The Impact Of Ancient Desert Agriculture In The Negev Desert

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After migrating from urban centers to nearby mountainous valley regions, Jewish migrants faced arid and semi-arid land that was unsuitable for agriculture. Negligible rainfall and extreme evaporation rendered conventional growing methods impractical and useless. Building on the agricultural innovations of ancient Mesopotamia, those living in the Negev desert region so too developed systems of river and flood management, as well as water conservation, for agricultural use. These ancient farmers faced limited cultivation capabilities as a result of a harsh semi-arid climate, but were able to sustain populations by taking advantage of natural watersheds provided by geologic formations such as hills, mountains, and valleys, as well as intervening…show more content…
The Negev desert is characterized by its lengthy, waterless summer with rain events occurring during the colder months of the year. Hendrik Bruins adds in his article, “Ancient Desert Agriculture in the Negev and Climate-Zone Boundary Changes During Average, Wet and Drought Years”, that:
The amount of average annual rainfall ranges from 300 mm in the northern Negev to only 25 mm in the southern Negev…Cereal food crops like wheat and barley require at least 250-300 mm to obtain a reasonable yield. Fruit trees, including grape vines, olives and pomegranates need more than 400 mm of precipitation. Therefore, most of the Negev is too dry for agriculture based only on rainfall.
In short, agriculture reliant purely on levels of sufficient rainfall was destined for failure in the Negev desert region, which is characterized by its low precipitation and high evaporation. Moreover, facing the Negev’s unpredictable and sporadic yearly precipitation patterns with “local [rains that] affect[ed] small areas of several km2”, effective farming required a more proactive approach to subsistence
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Archaeological excavations on ancient agricultural sites reveal that there was little homogeneity in irrigation system building structure and style. In other words, most irrigation systems found were unique to the particular conditions farmers faced in the area. Ancient farmers likely built according to their individual circumstances, that is to say building structure, style, and size would have depended on proximity to geological surface runoff and/or active floodplains. This characteristic of Negev desert farming suggests “the agriculture systems were built in a wide variety of forms highly compatible with the local conditions by local farmers and not by a well-designed external governmental effort”. In short, farming methods in the region were unique to the local conditions and resources available to individual cultivators without the interference of a centralized system. The dissimilarities between different agricultural sites speak to the wide range of temperature and rainfall discrepancies between the northern and southern parts of the Negev desert. Unique agricultural set-ups allude to the necessity for ancient farmers to cultivate according to their individual needs based on location, rainfall, and access to floodplains.
However, the Negev desert was not completely arid and inhabitable. Archaeology suggest that there was
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