IN the wrinkled old hills of the Holy Land south and west of the Dead Sea it rains two to four inches a year, and the roar of the rare torrents tumbling down the wadis is the loudest noise the Negev highlands ever hear. Two thousand years ago this was a province of the Nabataeans, an industrious, grain-growing people who tamed the waters with one of the most elaborate irrigation systems ever built. Improving on techniques thought up at least a thousand years earlier by the Phoenicians, they threw across the wadis low check dams of rocks, each of which trapped and held a level plot of soil which became a tiny cultivated field. Sidehill ditches and retaining walls controlled the runoff from the hills, and dense shrubbery planted along the dams held the rocks in place and further slowed the water's descent. Cisterns carved out of the rock gathered enough water for the people and their cattle, but most of the scant rainfall went to the crops. Nabataean records tell of the yields: eight measures of barley and seven of wheat for each measure of seed sown. Their figs, dates and grapes all did well.
Rome conquered the Nabataeans' capital in 106 A.D., but their economy
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Publication information: Book title: The Desert. Contributors: A. Starker Leopold - Author. Publisher: Time. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 1961. Page number: 165.
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