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Ecological and social geneses of oasis agriculture

Vincent Battesti

Ecological and social geneses of oasis agriculture,
refused by World Archaeology, (for June 2005, vol. 37, n°2 « Garden Agriculture », Marijke van der Veen ed.).

Did not fit the “style” of the Journal.
The journal and the editor of this volume asked me, especially as an social anthropologist, to write this paper, but unfortunately (and oddly enough) the reviewers have regarded it too “anthropological” (ie, not enough “archaeological”).

Acknowledgments to Charles Levinson (Cairo) for the time he spent to correct my English drafting. I should submit it again to another journal thanks to Safa Dahab (Khartoum) who will kindly spend too much time too on my English.

Siwa oasis (Egypt)
© Vincent Battesti

 First lines:

An oasis is a green spot of agriculture in an arid (from semi-arid to hyper-arid) environment, combining agricultural spaces and habitat spaces, generally closely juxtaposed. Oasian gardens have been the main anthropic source of agricultural supply in desert environments. It is still the case at the beginning of the twenty-first century in Sahara and Middle Eastern deserts (this contribution deals with North Africa and Arabia), and it seems to be the perpetuation of a 5,000 year long history. Can oasian gardens be models for early agriculture?

This question can be divided into two sub-issues. The first should be formulated as: ‘can oasian gardens be a model for archaeological reconstitution?’ (This first methodological issue is not within the area of speciality of a non-archaeologist), and the second as: ‘can oasian gardens be a possible origin of agriculture?’ (This has more concern with anthropology).

An oasis, to state the obvious, is agriculture in the middle of an environment where such greenery should not be present. The sole entity responsible for this biological aberration is man. Man has brought together in a desert environment, which has a source of water, plants and fertilizer with the intention of food production. The classic agricultural scheme managed in these oases is generally irrigated, polyvalent (in mixed farming), and intensive, based on a canvas of palm dates and organized in three levels (palm dates shade fruit trees that shade vegetables, grains and fodder). This model of orchard-garden with intensive agriculture, clearly, is not an open farming system (considering the concentration of both agriculture and habitat spaces); neither is it a pluvial farming system (an important part of the technical system is dedicated to water control). To explain the agricultural pattern, integration of ecological constraints from desert environment is obviously a part of the answer. (…)

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