The Early Waterlifting Devices: Dhenkli or Shaduf and the Araghatta (Noria)

Water is an absolutely necessary element for life. The availability of water has played a key role in the development of all civilizations. Indeed, especially in the ancient times, water scarcity prevented the development of settlements. Water lifting devices have existed since ca. 3000 BC in various parts of the world. Early devices, such as water wheels and chutes were constructed and used animals (muscle energy) to provide the energy required to move the wheels.

Shaduf or Dhenkli

The shaduf is known as the first device used for lifting water in several ancient civilizations. It has been referred to with different names, such as shaduf (shadoof) in Egypt, zirigum in Sumer, dhenkli in India, kilonion or kelonion in Hellas, and daliya in Iraq.

The Shaduf or dhenkli is a wooden hand-operated device used for lifting water from a well, a river, a cistern or a canal. In its most common form, it consists of a long, tapering, nearly horizontal wooden pole, which is mounted like a seesaw (Figure 1). It has a bag and a rope attached on one end of the pole, with a counter balance on the other. The operator pulls down a rope, attached to the long end, fills the container and allows the counterweight to raise the filled container. A series of shadufs were sometimes mounted one above the other. A typical water lifting rate was 2.5 m3/d. A single shaduf could thus irrigate 0.1 ha of land in 12 h.

The Mesopotamians were known to lift water using the shaduf at around 3000 BC.

This instrument was widely spread in the ancient world, and several ancient civilizations dispute its origin. It was invented in the prehistoric times probably in Mesopotamia as early as the time of Sargon of Akkad (Emperor of the Sumerian city-states in the ca. 23rd and 22nd centuries BC). A shaduf is said to be depicted on a cylindrical seal from Mesopotamia dated ca. 2200 BC. It is also still in use in Egypt and other countries. In North Africa, a similar technique (called locally Diou or Dlou) was developed in the beginning of the ca. 12th century. It was used to raise water to higher levels. Owing to the fact that it was well spread in India, J. Laessoe [Reflections on modern and ancient oriental water works, J. Cuneif. Stud. 7, 5–26, 1935] has reported that the dhenkli / shaduf was invented in India.

The Waterwheel

The Egyptian shaduf and the water wheel (or noria or sania) are probably among the earliest devices for lifting water to be used for irrigation and domestic water supply.

The Egyptian waterwheel (noria) is thought to be the first vertical (horizontal axis) waterwheel and was invented by the Romans ca. 600–700 BC. It consists of a wooden wheel, powered by water flow and fitted with buckets that lifted water for irrigating nearby lands. The diffusion of the Egyptian waterwheel is typically associated with the (later) Arab civilization and the animal-powered waterwheel is considered as the high symbol of the Islamic imprint upon irrigation technology. Also, the invention of the compartmentalized waterwheel in Egypt may have been made ca. in the late 4th century BC, in a rural context, away from the metropolis of Hellenistic Alexandria and was then spread to other parts of North Africa. The hydraulic wheel was later built in Fez, Morocco, in the 13th century and was then spread to other parts of North Africa.

Waterwheels driven by camels were used to lift water for irrigation and domestic use in Afghanistan and other Asian countries. A limited number of these units are still in use today. In Sudan, an ox-driven system has been used as a simple irrigation device for centuries and continues to be used even nowadays.

In India it was called araghatta in Sanskrit. It is also sometimes referred to as ghati yantra. Ghatta means pots which are tied on the rim of the wheel.

Persian Wheel: The Noria

A variation of the Egyptian waterwheel is the Persian waterwheel. The date of its invention is not well known. It consists of an endless series of pots of unequal weight turned over two pulleys and is therefore classified as a pump rather than a waterwheel. The delivery rate of early animal powered Persian waterwheels ranged between 20 m3/h (for 1.5 m height lifting) and 10 m3/h (for 9 m height lifting). Of course, the higher the waterwheel and the more advanced the technology used for its function, the more the quantity of water lifted. The waterwheel, in its different versions, constitutes the ancestor of dynamic water lifting devices and modern hydropower systems, the principle of which is to extract power from the flow (kinetic energy) of water.

The shortage of labour in the Middle Ages rendered machines, such as the waterwheel, cost- effective. The waterwheel remained competitive with the steam engine well into the Industrial Revolution. The system used for lifting water to irrigate the Hanging Gardens of Babylon still remains a mystery. It is worth noting that the word noria is a Spanish word and its origin is coming from in the Arabic term, Na-urah, meaning the first water machine. In the related bibliography this word is found and as Na’ura, as well as Naurah.

The large-scale use of norias was introduced in Spain by Syrian engineers. An installation similar to that at Hama (Figure 2) was still in operation in Toledo in the 12th century. The Na’ura (Noria) of Albolafia in Cordoba also known as Kulaib, which stands until now, served to elevate the water of the river until the Palace of the Caliphs. Its construction was commissioned by Abd al-Rahman I, and was reconstructed several times.

Several civilizations claim the invention of Noria. There are Indian texts dating from ca. 350 BC; Joseph Needham believed that the noria was developed in India ca. the fifth or fourth century BC. He assumed that it had then spread to the west by the first century BC and then diffused to China by the second century AD. This was followed by widespread use of the noria in the Eastern Mediterranean in the 5th century AD, before reaching North Africa and the Iberian Peninsula in the 11th century. Other possibilities of its origin include the Near East ca. 200 BC. Philo of Byzantium in Pneumatica (ca. 230 BC), a Hellenic engineer of the late third or early second century BC, showed sketches of several distinct types of waterwheels.

Noria and Saqiya:

Needham, in Science and Civilisation, Vol. IV(2), gave a clear definition of the two forms, the noria having the containers fixed to the rim of the wheel, and the saqiya on the rope or chain flung over the wheel (p. 356).

Having done so, he was able to follow up the evidence gathered by Coomaraswamy and Laufer, and argue that the earliest water-wheel in India was the noria, and that, moreover, India was probably the country of origin of this device. The reasons Needham adduced for this conclusion were two-fold: first of all, the noria was in the Hellenistic world in the first century BC and in China in the second century AD, and this proximity of date in such distant civilisations suggested an intermediate source of diffusion.

Secondly, he located the earliest recorded reference (derived presumably from Coomaraswamy) to the noria in the term cakkavattaka (turning wheel) used in the Cullavagga Nikaya (assigned to ca. 350 BC) for one of the three permissible models of water-lift.

Source: D.P.Agarwal Needham on Early Indian Inventions of Hydraulics, Cotton-Gins and Alcohol Distillation.