Facts and figures about water: Vector of change and exchange

The navigation of rivers, lakes and oceans began before recorded history. Navigation, due to its relationship and importance to transportation, has played a leading part in the advancement of civilization. Men learned early that travel by water was a convenient means of transporting their goods of trade to other lands.

The first crafts were probably kinds of canoes that were cut out from tree trunks and propelled with short oars. During the Stone Age, these embarkations were made by cutting down a tree and hollowing its trunk. Later, they were covered with impermeable fabrics before being constructed from tied or sewed wooden plates. Soon it was discovered that if sails were attached to the ships, they would harness wind-power and the ships would go faster. Early sails were probably made of interwoven rushes or leather.
The Nile River and its valley had a great influence on the culture and people of Ancient Egypt. As the Egyptian civilization grew, its economy became even more dependent on the Nile. The Nile River not only provided water and fertile soil, but also a means for transportation which enabled the Egyptians to interact with other civilizations along the river such as the kingdom of Kush. This waterway was especially important during the New Kingdom when the population spread out along the Nile.

The United States of America has a rich history of travel by inland waterways. The Hudson, Ohio, Missouri and the lower Mississippi Rivers all attracted early colonists in search of a better life.

The Mississippi and its tributaries have always been important trade routes, and large native settlements sprang up where larger rivers like the Minnesota, the Chippewa, the Illinois and the Missouri joined the gathering waters on their journey southward. One of the largest of these communities was located near the present-day St. Louis, Missouri, where as many as 20,000 people made their homes almost 2,000 years ago.

The Danube River has been used as an important means of transportation for soldiers for nearly 2,000 years. During the III century AD, the river marked the northern border of the Roman Empire, and was no doubt used by Roman soldiers. Years later, the Goths, Slavs, Huns, and other Germanic tribes used the Danube to cross into the Roman Empire. Later, it was used to gain access to Constantinople. The Crusaders used the Danube to travel faster on their quest to regain the Holy Land. Towards the end of the Middle Ages, the Ottoman Turks saw that the River could be used to advance into Western and Central Europe.

In 1455, Portuguese sailors discovered the Gambia River in West Africa. The Portuguese, like the English and the French who followed, were looking for a way into the interior of Africa, a way to the riches of the fabled empire of Mali and even to the Nile River. This river formed the first trade route into the interior of Africa and became an early corridor for the slave trade.

Information from:
the World Heritage Centre website
‘The History of Transportation on the Mississippi River’ section from the ‘Centre for Global Environmental Education’
‘The Nile River and Its’ Affect on Ancient Egypt’ website

Source: UNESCO Water Portal, January 2006

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