While completing this entry, the people in Egypt are presented in the media as massively celebrating the end of “the era of Moubarak”. So, we return to the hydrological quest of this beginning of 2011 Medieval Sai Project, with the wish that the changes in Egypt will not leave outside the agenda for more rational and humane improvement the bits and bites of a traditional cultural landscape in the Egyptian Nile Valley that are still trying to find a balance with the present forms.
Since this season we could not continue with our fieldwork, we will try to remind ourselves a bit of the landscape of Sai Island, based precisely on the issue of the saqia.
These constructions, introduced in Late Meroitic times into the Middle Nile Valley helped tremendously the cultivation of lands further inland than the selouka fields (a term defining the areas inundated and fertilized by the Nile floods): whereas a shadouf could lift water from c. 3 meters of depth, a saqia could lift from as deep as c. 10 meters!
Logically, the primary positioning of a saqia would be on the banks of the Nile. However, the water lifted from the river had to be transported to all the fields and thus the locals were digging ditches and building channels, sometimes quite elaborate and big.
The finding of such installations for saqias and fragments of the characteristic qadus knob bases of the pottery vessels used on the Sudanese water-wheels raise the question of the moving of the banks in the course of the centuries.
But smaller saqias could also be constructed further inland, so as to lift the water from side channels of the river, flooding during summer and keeping water for the rest of the year. This must have been for example the case of site 8-B-517.
Therefore, the saqias were probably also used in relation to the numerous wells found around the island. Could these be the places where the small saqias asked to be transported in the Old Nubian correspondence we saw in the previous entry would be used? The finding of quite a large number of qadus knobs around may strengthen the point.
And if this is the case, then it seems that the latest such installation on the island were always linked to the presence of a larger building, a tower or diffi, possibly the house of the “malik” of the estate.
Based on these points, we present a map of the island with saqia installations as recorded in our survey on Sai in 2009.
The most interesting point to make is that the material remains of activities related to the saqia are concentrated in the western and northwestern part of the island and along an old Nile branch that before Medieval times was separating the island of Sai in two, but subsequently was only periodically flooded but obviously retaining water for agricultural activities through the rest of the year.