Ancient Jericho Water Sources

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Our goal with this video is to understand what Wadi Kelt (also known as Prat stream) water uses have been throughout history, that is from the Hasmonean period, followed by Herod the great until our time, all in all, a period of 2200 years. What were the water sources and what was the design of the aqueducts to bring the water to its destination?

What were the main usages of the water – the Hasmoneans built a complex of winter palaces few kilometers from here in Jericho, part of which was later rebuilt by Herod the great. The beginning of the Hasmonean activity in the Jericho Valley was agricultural development. According to the sources, palm trees and Afarsimon shrubs were grown here, and please don’t confuse between the ancient Afarsimon & the persimmon fruit we eat nowadays, no connection between the two. The fruit of the palm trees yielded mainly dry dates which could be stored and used as food for a long time, and also for making wines. From the Afarsimon fruits, perfumes and medicines were produced. Since a palm tree is the top water consumer among fruit trees, it can already be said that in terms of water consumption, we will later refer only to its water consumption and not to the Afarsimon or secondary crops. Another primary water consumers are the many pools and the unusually large amount of mikvahs, which is a type of a ritual bath. They were built as part of the winter palaces of the Hasmoneans and Herod. We will talk about the special structure of the mikvahs there and the reasons for the large numbers in the dedicated video about the winter palaces in Jericho. Dozens of pools and mikvahs which requires natural flowing water, consume a significant amount of water, but still, the most significant water consumption was intended for agricultural crops in the Jericho Valley area.

Growing dates – apparently, growing dates in the land of Israel began to be significant during the 2nd Temple period, that is 2500 years ago. Some interesting data: (1) According to studies on the cultivation of dates in the 2nd Temple period up to the Talmudic period, dates in the Jordan Valley grew here 2000 years ago, over an area of ​​about five thousand dunams, equivalent to 1,250 acres. Today, by the way, in the Jordan Valley, palm trees are grown on an area of ​​fifteen thousand dunams, that is, three times as much. (2) Suppose the growth density was the same as today, that is, in each dunam or quarter of an acre – 12.5 trees. A simple calculation: 5000×12.5 means that 2000 years ago, over 62,000 palm trees grew along the Jordan valley. I have no information on how many of the trees grew in the Jericho Valley, but I would not be too wrong if I assume that 25,000 trees grew in this area compared to the 50,000 that grow here today. (3) And now we reach the interesting part – during each year, each dunam of palm trees consumes 2000 cubic meters of water, meaning that each tree receives 160,000 litters of water per year, and just for comparison, at that time, 2000 years ago, the annual water consumption of an average person was 7,000 liters compared to 160,000 liters per palm tree. Shortly we will see why this information is very important. To conclude the chapter on dates, I will only mention that in the Jericho Valley, dates were grown for drying, that is, dates that can be preserved for a long time. The qualities of the dry date of the Land of Israel were unprecedented in relation to what was customary at the time. There is much evidence of this. The land of Israel during the Second Temple period and the Talmud received most of its fame throughout the Roman Empire due to the production of Afarsimon oil, due to the cultivation of dried dates that were used for food throughout the year, and also due to the Salt & asphalt in the Dead Sea and in Chemar brook.

So, we listed the main water consumers, which are palm trees, mikvahs, pools and then Afarsimon shrubs, farming for other crops, and other needs. To obtain an estimate for the amount of water consumed here at the end of the Second Temple period, I simply calculated the water consumption of palm tree crops and multiplied it by two to satisfy the rest of the water consumers. The total water consumption of palm trees is 25,000 trees x 160,000 liters doubled for all other needs – a total of 8 million cubic meters of water per year. Since ancient time, the main water source in Jericho is Elijah or in Hebrew Elisha spring and in its Arabic name – Ein a-Sultan. Around this spring ancient Jericho developed. There are other water sources in Jericho and if I combine them all, then according to various studies, the amount of water that was available is about 5-6 million cubic meters per year. These resources were all exploited in the Hasmonean period and onwards. But in addition, the water that came from the springs in Wadi Kelt and the Na’aran area were necessary to support the growing water needs of the Jericho Valley.

Kelt spring is the most eastern and lowest in altitude spring in Prat stream (Wadi Kelt). To the west we have Mabua spring (also known as Ein Poar) and Prat spring (also known as Ein Para) which their water is flowing via Prat stream to Kelt spring. Mabua spring is the most significant water supplier of the 3 springs and I highly recommend watching the video on Mabua spring, where I explain, among other things, why it is an unstable water source. On an annual basis it generates between 2 & 3.5 million cubic meters, a significant amount – but due to its instability, another aqueduct was built during Herod’s time so that during the low tide of Mabua spring, water from Prat spring located 6 km west of Mabua spring would compensate.

In general, it can be said that there are four main layers of aqueducts surrounding Wadi Kelt. The first, Hasmonean, on top of which Herod built an aqueduct using many parts of the Hasmonean one. Then the pipes aqueduct built by the Umayyad dynasty and the fourth from the early 20th century.

The aqueducts from or around Kelt spring, include: (1) on the south bank there is a continuation of the open aqueduct from Herod reign that originates at Mabua spring supplying water to Kypros fort (2) Another aqueduct on the south bank is the pipes aqueduct and its destination was a water reservoir, most of which is underground, – Bet Jaber al-Fukani, the reservoir is currently blocked, it is located near the observation of St. George’s Monastery. (3) In addition, there is the open aqueduct in the north bank starting in Kelt spring and its water flow to Jericho mainly for agricultural purposes. You can see on the north site of Kelt spring, a sign in Arabic, which commemorates the construction of the flour mill and the aqueduct from Kelt spring to Jericho, built between 1877 – 1912, by the Husseini family.

Regarding the clay pipes aqueduct – this is a water aqueduct from the early Arab period, which for the most part consisted of a pair of adjacent clay pipes, yet in some parts the aqueduct was open. The clay pipes are made of clay vertebrae, glued together. The average diameter of the vertebrae is 45cm and their length is 60-70cm.  On the steep cliffs, the pipes aqueduct is using the aqueduct built by Herod without placing pipes because of the difficult terrain conditions that made it impossible to lay and connect the pipes. Out of the three bridges survived until now carrying the tubes aqueduct east of Kelt spring, the largest bridge is the one presented in the video, spread over Wadi Abu-Daba, and I will just mention that we are about five hundred meters from Kelt spring. The length of the bridge is 130m and its height is 25m. It was built on a number of arches of which only 2 survived. It is important to note that this bridge is unique in that it was not built on the base of a bridge built by Herod that led the aqueduct indirectly around the hill connected to the bridge. The aqueduct and the bridge are attributed by archaeologists to the days of the Umayyad Caliphate of the Muslim Empire that ruled the Syrian Israeli territory in the 7th and 8th centuries. The Umayyad period was a period of great construction and in this area, they built among other things, the Hisham Palace in Jericho.

And to conclude, as usual, a question – some see Prat stream (Wadi Kelt) in the section from Kelt spring, to the east, as the Cherith brook, which in Hebrew is called “Nahal Krit” mentioned in the Bible. Who is the prophet mentioned in the context of Cherith brook? – The answer will appear at the end of the video.

How to get there?

On the way from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea on Route 1, turn left to the settlement of Mitzpe Jericho, and immediately turn left again onto a narrow road that leads to St. George’s Church and Jericho. After 600m, there is a sharp right turn. At this point, turn left onto a dirt road, and drive on it for 100m until you reach the entrance to Prat Reserve, where you park your car.

After entering the Reserve, continue down walking on the dirt road leading to Prat brook, a distance of 1.2km. 300m before reaching the brook, on the left side, you can see the impressive pipes aqueduct bridge over Wadi Abu Daba. Once you reach the Prat stream, turn left (west) on the path next to the stream, and after about 500m you will reach Kelt spring (Ein Kelt).

Once you cross the Prat stream you can continue on the marked path to the hill above Kelt spring – turn left on the path on the hill, and in 200m you will reach a spectacular natural bridge. It is important to walk carefully, since walking on the upper path is close to the cliff – walking there requires extra care.

Information Sources

  1. Book: Ancient aqueducts in Eretz Israel, Editors: David Amit, Yizhar Hirschfeld and Yosef Petrich, Publisher: Yad Yitzhak Ben- Zvi
  2. Article: Palm groves in Eretz Israel during the Second Temple period, Mishnah and Talmud, Author: Akiva London, published by Bar Ilan University
  3. Qadmoniot: Quarterly for the Antiquities of Eretz-Israel and Bible Lands No. 46-47, Publisher: Israel Exploration Society Jerusalem
  4. Bimonthly: Kardom - Jericho and its surroundings, Editor: Eli Schiller, Publisher: Ariel

Mention in the Bible

  1. 1Kings chapter 17 verse 3

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