Discovering Nubia's 3,000-Year-Old Hydraulic System


| LAST UPDATE 06/28/2023

By Stanley Wickens
Nile Nubia ancient history
Hector Ruiz Golobart via Getty Images

The hydraulics system of its kind has been discovered along the Nile river in Sudan. This incredible finding suggests that people living in the ancient empire of Nubia were manipulating the river to their advantage over 3,000 years ago. The system is so effective that it's still employed by locals today, although not in the same spots. But what are these systems called, and what do they do?

These systems are known as river groynes, which are rigid structures laid perpendicular to a shore or bank, used to manipulate the flow of water and silt. Farmers and boaters along the Nile have known about this for much longer than we ever knew, but researchers from Australia and the United Kingdom have found evidence that Nubians were using groynes 2,500 years before farmers in China were doing the same. Using satellite data, local surveys, and previous studies, the team revealed hundreds of groynes that still stand in Sudan to this day. Some of these are buried under the waters of the Nile, while others stand on ancient riverbeds that have long since dried out. Scientists suspect these groynes were used for various purposes, such as trapping fertile silt, irrigating land, limiting bank erosion, defending against seasonal floods, creating optimal fishing pools, or stopping sand from smothering crops. The system was so effective that it played a crucial role in enabling communities to grow food and thrive in the challenging landscapes of Nubia for over 3,000 years.

Nile Nubia civilizations history
Jose A. Bernat Bacete via Getty Images
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"This incredibly long-lived hydraulic technology played a crucial role in enabling communities to grow food and thrive in the challenging landscapes of Nubia for over 3,000 years," says archaeologist Matthew Dalton from the University of Western Australia. Researchers suggest that these structures were built to sustain large communities in a region where the flow of the Nile was not as strong or consistent as further north in Egypt. Groynes would have made settlement in the region possible, especially if the flow of the Nile was waning, as climate records indicate. "These monumental river groynes helped to connect the people of ancient Egypt and Nubia by facilitating the long-distance movement of resources, armies, people, and ideas up and down the Nile," marvels Dalton.

It's amazing to think that the importance of these ancient systems has largely escaped our notice until recently. And while further research is needed to date these structures properly, it's clear that they have played a crucial role in the development of civilizations along the Nile for thousands of years.

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