Wells have been an important tool for all of human history. Humans have always needed water, and wells have oftentimes been how we’ve been able to access it. This week, and next week, we are exploring the long and storied history of the water well. Read on to discover the earliest history of the water well, including its most ancient origins.
The oldest evidence of well construction that we have dates back to the Stone Age, almost 10,000 years ago. The evidence was found on the island of Cyprus, a small island in the Mediterranean Sea. That is simply evidence for now, no fully constructed wells that old have been discovered. However, a well that may be as old as 8000 BC was discovered in Israel.
There is also evidence of wells early on in China at approximately 600 BC. Chinese wells seemed to be slightly more advanced than the rest of the world at this time. They used ceramic tiles as an early form of well casing in order to keep the dirt and sediment out of their water. While China was using ceramic, European countries often lined their wells with wood.
Early well technology has been found in eastern Asia, Africa (especially northern Africa), as well as many places in Europe.
The importance of wells has been immortalized in both fairy tales and folklore. This is most likely because water has long been considered a potent source of magic. Perhaps the most common well in folklore is the wishing well. This tradition originated with the Germanic and Celtic people. They believed that springs were sacred places, people would make a wish and toss a coin into the spring. Today wishing wells do not quite have the same power as they once did. But, many fountains all over the world have carried on the tradition of the wishing well.
The Woodingdean Well
Before we launch into a more modern understanding of the well, let’s look back at one of the most iconic hand dug wells that is still around today. The Woodingdean Well is a hand dug well in Brighton in the UK. Construction on the well began in March of 1858 and continued for four long years through March of 1862.
It is the deepest hand dug well in the world. It is an impressive 1285 feet deep, that’s 392 meters for those of you on the metric system. To truly put into perspective just how large this well is, consider what you could fit inside of it. The entire Empire State Building could sit in the well and all you would see is the tip sticking out. Despite the digging going on for four years, only one worker lost his life, A very impressive record for the 1850s. The well still stands today outside of Nuffield Hospital.
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