A Brief History of Water Wells
A Brief History of Water Wells
What exactly is a well? Technically speaking, it is a structure created in the ground by digging, drilling, or driving to access groundwater in underground aquifers, or a pocket of water trapped between layers of permeable rock. For thousands of years, societies all over the world have found different ways to access water. In fact, the oldest known well is a water well!
How Were Wells Dug In Ancient Times?
Some of the earliest evidence of water wells are found in China, where tile wells found in Beijing were likely constructed for drinking and irrigation around 600 BC, more than 2,600 years ago. During ancient times, like the wells found in China, these were hand dug wells with varying degrees of sophistication. However, these ancient water wells provided an important source of potable water to the rural and developing areas where they were routinely dug (and continue to be used today).
Additionally, other wells discovered by archeologists in Cyprus are believed to be some of the oldest evidence of well construction, dating to the Stone Age, almost 10,000 years ago.
This is a model of a ceramic Chinese well with a pulley system believed to be from the Han Dynasty, 202 BC – 220 AD. The artifact is currently in the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities in Sweden.
Besides this particular Chinese model, many ancient civilizations developed different systems of wells. In India, for example, step wells were very common. A step well is a pond or well that is accessed by a system of descending steps. Trenches were dug to access groundwater, and were lined with blocks of stone, creating stairs. These are some examples of step wells in India.
The Unique and Interesting History of Water Wells
As other ancient civilizations, like in Egypt, developed their own form of well technology, these societies created an interesting history of water wells. For example, in Egypt, the shadoof, also known as a well pole, is used to lift water from a river or pond. They are constructed using an upright frame with a long attached pole. This was a form of technology used not only in Egypt, but also China, Africa, and many parts of Europe. You can see an example of one these shadoofs found in Poland.
Additionally, some of the largest and deepest wells date back to these ancient civilizations. One, located in England, is called the Woodingdean Water Well, constructed between 1858 and 1862. It is a whopping 1,248 feet deep! The Empire State Building is 1,250 feet tall.
There are several hand dug wells that claim to be the largest (by volume). “The Big Well” in Kansas was built in 1887, and is 109 feet deep and 33 feet in diameter! Another of the largest wells in this category is located in Italy and was built in 1527. It is 175 feet deep and 43 feet wide, and has 248 steps and 70 windows!
While these examples of early well technology may not look familiar compared to the well in your backyard, it is always interesting to see how technology has changed throughout the years. We share a lot with our ancient ancestors, because we all have one thing in common: all people need water!