Wisdom dwells in places: What can modern farmers learn from ancient agricultural systems in the desert of the Southern Levant?

Noa Avriel-Avni, Yoav Avni, Avshalom Babad, Ariel Meroz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Farming in drylands has always been challenging, however, modern technologies that allow irrigation by using distant water have sparked renewed interest in desert agriculture. Using imported water liberates the modern farmers from one of the major limitations created by this extreme environment, but the high price of the water, along with natural processes such as salinization and soil erosion, can make modern agriculture unprofitable. In the Negev Highlands desert of the Southern Levant, new agriculture enterprises have recently been established on the same soils that were cultivated for 600–700 years by ancient residents who constantly contended with environmental challenges. Therefore, it makes sense to ask whether the modern farmers can improve their methods using the long-term experience embodied in the remnants of the ancient agricultural systems. Using an interdisciplinary approach combining geomorphology, hydrology, archaeology and sociology, we show that the modern farmers face serious problems of soil erosion, soil salination and high price of water. Surprisingly, rain and floods are considered a negative factor for modern desert agriculture. We conclude that adapting and integrating some of the ancient methods within modern desert agricultural practices may turn the desert precipitation from a burden to a blessing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)86-98
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Arid Environments
StatePublished - 1 Apr 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Ancient agriculture
  • Desert runoff agriculture
  • Interdisciplinary approach
  • Negev desert
  • Soil erosion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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