Lost Worlds, Lost Wetlands

Mesopotamia is argued by many historians to be one of the “cradles of civilization.” Historically, the Marsh Arabs depended on the marshlands of the region for 5,000 years, going all the way back to ancient Sumeria. These wetlands show up in epic poetry of early Mesopotamia:

‘Ever the river has risen and brought us the flood,
the mayfly floating on the water.
On the face of the sun its countenance gazes,
then all of a sudden nothing is there’.
– ‘He who saw the Deep’,
(The Epic of Gilgamesh, 1,200 B.C.)

Most of the marshes of Mesopotamia, including the delta plains of the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers in the Middle East, were destroyed by the year 2000. The marshes were lost to hydro-engineering for dams (flood control and electricity), canals and reservoirs (irrigation, farming), all of which reduced the annual floods, which used to renew the waters in the wetlands. The once-thriving marshlands have dried out due to a 20-50% decrease in the flow of water from the major rivers throughout the region. In addition, Saddam Hussein drained large wetlands to punish the tribes—Marsh Arabs—living in those areas and to expose the rebel hiding places, in the 1990s.http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/
Features/WorldOfChange/iraq.php

A number of international organizations pulled together to bring attention to the loss of wetlands there, including World Wildlife Fund, which recorded over 278 species of bird in the Mesopotamian ecoregion. Nearly half of those identified are wetland birds. http://wwf.panda.org/about_our_earth/ecoregions/mesopotamian_delta_marshes.cfm A marsh restoration project through the United Nations Environment Program began in 2006. For an image of the Vanishing Marshes of Mesopotamia, go to: http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=1716 For a technical report,http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/imagerecords/1000/1716/meso2.pdf

For those who research archaeological use of wetlands for agriculture, the Mayan use of the “seasonal swamp,” known as el Bajo la justa,” in northern Guatemala is also very interesting. In the latter years of the ancient Mayan culture, archeologists surmise that the Mayans must have expanded the way they farmed the lowlands, including wetlands, in order to support a larger population. But this has been a subject of much debate: whether these “bajos” (interior wetlands) were used for agricultural purposes. A 1995 study by T. Patrick Culbert funded by the University of Arizona looked this issue: http://www.famsi.org/reports/94033/94033Culbert01.pdf

Last fall an issue of Nature featured new findings. A study identified more evidence that wetlands were used for agriculture by the Mayans: The new “research suggests that the Maya built canals between wetlands to divert water and create new farmland,” according to Timothy Beach, a physical geographer at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.. Archaeologists often explore the question of any ancient civilization, how did they feed a large population? The answer for the Mayans was wetlands.
http://www.nature.com/news/2010/101105/full/news.2010.587.html For more background information on the history of Maya agriculture and the role of wetlands, go to: http://www.authenticmaya.com/maya_agriculture.htm

Finally, I’ll leave you with something fun to ponder: the true whereabouts of the lost city of Atlantis. Is it buried in the marshlands of Spain after all?  According to a new film, Finding Atlantis, on National Geographic (TV channel), a documentary-maker from Hartford University in CT has proposed just that. To find out how to see the film, visit: http://channel.nationalgeographic.
com/episode/finding-atlantis-4982/Overview
 and come a little closer to understanding one of the world’s greatest mysteries. Yet again, the answer to the riddle could be wetlands. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/spain/8381219/Lost-city-of-Atlantis-buried-in-Spanish-wetlands.html

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