The ancient Roman city of Palmyra once supported a population of 100,000 people in the middle of the desert. Now researchers, using satellite photographs, believe they have figured out how this was possible.
Professor Meyer and his colleagues came to realise that what they were studying was not a desert, but rather an arid steppe, with underground grass roots that keep rain from sinking into the soil. Rainwater collects in intermittent creeks and rivers called wadi by the Arabs.
The archaeologists gathered evidence that residents of ancient Palmyra and the nearby villages collected the rainwater using dams and cisterns. This gave the surrounding villages water for crops and enabled them to provide the city with food; the collection system ensured a stable supply of agricultural products and averted catastrophe during droughts.
Local farmers also cooperated with Bedouin tribes, who drove their flocks of sheep and goats into the area to graze during the hot season, fertilising the farmers’ fields in the process.
Story: Physorg | Photo: J.C. Meyer