoundments now lie beneath the water of the Aswan Dam reservoir.
Radiocarbon dating has shown that some walls of ancient canals were built more than 3000 years ago. Scientists argue that this form of landscape engineering was first implemented by the Nubian communities of the region, as well as by the inhabitants of cities founded later by the ancient Egyptian state.
In addition, researchers have found much larger stone walls in the Nile, some of which are up to five meters thick and up to 200 meters long. These dams were supposed to direct the flow of the river and make it easier for boats to navigate the rapids of the Nile. They facilitated the movement of resources, armies, people, and ideas up and down the Nile over long distances.
Matthew Dalton of the University of Western Australia emphasizes that this incredibly long-lived hydroengineering technology played a crucial role in allowing people to grow food and thrive in the complex landscapes of Nubia for over 3,000 years. From conversations with farmers in Sudanese Nubia, researchers learned that the river half-walls were still being built in the 1970s, and that the land plagued by these walls is still being cultivated today.
This discovery shows how ancient civilizations evolved and adapted to their environment. Irrigation structures on the Nile River played a key role in the food security and economic development of the region for thousands of years.