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Ian Straughn

Islamic Archaeology

Archaeology and Religion

Islamic Landscapes

Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology



Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology & the Ancient World
Brown University
Box 1837 / 60 George Street
Providence, RI 02912
Telephone: (401) 863-3188
Fax: (401) 863-9423
[email protected]

Posted at Feb 25/2007 09:29PM:
Harry: The Ma'rib dam was built by the ancient Sabaeans of modern Yemen around the seventh century BCE. It was used to irrigate the nearby city of Ma'rib by capturing the monsoon rains that fall on the neighboring mountains. This aided the agricultural interests of the Sabaean kingdom, which also prospered from the trade of incense. An artificial oasis was thus created and this supported the growth of date palm tree crops which require a consistent source of water. Circa 500 BCE, the dam's water face was reinforced by further stone covering and its height was raised to seven meters. Around 115 BCE, the Himyarites claimed possession of the dam and began a renovation project that was not completed until ca. 325 BCE. This doubled the height to 14 meters and put a more extensive array of water works systems of sluices and spillways in place. After suffering many breaches, of which there are four written mentionings, the last recorded repairs to the dam occurred in 557. The dam was henceforth left unrepaired and formal mention of the dam's destruction is made in the Quran. The failure of this extensive irrigation system caused by the destruction of the Ma'rib dam led to a massive migration from the surrounding area.

Posted at Mar 06/2007 01:52PM:
ian: A good example of the importance of major engineering works (particularly those associated with agriculture and land reclamation) to the emergence of states and elites. But also the dangers of what happens when they fail.