If you had been present this past Saturday at “Ancient Encounters Egypt” at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, you would have seen a giant lever being manipulated by many little hands. John Standish, our treasurer, really outdid himself! In the proud tradition of experimental archaeology, John designed and constructed a shadoof to help children understand one of the six simple machines and to help them grasp the ingenuity of the ancient Egyptians. With this device the Egyptians were able to easily move water from the Nile to irrigate fields.
The shadoof was originally developed in ancient Egypt. Perhaps its earliest depiction occurs on an Egyptian seal dating to approximately 2000 BCE.
The shadoof is really an enormous lever that consists of an upright frame on which is suspended a long pole. At the end of the pole hangs a bucket, skin bag, or bitumen-coated reed basket. The opposite end carries a weight of clay or stone which serves as a counterbalance. When correctly balanced, the counterweight will support a filled bucket so that very little effort is needed to lift the bucket. With an almost effortless swinging and lifting motion, the machine is used to scoop up and carry water. At the end of each movement, the water is emptied out into trenches that carry the water to irrigation ditches.
This simple ancient tool is still used extensively throughout the world. Recently, the “Shadoof Project” was launched in July, 20014 with a conference in Brussels. Its ongoing mission is to:
create a database of traditional techniques and to focus attention on the rich and diverse water harvesting, water irrigation and wastewater-related heritage in the Mediterranean region. It also aims to provide a model of how archaeological data, integrated with historical information and traditional knowledge, can be used to build a new awareness of the role of water and wastewater in contemporary society and nature. This approach will integrate a long-term understanding of water management with efforts to establish sustainable development strategies.
If you are interested in sustainability and the future of water on this planet, here’s a link for you to investigate further: http://www.shaduf-eu.org/
Isn’t it amazing how an ancient tool still remains relevant today? It’s so rewarding for us to help children encounter the wonders and technology of the ancient world.
We’re grateful for underwriting from Apache for “Ancient Encounters”. Their support helps us reach out to you and to your children to increase our understanding of our world.