Online Review: Book

Men of Dikes and Canals: The Archaeology of Water in the Middle East

Edited by Hans-Dieter Bienert and Jutta Häser. Pp. xi + 424, figs. 291. Marie Leidorf, Rahden. 2004. €71.50. ISBN 3-89646-643-7 (cloth).


The importance of water in the Near East can hardly be overstated, and this book offers us 37 studies that bring this point home with considerable force. It is perhaps natural that this volume, the outcome of a conference held in Jordan in 1999 by the German Protestant Institute of Archaeology in Amman, the German Archaeological Institute, and Yarmouk University, deals overwhelmingly with water issues in Jordan itself (abstracts of all papers are given in Arabic). In fact, apart from a few papers that look at water in the Bible, the non-Jordanian papers include only two on Syria (K.S. Freyberger, “The Use of Ponds and Cisterns in the Hauran During the Roman Period,” 337–44; S. Westphalen and P. Knötzele, “Water Supply of Resafa, Syria—Remarks on the Chronology of the Big Cisterns,” 345–54), one on Assyria (A.M. Bagg, “Assyrian Hydraulic Engineering: Tunnelling in Assyria and Technology Transfer,” 355–64), two on Egypt (H. Fahlbusch, “The Sadd el Kafara—The Oldest High Dam of the World,” 365–78; H. Jaritz, “Ancient Water Installations and Dams in the Faiyum Oasis/Egypt,” 379–90), one on Saudi Arabia (H. Fahlbusch, “The Rehabilitation of the Al Hassa Oasis in Saudi Arabia,” 391–404), one on Yemen (U. Brunner, “The Great Dam of Ma’rib as Part of the Hydraulic Culture of Southern Arabia,” 405–14), and one on Oman (J. Häser, “Prehistoric Agricultural Water-management on the Oman Peninsula,” 415–22). The use of the term “Middle East” in the title is therefore just a tad inaccurate.

The Jordan-focused papers extend topically from the Neolithic (H.G.K. Gebel, “The Domestication of Water: Evidence from Early Neolithic Ba’ja?,” 25–36; Z.A. Kafafi, “The Impact of Water Resources on Neolithic Settlement Patterns in Jordan,” 37–42) to the modern era (N. Barham, “Human Impact on the Water Problem: The Case in Jordan,” 273–84; E. Salameh, “Ancient Water Supply Systems and Their Relevance for Today’s Society in Jordan,” 285–90; A.J. Kuck, “Approaching Solutions for Competitive Water Demand—The Oncoming Challenge for Irrigated Agriculture in the Jordan Valley,” 291–300).

By far the majority of the papers published here concern water management in the Nabataean through Byzantine periods (M. Lindner, “Hydraulic Engineering and Site Planning in Nabataean-Roman Southern Jordan,” 65–72; U. Bellwald, “Streets and Hydraulics: The Petra National Trusts Siq Project in Petra 1996–1999: The Archaeological Results,” 73–94; T.S. Akasheh, “Nabataean and Modern Watershed Management Around the Siq and Wadi Musa in Petra,” 109–20; M.S. Joukowsky, “The Water Installations of the Petra Great Temple,” 121–42; M. Sha’er, “Nabataean Mortars Used for Hydraulic Constructions,” 143–62; M. Lavento et al., “Ancient Water Management System in the Area of Jabal Haroun, Petra,” 163–72; J. Seigne, “Remarques préliminaires à une étude sur l’eau dans la Gerasa antique,” 173-86; S. Kerner, “The Water Systems in Gadara and Other Decapolis Cities of Northern Jordan,” 187–202; S.F. Meynersen, “The Intersection of an Arch Monument and Water Pipe: Re-use of a Roman Tower Base in Gadara, Northern Jordan?,” 203–18; M. al-Daire, “Water Management in Trans-Jordan Byzantine Architecture with Respect to Excavated Monuments in the City of Gadara/Umm Qais,” 219–30; and A. McQuitty, “Harnessing the Power of Water: Watermills in Jordan,” 261–72).

There is a great deal of valuable information contained in this volume, and anyone concerned with water resources in the southern Levant in particular will be grateful for its publication. One might have hoped for more consistency, however, since some papers are clearly little more than abstracts, only a few pages long, while the entire “other side” of the Jordan is conspicuous by its absence. A volume of very particularist studies like this is not necessarily a bad thing, but apart from a few papers in which geographically disparate case studies are presented (e.g., Grewe, “Tunnelbau für Flußumleitungen,” 95–108), none of the authors seems to have had the capacity to really say anything about water in the Near East on a comparative scale. Perhaps that would be a useful topic for a future conference that was a bit more outward-looking in its approach.

D.T. Potts
Department of Archaeology
The University of Sydney
Sydney, NSW 2006

Book Review of Men of Dikes and Canals: The Archaeology of Water in the Middle East, edited by Hans-Dieter Bienert and Jutta Häser

Reviewed by D.T. Potts

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 111, No. 4 (July 2007)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1113.Potts

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