The present aridity of the desert zone of the
Middle East was established during the last 2 million years, coeval with the
presence of human societies in this region.
According to its long archeological record, this
desert zone is holding evidence of hunters, gathers, pastoralists and farmers
that subsisted in arid to hyper-arid climate, demonstrating its ability to
support human societies over long time. In this regard, the Negev and Sinai
deserts are among the harshest deserts on earth receiving only 25-130 mm/y.
Despite these climatic conditions, the existence of human societies is
documentation in the archeological record from the Early Paleolithic to the
The capability of human societies to survive in
harsh environments is very much depended on the utilization of the natural
conditions, such as the interaction between the geodiversity, landscape
evolution processes and climate. In the hyper-arid Sinai desert, water
availability is depended very much on good transformation of the occasional
precipitations to runoff, stored for long periods below surface in alluvial
beds deposited along the streams. The coexistence of water resources with the
abundant eatable acacia trees made this harsh environment suitable for herds of
Gazelle, Ibex and Ostrich, tracked by small groups of hunters. These natural
conditions were utilized by pastoral societies since ancient times, including
by the present Bedouins. The utilization of these water resources for
agriculture was limited in the past to profitable crops, replaced at present by
the cultivation of plants used for drugs, such as opium.
In the Negev and Southern Jordan deserts,
numerous cisterns were dug in preferred geological formation such as the Disi
sandstone and the Menuha chalk, enabling long-term water storage. Part of these
cisterns were dug in vicinity to the caravan road connecting Arabia and the
Mediterranean coast. These cisterns, together with several shallow wells
located along the main streams, are constructing a net of permanent and
reliable water resources supporting pastoral and agricultural desert societies.
On a wider scope, other harsh deserts, such as
the Atacama and the Taklimakan, are gaining from permanent water resources
originated in high mountain ranges such as the Andes and the Tian Shan, which
contain everlasting glaciers. The desert societies that lived in these regions
were sustained for long periods, gaining from their spatial flexibility and
their access to these permanent resources.
The extended abstract and supplementary material