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When people think of East Africa they often think of lions or elephants, giraffes, tigers or hippos. These are all there - except the tigers who live in Asia - but there are also farmers, some of whom have been building irrigation systems for growing crops for many hundreds of years.
IrriGate is a game which allows you to play with a model of one of these irrigation systems and is based on the ancient archaeological site of Engaruka in Tanzania. The Engaruka site used to support extensive irrigated terraced field systems which were abandoned around 200 years ago – the reason why remains a mystery in African archaeology.
The game has two versions: one for Android phones and tablets, and the other that allows players to splash about with buckets of water. The aim of both versions is the same: to open and close irrigation gates to distribute water as evenly as possible in order to grow as many crops as you can. Through the game and displays, players of five years and above, will learn how farming can be sustained with only limited water, how climate change and cutting down forests can lead to less water for farming, and how archaeologists and ecologists work out what the environment looked like in the past. But be warned, you might get a little wet!
Irrigate has been developed by the European Research Council (ERC)-funded Agricultural Resilience in Eastern Africa (AAREA) project which is examining the long-term sustainability of two east African agricultural systems (Engaruka in Tanzania and Konso in Ethiopia) through a combination of archaeological, geoarchaeological, archaeobotanical and modelling techniques. In doing so, the project aims to move beyond a focus on these sites to present a frank and realistic appraisal of the role archaeology can play in sustainability debates worldwide, and to actively engage with broader developmental and conservationist agendas by directly liaising with governmental and non-governmental agencies that explicitly or implicitly act upon perceptions of long-term resilience.
The IrriGate event is supported by the University of York, the European Commission and the European Research Council.
Dr Daryl Stump, a Senior Research Fellow with the University of York’s Department of Archaeology, heads the ERC-funded Archaeology of Agricultural Resilience in Eastern Africa project (AAREA).
Dr Rob Marchant,a Reader in the University of York’s Environment Department, runs the York Institute for Tropical Ecosystems (KITE) group which was launched in 2005 as a Marie-Curie Excellence Centre to investigate ecosystem dynamics in the moist forests, savannah-woodland spectrums and cropland mosaics of Eastern and Southern Africa. More information on KITE at www.york.ac.uk/environment/research/kite/
Daryl and Rob will be joined at the IrriGate event by other members of the KITE and AAREA research teams.