The Old Haj caravans through Syria and Northern Arabia averaged about 24 miles a day in the 19th century (Charles Doughty). Doughty left England and learned Arabic in Syria before going to Damascus to join the Haj into Arabia. In the caravan they had camels to carry supplies and tents, they had livestock along with them. Some had to travel on foot. Generally they did not have babies or small children with them, there were a few women with them also. Doughty wrote the history of one haj caravan that perished for lack of water between Tebuk and Medain Salih. They dug for water in the canyon and it was not there. I presume they could have carried enough water for a day or more in water skins, yet there was not always water within a day of walking.
I am sure one traveling in the Negev of Israel might easily find a gas station, military outpost, settlement, spring, well, or cistern within 40 miles of anywhere. This would be contingent on one having a GPS device and a good map.
David Q. Hall
"Ariel L. Szczupak" <ane.als@...
At 07:42 PM 5/31/2007, David Hall wrote:
>RE: Water in the desert:
>Have you ever been to Arabia? The Eastern and Western Egyptian deserts?
No. [And I didn't include the western Egyptian desert in the "near
east" as it's part of the Sahara belt]
>Have you ever been on the road from Taba to Nakl in the Sinai?
>You might go about 75 miles by road without seeing a house, although
>the road passed one abandoned airfield and well pump house without
>any houses visible.
The road is a path between daily pit stops, not a path for taking a
sip every hour. Such roads will typically use plateaus for easy
traveling, and water sources will typically be in the lower points of
an area. You can have a well or a spring 100 meters/yards from the
road and not see it because it's in a wadi or canyon.
From Eilat/Taba to Thamad is a day's walk. From Thamad to Nakhl is a
day's walk. Etc. Let's see ... here:
"Located in central Sinai, Nikhel has a historical and strategic
location on the juncture or main roads to Suez, al-Areesh and South
Sinai as well as the old pilgrim road. Nikhel also lies on the
International Highway which passes through al-shaheed Ahmad Helmi's
Tunnel and proceeds past Nikhel towards the sea outlets such as
Nwaiba' and air and land outlets such as Ras an-Naqab and Taba.
Nikhel covers an area of 11,034 square km. and hasa population of
about 7,500 (as at 1998), distributed over 10 villages and 49
hamlets. Citrus and vegetables are grown on well water in small
plantations at al- Khafaja, Beer Jareed, at-Tamad and al-Kontella,
while wheat and barley are grown on rain water. Vast areas in the
eastern parts are known for natural (unattended) plants growing on rain water."
>One was able to walk 24 miles in a day.
25 miles per day (~40 km) is a slow pace - rough terrain, extreme
heat, etc. 35 miles should be more like it for average (desert)
conditions and over 40 miles per day for forced march. Livestock is
slower, of course, but it can handle morning to next-day's evening
treks (and so can people). And moving herds of livestock between
water sources that are far apart is done twice a year, if at all.
>The Syrian desert is quite barren towards the border of Iraq; there
>are no wells or roads there. Waterholes were not always full either.
>Sometimes known water holes were reached by parched travelers who
>arrived to find the water was gone. It did not rain there in years
>and the water vein that was there the year before was gone.
Of course - that's why these areas are "desert"-ed. They are not
hospitable. But some deserts are unpopulated while others are
under-populated, and most of the NE ones are under-populated, not
Most desert wells draw from underground aquifers and don't depend on
rainfall to the point of being affected by a few years of draught.
See what the Saudi's did in the Al Jawf area with underground water
(you can actually see it from space, in satellite images). Long
stretches of draught (in the areas which feed the underground
aquifer) will of course affect the water table and the water level in
those wells, and this will in turn affect the people who live off
these wells. And if these long stretches of draught become frequent,
the climate is changing and the population patterns will change with it too.
There's a huge amount of research on the hydrology and water
resources of the arid areas in the NE. Some of it also addresses the
hydrological history of these areas.
>David Q. Hall
>Yigal Bloch <yigal9@...> wrote:
>The Arabic name is Rub' al-Khali (with the first word ending in an
>'ayin). See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rub%27_Al-Khali
>Re: Living in the desert
>Posted by: "Ariel L. Szczupak" ane.als@...
>Date: Wed May 30, 2007 8:58 am ((PDT))
>At 10:27 AM 5/30/2007, Niels Peter Lemche wrote:
> >Need water every day, or they die.
>As far as I remember only one area in the modern near east qualifies
>as having water sources further apart than one day's walk - the
>"empty quarter" in Saudi Arabia (can't recall the name in Arabic). In
>all the other deserts there are "pit stops" (be it a full blown oasis
>or a real pit - a well) that are separated by a day or less. Of
>course one has to know where they are, or else ... And is the modern
>situation relevant to the ANE? From memory again, the major climatic
>change which e.g. changed part of the Arabian peninsula from
>sub-tropical to arid was around 5000bc. There were fluctuations since
>but (memory again) recent times are considered on the dry end of the
>scale. No time to check the books for solid refs. But the leopard
>that was caught a few days ago in a Sde Boker house is anecdotal
>evidence that the desert can be surprising as to how much life it supports.
[100% bona fide dilettante ... delecto ergo sum!]
Ariel L. Szczupak
AMIS-JLM (Ricercar Ltd.)
POB 4707, Jerusalem, Israel 91401
Phone: +972-2-5619660 Fax: +972-2-5634203
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