Marib is also the site of one of the world's great ancient structures – a magnificent feat of early engineering and masonry techniques. This is the dam across Wadi Adhana, the largest wadi in the south Arabian highlands. Its purpose was to hold and to divert the water, which flooded down the wadi from time to time during the rainy season, over the nearby agricultural land.
It would have also allowed the water to soak into the ground and recharge the aquifers, thus supplying the wells. Recent excavations by the German Archaeological Institute show that, while the structure whose impressive remains stand clear today was erected in the eighth century BC, irrigation works in the Wadi Adhana at Marib were undertaken at least from the beginning of the second millennium BC.
The two masonry sluices of the much repaired eighth century dam remain: the northern one, usually approached first, and the southern one on the other side of the wadi, which is more extensive and almost as high as it was originally.
They demonstrate the Sabaeans’ skill in quarrying the stone blocks, cutting and dressing them, transporting them to the site and then erecting them and binding them together with lead and iron.
Between them once stretched the dam, an earth bank 600m long and 16m high covering a foundation of loose, broken stones. Al little of this rockfill barrage remains and all along its line the massive piles of siltdeposited by the floods can be seen.
The dam is believed to have held up to 150.000 cubic meters of water. The remains of the irrigation system and the system of canals around the dam can still be seen on the plain in front of it.
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