McGuire Gibson

Torrents of raging water spill down from the western highlands of Yemen each spring and summer. These waters were once tamed by a massive—and now washed-away—Sabaean dam constructed in the middle of the first millennium B.C. at Marib. Spanning more than 2,000 feet, this was the most ambitious of a succession of dams built in the area since late Neolithic times. The 50-foot-high sluice above diverted water into basins, from which a network of canals channeled the water to the parched plains below. The Sabaeans’ ingenious irrigation system was probably financed by the revenues generated by the incense trade, which brought unprecedented prosperity to the region beginning in the late second millenium B.C.