The Beginning of Irrigation

November 7, 2012

A look at the beginning of irrigation

The history of irrigation consists of an evolution of very basic systems used centuries ago. While the irrigation systems used then can't be compared to today's sophisticated irrigation systems they fulfilled their simple purpose of providing water to the crop-filled lands.
What is irrigation?
The broadest definition of irrigation is simply the deliberate application of water to soil. Considering that there's really no reason to implement an irrigation system to a barren land, perhaps a better definition of irrigation is the application of water by ditches or pipes to help crop production or to sustain plant life. The ultimate goal of irrigation is to make the land fertile and lush.
Early beginnings
The Egyptians are typically credited with the idea of irrigation. In about 5000 B.C. the Egyptians used the Nile River to create the first irrigation system. Over the years they made improvements and enhancements to the irrigation system, eventually creating a fairly elaborate one. In fact by 2100 B.C. the Egyptians had implemented an irrigation system that used a channel to divert water to its ultimate destination.
History indicates that other civilizations were using irrigation around the same time.  For example, it is recorded that the Sumerians used irrigation as early as 2400 B.C. and the Chinese by 2200 B.C. Believed to have built very sophisticated irrigation systems early on, the Peruvians are another example.
A closer look at some of the first irrigation systems
One of the challenges of irrigation that Egyptians and other civilizations had to overcome was ensuring that the water reached elevated land. To accomplish this, innovative irrigation equipment and systems were created to deliver water to those parts.
Egyptians incorporated the use of a shadoof into their irrigation systems. A shadoof is simply the use of a bucket and a pole that allowed them to control the application of water. Another irrigation device that is actually still used today in India is the Persian wheel.  Buckets line the rim of a submerged wheel, which collects water as it is turned.  This particular irrigation device empties water into a trough that is then transported to the desired fields.
A common solution in early irrigation
Though not nearly as sophisticated as the dams built today, early civilizations quickly realized that dams were an effective irrigation system. Not only was this irrigation solution less burdensome, but a dam also could raise the water to a level that would ensure the saturation of elevated land.


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