OIS 13. Irrigation in Early States: New Directions

ois13.jpgStephanie Rost, ed., with contributions by Maurits Ertsen; Vernon L. Scarborough and Christian Isendahl; Martin Sterry, David J. Mattingly, and Andrew Wilson; Jason A. Ur; M. Kyle Woodson; Marco Madella and Carla Lancelotti; Stephanie Rost; Robert C. Hunt; Hervé Reculeau; Emily Hammer; Michael J. Harrower; Juan Carlos Moreno García; Li Min, Liu Bin, Wang Ningyuan, Lang Jianfeng, and Wei Yi; Miriam T. Stark; and JoAnn Scurlock, and responses by Sylvia Rodríguez; Carrie Hritz; and McGuire Gibson

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Irrigation has long been of interest in the study of the past. Many early civilizations were located in river valleys, and irrigation was of great economic importance for many early states because of the key role it played in producing an agricultural surplus, which was the main source of wealth and the basis of political power for the elites who controlled it. Agricultural surplus was also necessary to maintain the very features of statehood, such as urbanism, full-time labor specialization, state institutions, and status hierarchy.

Yet, the presence of large-scale or complex irrigation systems does not necessarily mean that they were under centralized control. While some early states organized the construction, operation, and maintenance of irrigation works and resolved conflicts related to water distribution, other early governments left most of the management to local farmers and controlled only the surplus.

The cross-cultural studies in this volume reexamine the role of irrigation in early states. Ranging geographically from South America and the southwestern United States to North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, they describe the physical attributes and environments of early irrigation systems; various methods for empirical investigation of ancient irrigation; and irrigation’s economic, sociopolitical, and cosmological dimensions. Through their interdisciplinary perspectives, the authors—all experts in the field of irrigation studies—advance both methodological and theoretical approaches to understanding irrigation in early civilizations.


Introduction. Stephanie Rost.
Part I: The Features of Irrigation
1. A Leak in the Irrigation System May Not Be Seen: How to Connect Agency and Long-Term Effects in Irrigation. Maurits Ertsen.
2. Cross-Cultural Archaeology and the Role of the Tropics in Informing the Present. Vernon L. Scarborough and Christian Isendahl.
3. Foggaras and the Garamantes: Hydraulic Landscapes in the Central Sahara. Martin Sterry, David J. Mattingly, and Andrew Wilson
Part II: The Empirical Investigation of Ancient Irrigation
4. Remote Sensing of Ancient Canal and Irrigation Systems. Jason A. Ur.
5. The Archaeological Excavation and Explanation of Ancient Canal Irrigation Systems in Southern Arizona, USA. M. Kyle Woodson.
6. Archaeobotanical Perspectives on Water Supply and Water Management in the Indus Valley Civilization. Marco Madella and Carla Lancelotti.
7. Written Sources in the Empirical Investigation of Ancient Irrigation: The Operation of the I-sala Irrigation System in the Umma Province in Late Third-Millennium BCE Southern Mesopotamia. Stephanie Rost.
Part III: The Economic Function of Irrigation
8. Irrigation, Food Surplus, and Complexity: A Case from Hohokam, a Prehistoric Neolithic Culture in the American Southwest. Robert C. Hunt.
9. “Opener of Canals, Provider of Abundance and Plenty”: Royal Investment in Large-Scale Irrigation in Second-Millennium BCE Upper Mesopotamia. Hervé Reculeau.
10. Role and Characteristics of Irrigation in the Kingdom of Urartu. Emily Hammer.
Part IV: The Sociopolitical Function of Irrigation
11. A New Interpretation of Irrigation and Ancient State Formation: Political Rhetoric, Social Logic, and Spatial Heterogeneity. Michael J. Harrower.
12. Wells, Small-Scale Private Irrigation, and Agricultural Strategies in the Third and Second Millennia BCE in Egypt. Juan Carlos Moreno García.
13. Water Management at the Liangzhu Prehistoric Mound Center, China. Li Min, Liu Bin, Wang Ningyuan, Lang Jianfeng, and Wei Yi.
Part V: The Cosmological Dimension of Irrigation
14. From the Mekong to the Tonle Sap: Water Management and Cosmology in Cambodia’s Ancient States. Miriam T. Stark.
15. World-Encircling River. JoAnn Scurlock.
16. All Water Is Local. Sylvia Rodríguez.
17. Discussant Remarks. Carrie Hritz.
18. Response. McGuire Gibson.

  • Chicago: The Oriental Institute, 2022
  • ISBN 978-1-61491-071-8
  • Pp. xxx + 452; 99 figures, 45 tables, 4 maps
  • Oriental Institute Seminars 13
  • $39.95