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Hydrologic Engineering Marvels Hidden in History

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The great Nile dam, at the head of the first cataract of the Nile, is 600 miles above Cairo. OSU Special Collection. (Public Domain)

Hydrologic Engineering Marvels Hidden in History

Everyone is familiar with the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, but according to Scottish historical writer, stone mason, and founder of the Caithness Broch Project, Iain Maclean, while these “tourist traps have been done to death, some equally magnificent engineering feats of antiquity are overlooked”. During a discussion about the reason why Brochs (Pictish round houses) were always located beside running water sources, Maclean expounded about prehistory’s greatest civilizations being masters of water diversion and hydrology. Maclean’s list of five least known ancient engineering marvels, which all have a watery theme, requires battening down one’s hatches to enter a subterranean world of ancient water collecting, diverting, streaming, flooding and damming skills.

An artist's illustration depicting Xerxes' alleged "punishment" of the Hellespont (1909) (Public Domain)

An artist's illustration depicting Xerxes' alleged "punishment" of the Hellespont (1909) (Public Domain)

Xerxes’ Extraordinary Canal

During the First Persian invasion of Greece in 492 BC, the Persian general Mardonius sailed to Greece with an army of 20,000 men onboard 300 ships. Whilst attempting to circumnavigate Mount Athos his armada was struck by a tempest and was catastrophically wrecked. Three years before embarking with his armada to launch the Second Persian invasion of Greece (480–479 BC), the great king Xerxes I of Persia ordered a canal be dug through the isthmus of Athos, in Chalkidiki, northern Greece, wide enough for two triremes to be rowed side by side, to avoid the same calamity that befell general Mardonius.


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