Water and Power in Past Societies

Edited by Emily Holt

Subjects: Archaeology, Anthropology, Environmental Studies, History, Middle East Studies
Series: SUNY series, The Institute for European and Mediterranean Archaeology Distinguished Monograph Series
Hardcover : 9781438468754, 334 pages, May 2018
Paperback : 9781438468761, 334 pages, January 2019

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Table of contents


1. Water and Power in Past Societies: An Introduction
Emily Holt
Part I. Productive Power and the Ecological History of Waterscapes

2. The Political Ecology of Chinampa Landscapes in the Basin of Mexico
Christopher T. Morehart

3. Irrigation and Social Organization: A Longue Durée Perspective from the Jordan Valley
Eva Kaptijn

4. Water Management by Mobile Pastoralists in the Middle East
Emily Hammer

5. Water and Workshops: Inequality among Mining Sites in Ancient Laurion (Greece)
Kim Van Liefferinge
Part II. Waterscapes, Power Plays, and Display

6. From Elite Villas to Public Spaces: The First Decorative Fountains in Ancient Rome
Brenda Longfellow

7. From Urban Oasis to Desert Hinterland: The Decline of Petra’s Water System. The Case of the Petra Garden and Pool Complex
Leigh-Ann Bedal
8. Spatial Archaeology, Hydrology, and the Historical Dynamics of Water in Ancient Southern Arabia (Yemen and Oman)
Michael J. Harrower
Part III. Coastal Water

9. The Sea and Bronze Age Transformations
Christopher Prescott, Anette Sand-Eriksen, and Knut Ivar Austvoll

10. Southeast Asian Maritime Power, Seventeenth-Century Spice Wars, and Tiworo’s Neglected Fortifications
Jennifer L. Gaynor

11. The Power of Coastal Resources: Assessing Maritime Economic Opportunity in the Roman Mediterranean
Justin Leidwanger

Part IV. Water Archaeology: Pasts, Presents, Futures

12. Rivers as Material Infrastructure: A Legacy from the Past to the Future
Matt Edgeworth

13. Geologies of Belonging: The Political Ecology of Water in Central Anatolia
Ömür Harmanşah

14. Some Perspectives on the Frequency of Significant, Historically Forcing Drought and Subsistence Crises in Anatolia and Region
Sturt W. Manning

15. A Framework for Facing the Past
Vernon L. Scarborough


Examines the many ways water has contributed to power structures in the past, with insights for contemporary water management.


Water, an essential resource in all cultures, is at the heart of human power structures. Utilizing a diverse range of theoretical perspectives, the contributors to Water and Power in Past Societies provide a broad introduction to the archaeology of water-related power structures. The studies herein explore the long history of water politics in human society, offering new insights into the power structures and inequalities surrounding irrigation systems, the collection of rainwater as a component of ancient industrial production, and sea water as a facilitator of communication, trade, and aggression. In addition to examining the role of different types of water in creating power relationships, the volume presents case studies from a variety of climatic regions, ranging from the very dry to the tropical. This geographical breadth facilitates cross-cultural comparison, making Water and Power in Past Societies an essential resource for instructors and students of the archaeology of water. Finally, in addition to reaching conclusions with significant implications for archaeologists and anthropologists, the volume has real contemporary relevance, often drawing explicit parallels with issues of current and future water management.

Emily Holt is Research Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York.