“Ever since the Neolithic, the world has had an unquenchable thirst for water. Meeting that need was a key driver of social, economic and political change within the ancient world, one that played a fundamental role in both the rise and then fall of ancient civilizations. That unquenchable thirts continues today, perhaps more desperate than it ever has been before.” — Steven Mithen
Scientists estimate that 75 percent of the globe will face freshwater shortages by 2050. Clearly water is one of the great emerging issues of our time, and here is a book that puts it in a much-needed historical context. Steven Mithen’s Thirst: Water and Power in the Ancient World explores more than 10,000 years of man’s management of one of the most vital substances on earth.
Some civilizations fell, others engineered solutions, but all had much in common. Steven Mithen:
“Concern about water…is something that we share with the ancient Maya, Hohokam and Chinese. Those who built the canals in the Yellow River Valley of China, the Salt River Basin of Arizona, in the rainforests around Edzna and Angkor, and in the Tigris-Euphrates alluvial plain did so thousands of years apart, with no knowledge of each other and within completely different cultures. But they all shared similar ideas, plans and physical labours; they addressed the same questions about gradients and where to place head-gates; they found the same solutions imposed by the common properties of water and then engaged in the same fights against the accumulation of silt and protection against floods.”
Steven Mithen’s new book joins the Land Library’s collection of water books with a historic bent — books such as Brian Fagan’s Elixir: A Human History of Water (also pictured above), and the works of Kenneth R. Wright:
The Water Mysteries of Mesa Verde by Kenneth R. Wright, Machu Picchu: A Civil Engineering Marvel by Kenneth R. Wright, Alfredo Valencia Zegarra, Ruth M. Wright, and Gordon Francis McEwan.
“Our understanding of Machu Picchu as an exemplary feat of hydraulic engineering is thanks to the work of Kenneth R. Wright. He first visited Machu Picchu in 1974 with his wife, Ruth, returning in 1994 to begin an intensive study of how the Inca hydraulic system worked.” — Steven Mithen
Tipon: Water Engineering Masterpiece of the Inca Empire by Kenneth R. Wright, Gordon Francis McEwan, and Ruth M. Wright, and Moray: Inca Engineering Mystery by Kenneth R. Wright, Ruth M. Wright, Alfredo Valencia Zegarra, and Gordon Francis McEwan.
For many more essential books on water and water management, be sure to take a look at some of our past posts!
And here’s a bit more from Professor Steven Mithen: