COSI’s Lost Egypt Exhibition

Wind, Power…Water? by COSI
September 25, 2008, 12:04 pm
Filed under: Construction News

Author: Michael

I was without power in Columbus, Ohio for five days recently. We had the remnants of Hurricane Ike rip through our fair city and it really hit us square in the mouth. Over 50% of the city lost power for a few days: no internet, no cable, and no lights. Fortunately, we had water. I turned the nozzle and out came water — clean, sweet, and refreshing water. My wife’s mother was not so lucky. She has a well which needs electricity to pump the water from it. No power for her means no shower and no toilets. It was like a return to the dark ages where we as people really had to figure out how to get water to places that it needed to go.

shadufMany of us have heard that the Nile valley in Egypt had really fertile soil from the annual flooding of the river, but what happened when the water went away? How did the ancient Egyptians get water where it needed to go? How did they carve a living out of the desert?

The answer: irrigation. The Nile is an extremely predictable river with the floods starting in June from the snow melt and spring rains. The floods peak in September and subside in December. The river has been doing this every year for as long as history can remember. To move water, the ancient Egyptians built a series of canals and flat basins to capture the water and slowly release it at the right times. They also had an ingenious human powered crane called a shaduf to lift the water from the river to higher grounds.

photo2To redirect water, they needed to know the exact height of the expected flood. The Egyptians developed a way to measure the floods with the “Nilometer.” This was a series of places along the river where the Egyptians could see how the floods were progressing. As the flooding rolled south to the Mediterranean Sea, the Egyptians could tell those downstream what water level was expected. The irrigation was positioned right next to the river so water did not need to be carried very far, but water level played a huge part in their life. If it was a dry year, it could severely impact the amount of food produced at harvest time. A small 2 meter drop in the water level could leave up to 1/3 of the land without water. If it was a high flood year, it could lead to dykes bursting irrigation systems being wrecked.

Now it comes to me and them. Thousands of years separate us, but the weather can still knock us for a loop. I was driving just before the big windstorm rolled through Ohio, and I heard on the radio that the winds were coming for Columbus. I knew that it was coming, but what could I do about it? Is that any different from the Egyptians watching the floods come? They used their “Nilometer” and watched the floods to determine what sort of harvest they were going to have that year. I listened to the radio. All that either of us could do when the weather came was to wait and let Mother Nature take her course.

Resources about Egyptian water use:


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