How Did Irrigation Work in Ancient Times?

Irrigation has been an essential practice for agriculture since ancient times. The earliest evidence of irrigation dates back to around 6000 BCE in Mesopotamia, where farmers used canals and levees to control the flow of water from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

Throughout history, people have developed different methods of irrigation to maximize crop yields and minimize water waste. In this article, we will explore how irrigation worked in ancient times.

Surface Irrigation

Surface irrigation is one of the oldest methods of irrigating crops. It involves flooding or furrowing the fields with water from a nearby source such as a river or a well. This method was used extensively in ancient Egypt and is still used today in many parts of the world.


Flooding involves diverting water from a river or canal into fields that are slightly sloped. The water flows down the slope and covers the entire field, providing moisture to plants’ roots. This method is suitable for crops that require large amounts of water like rice and wheat.

Furrow Irrigation

Furrow irrigation involves digging small trenches (furrows) between rows of crops and filling them with water. The water seeps into the soil and reaches plant roots through capillary action. This method is suitable for crops that do not require standing water like corn, cotton, and soybeans.

Sprinkler Irrigation

Sprinkler irrigation was first introduced in the late 19th century in the United States. It involves spraying water over crops using sprinklers mounted on tall poles or attached to moving systems like center pivots. Sprinkler irrigation became popular because it can cover large areas quickly without wasting too much water.

Drip Irrigation

Drip irrigation is a relatively new technique that was first developed in Israel in the 1960s. It involves delivering water directly to plants’ roots through a network of pipes and emitters.

Drip irrigation is highly efficient because it reduces water loss due to evaporation and runoff. It is suitable for crops that require little water like grapes, olives, and citrus fruits.


In conclusion, irrigation has been an essential practice for agriculture since ancient times. People have developed different methods of irrigation to suit different crops and environments.

Surface irrigation, sprinkler irrigation, and drip irrigation are some of the most commonly used methods today. As populations grow and climate change affects water availability, it becomes increasingly important to use water efficiently in agriculture.