The 2,000-year-old aqueduct system found in the Turkish town of Patara would have met current engineering standards. Photo by Jennifer Hattam
Outside the southeastern Turkish city of Mardin lie the 6th-century ruins of the Roman settlement of Dara, with its cliff-carved tombs and cool, vaulted cisterns. But perhaps most impressive is the series of rock channels that served as an early water-treatment plant, allowing dirt and other impurities to settle to the bottom of each reservoir and the relatively clean top layer of water to be drawn off for use. And that 1,500-year-old innovation is hardly the only example of environmental technology employed in ancient times.In this arid part of the world, techniques for collecting, storing, and managing water were of high importance, and thus were the recipients of much of the best expertise. A group of Turkish researchers looked at the series of aqueducts and other parts of the water conveyance and distribution system built 2,000 years ago in Patara, a town on Turkey's Mediterranean coast, and found that they would meet current technical standards.
"From an engineering standpoint, this place is of paramount importance because all the rules applied in engineering today were used in the construction of the water transportation system 2,000 years ago," Havva İşkan Işık, an archaeology professor and head of the Patara excavation, told the Anatolia news agency.
The Romans were purifying water in Dara 1,500 years ago. Photo by Jennifer Hattam
Irrigation, windmills, and fertilizer harvesting are among the other key environmental technologies pioneered in this part of the world that remain important today, according to a list our friends over at Green Prophet have compiled of "5 Environmental Discoveries that Originated in the Middle East."
Agricultural irrigation was employed by the Egyptians and Mesopotamians as far back as at least 5,000 BC; the efficient 3,000-year-old qanat system in Iran is still in use today, and Israel's modern irrigation is some of the most efficient in the world.
Ancient Windmills and Erosion Control
Windmills seem to have been commonplace in ancient Persia by 950 AD, according to historical texts, while terracing techniques have been used for erosion control for centuries. Iran's medieval pigeon towers were used to "harvest nitrogen and phosphorus from pigeon droppings, and replenish the marginal soils of the region," while grazing sheep and goats over gardens after they were harvested served a similar purpose.
It certainly seems a more logical approach than the way, as Green Prophet puts it, "modern societies struggle to recycle livestock waste, while we simultaneously expend large sums on producing synthetic fertilizer."
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