The foundation of life – Rainwater Harvesting Throughout History

Venice, boat parked at the canal

All you need is water

The need for a perpetual flow of the life giving and life enhancing liquid – water – is something that all humans, regardless of culture share. Water, the importance of it and its life-giving qualities, have been at the centre of religions, myths and ceremonies since the beginning of time. Rainmaking, for example is one such ceremony where the belief is that the gods will bless the earth with rain. The Native Americans have long danced in honour of the rain to receive the blessing of a rainfall. The erratic performance of the skies when it comes to rainfall should be no surprise to us however; rain is a natural resource dependant on forces beyond our control.

Nature’s inconsistencies

Water is the essence of life, along with air, earth and fire. Earth, the blue planet, our unique home – is habitable due to the existence of water. As inhabitants of the driest continent on earth, Australia, we are more than aware of that a continuous flow of water is often a vision not quite fulfilled as we have droughts. The importance of preserving water, rainwater harvesting, is important for us. In fact, the importance of rainwater harvesting  is something that has been intrinsically known by every civilisation throughout time. The knowledge of rainwater harvesting – to catch those drops when they fall from the sky to secure future supply – is an ancient practice. Rainwater harvesting can be referred to as a proactive practice with the objective of ‘balancing out’ Nature’s inconsistencies.

Rainwater Harvesting

Rainwater harvesting can be traced back to the Neolithic Age. Along with developing farming practices in the late 4000 BC period, sophisticated water management methods also emerged. Waterproof lime plaster cisterns were built in the floors of houses in villages of the Levant region (a large area in Southwest Asia, south of the Taurus Mountains, between the Mediterranean Sea to the west and Mesopotamia in the east).

Interestingly, archaeologists have noted a definitive correlation between the advancement of civilisations and the level of sophistication of water management skills.

Water Collection Methods in step with the Advancement of Civilisations

A significant step in the development of rainwater harvesting took place around 2000 BC in India, China, and Mesopotamia and ancient Rome, which formalised the rainwater harvesting practice. In India, the ancient cities of the Indus Valley had vast barrels carved out into the rocks to collect rainfall. At times of drought, huge distances of stone gorges weaved their way through the city as a means of reliable water supply for both the population of the area and the cities’ plants.

As is evident over time, rainwater harvesting methods were constantly developing in ancient civilisations, but it is really the ancient Romans that can truly put their name on the art of rainwater management. The ancient Romans made rainwater harvesting an advanced science.

Water cistern and 7,000 slaves

The Romans, and many other civilisations such as North African cultures and the Greeks used cisterns extensively. Ancient Rome impressed with an underground space that had been constructed by 7,000 slaves! This space held a significant cistern with a water filtration system that served the water to Great Palace of Constantinople. The ancient Romans paved the path for the modern rain harvesting techniques with “an extensive water distribution system including both aqueduct water and the well water. The roofs of houses collected rainwater that flowed through terracotta pipes down to cisterns where water was stored for domestic use” [1].

Rain Water Harvesting Today

Today, rain harvesting has never been more important. Water security is a topic high on the agenda and increasing and record temperatures like we have experienced this last summer along with more severe droughts are a reality. Rainwater harvesting is today not as complex as in the ancient Rome – but arguable equally if not more important. Bushmans range of rainwater tanks include poly water tanks, steel liner tanks, industrial tanks and are offered in slimline, round and tall shapes. Bushmans rainwater tanks are readily accessible and luckily, we no longer need 7, 000 slaves to prepare the ground for tank installation in order to catch those precious drops. The rain dance – that is an optional!

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Bushman’s range of rainwater tanks and accessories

Bushman Tanks prides itself on its comprehensive range of rainwater tanks and accessories for rainwater harvesting.

[1]  History of Water Cisterns: Legacies and Lessons

Posted in HomepageUncategorizedWater saving resourcesTagged water conservation



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