Friday, January 18, 2013

Working with Water in Ancient Mesopotamia

Working with Water
Flowing through the Fertile Crescent, the Tigris and Euphrates rivers played an important role in shaping the lives of the people who lived nearby The Euphrates is a slow, winding river with few tributaries, or branches. With its many curves, it stretches out for 1,250 miles (2,012 km). Unlike the Euphrates, the Tigris River moves rapidly along its 1,720-mile (2,768 km) course and has many tributaries.

The source of both rivers is high in the Taurus Mountains. The rivers flow downward through Mesopotamia's plateau to its area of plains. Finally the rivers join together and flow into the Persian Gulf.

The two rivers helped make it possible for early settlers to survive on the land alongside them. The two rivers often overflowed their banks, flooding the land. When the floodwaters drained back into the river, a layer of silt, a rich mixture of bits of rock and soil, remained. The silt made the land suitable for growing crops.
The Tigris and Euphrates rivers enriched the soil, but they could not be counted on to water the farmers' crops. Unfortunately, the rivers seldom flooded at the time farmers really needed water when crops were first planted. In addition, it hardly ever rained over the land between the rivers, particularly in the south. Droughts, or long times with little or no rain, were common. During these times, the sun baked and hardened the clay soil.

The Tigris and Euphrates rivers provided a likely source for water. Farmers needed some way to get water to the land.

To get river water to their fields at just the right time, farmers had to learn to tame the Tigris and the Euphrates. To do this, they developed a system of irrigation. Irrigation is the use of connected ditches, canals, dams, and dikes to move water to dry areas. Irrigation allowed water from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers to be stored and used when needed. Farmers could now water their crops during dry months.

Irrigation also helped farmers prevent and control flooding. Exactly when the rivers would flood had always been impossible to predict. Often, the floods caught the early settlers completely by surprise. When the rivers did flood, the rush of water  destroyed not only crops but shelters as well. Entire villages could be swept away. Sometimes many lives were lost. Irrigation allowed settlers to protect their villages.

The canals and ditches carried away flood- waters that would have otherwise brought destruction.

What is irrigation and how did it affect the people of Mesopotamia?

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