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The Family Cistern: 3,000 Years of Household Water Collection in Jordan

"Around 850 B.C. King Mesha of Moab was victorious in war and conquered a considerable territory east of the Jordan. This is at least what he himself claimed in the famous "Moabite Stone" text. One detail in King Mesha''s self-praise is of particular interest to the theme of this paper. While this may be one of the first texts mentioning water cisterns, the valuable device itself must have been invented considerably earlier. The paper discusses the age-old Jordanian habit (present in the surrounding countries as well) of cutting and maintaining at least one rainwater-collecting cistern at one''s homestead. The cisterns were often technologically sophisticated, with sedimentation basins to separate mud and sand before the water was let into the main cistern. The combined storage capacity of these cisterns must have been considerable. Most of them are since long out of use and filled with debris and sediment. As many of Jordan''s villages have become supplied with water through pipes from some distant source, households do not seem to sense any personal responsibility to help themselves to part of their water needs. When a lack of water is felt it is more likely that " he minister is implored to do something about it. It should nevertheless be possible to clean out at least many of the ancient cisterns and bring them back into use. This would, as indicated, add a considerable storage capacity to the country. It is estimated that about 92 per cent of Jordan''s annual rainfall evaporates; if one per cent of that can be collected instead it would mean another King Talal Dam. The paper is made in preparation for field-work that can hopefully be carried out in the winter of 1996. The research area will be the `Allan Area north of as-Salt, a region the author has already explored in other respects since the late 1970s."

Author(s):  Wåhlin, Lars
Format:  Presentation
Source:  The third Nordic conference on Middle Eastern Studies: Ethnic encounter and culture change, Joensuu, Finland, 19-22 June 1995