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Aalto University (2021)

Hydrological analysis of stepped pools in Roman Palestine

Aarnio, Niko

Titre : Hydrological analysis of stepped pools in Roman Palestine

Askelmallisten altaiden hydrologinen analyysi Rooman valtakunnan Palestiinassa

Auteur : Aarnio, Niko

Université de soutenance : Aalto University

Grade : Master’s Programme in Water and Environmental Engineering (WAT) 2021

In the areas of present-day Israel, Palestine and Jordan, archaeologists have discovered hundreds of stepped pool structures believed to have served as early Jewish ritual purification baths. Most of these pools date back to the Early and Middle Roman periods. An important part of the studies of the ancient stepped pools is their apparent abandonment around the 1st and 2nd centuries CE. So far, a shift in climate has remained an unexplored theory to explain the observed decline.

In this study, the effects of climatic conditions on a stepped pool were inspected by building a rainwater harvesting model to describe the water fluxes in and out of the pool. Because the stepped pools were assumed to be closely connected to household level water management, the model included a secondary water storage for other household water needs, called the surplus storage, in addition to the stepped pool storage. To obtain concrete results, the model was applied for two case study pools that were studied through a set of climate and pool use scenarios using 30 years of modern climate data.

The results suggest that since the pools were often small in volume, they could be kept consistently usable even in drier years or a generally more arid climate, if they were highly prioritized. In the scenarios where the pools were managed more dynamically with the other water resources of a household, they became unusable in late summer in several years, indicating that with the assumed water sources and consumption, the household could not support both the pool and daily water use through years drier than average. In the arid climate scenario, water resources of the household were notably smaller compared to the more humid scenario, which reduced the usable months by ca. 2 months in the dynamic use scenarios.

The results highlight the need to study the stepped pools through household level water management. The harvested rainwater was used also for other household needs, presumably in volumes greater than was needed to upkeep the pool. Consequently, the accuracy of the contextual parameters, such as water consumption rate of a household member, should be prioritized in future studies


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