Waters

In class today, I started thinking about the differences in they ways people in Mesopotamia and people in the Nile Valley use and interact with water, and I’m wondering if their choices were entirely environmental.  Obviously, the Ubaid couldn’t just wait on the rain to fall, or they’d be screwed, but what made them use irrigation instead of just following the rivers, moving northward, or some other solution?  As we mentioned, the huge infrastructure required for successful irrigation methods takes quite a bit of organization, power/authority, time, materials, and people to put into place.  With all of this effort, what made them choose to use this method?

In the Nile Valley, the river flooded every year, which, it seems, the Tigris and Euphrates did not.  In some ways, this may have been more helpful for the people in  Mesopotamia.  Today we talked about how there were drought conditions throughout the entire region, lending significantly to the collapse of the Old Kingdom.  Partly, it seems this stressor for Egypt was more difficult to deal with because of their complete dependence on the Nile floods for their agricultural practices.  We have talked about different practices, such as letting a field lay fallow for a year, or irrigation, that the Ancient Egyptians never needed to practice in significant breadth since the Nile flooded each year, offering them a new field with nutrients and water.  However, in Mesopotamia, since the rivers didn’t flood, at least with the same regularity or in the same way as, the Nile, the people there had to find other ways of using these rivers and their waters.  I haven’t read ahead in the class, so I’m not sure how exactly the Mesopotamian culture and state collapse, but I’m wondering if perhaps their processes of agricultural irrigation could perhaps have helped them during the time of the drought in that whole region.  If this was the case, I would be curious to see whether other factors (such as intensive, large-scale building projects) were similar between the two, perhaps helping us make some decisions about what sorts of interactions with existing geographical bodies (such as rivers) does while dealing with stressors within a state context.

Once the Ubaid people (and others) decided to stay where they were, it makes sense that irrigation practices developed.  In our reading, we see “the scarcity of natural resources … play a fundamental role in structuring Mesopotamian economies” and “the basis of the economy remained fundamentally agrarian.”  Since there was such a vast trade network, I’m wondering why agriculture had to remain the basis of economy, especially given that it required a lot of work to get land available to be productive agriculturally.  Obviously, trade and the working of raw materials brought in by trade were important, but I’m wondering whether this ever became a significant part of the economic system the way agriculture was for Egypt? If not, why not?