being illustrated on a clay plaque dating from the fourth millennium b.c. found in excavations of Sumerian Uruk. That fact, and the appearance of vegetable forms in stone, such as Egyptian papyrus and lotus columns, has given rise to the speculation that all columnar architecture in the protohistoric civilizations (and perhaps beyond) springs from such construction.

The unique culture of the Marsh Arabs is in danger; indeed, it may already be beyond help. Largely as a result of their isolation, they have maintained their traditions and were untouched even by Turkish and British colonialism. Because of high evaporation, the marshes have long been regarded as wasteful of water that could be used for irrigation; a major drainage scheme was proposed in a 1951 report drafted by British engineers commissioned by the Iraqi government. In the 1970s Turkey dammed the Euphrates. But the Ma’dan’s problems started in earnest after 1980, during the Iran-Iraq War. Within two years Iran regained the territory, including the marshlands, taken earlier by Iraq. The marsh dwellers fled as the Iraqi army sent enormous electrical currents through the water to electrocute invading Iranian soldiers. Saddam Hussein’s unrelenting destruction continued after the war.

Following Saddam’s defeat in the Gulf War in 1991, southern Iraqi Shi’ite Muslims launched a guerrilla offensive against his Sunni Muslim government. The uprising was crushed, and many rebels sought refuge in the marshes, supported by the Ma’dan, who are also Shi’ite. To flush them out, in 1992 Saddam began to drain the region systematically, using the 1951 British report. Within a year a network of 20-foot-high (6-meter) dikes was preventing two-thirds of the normal water flow from reaching the marshlands, thus turning much of it into expanses of dried mud. Between the Tigris and the Euphrates Rivers, the man-made Saddam River carried floodwaters directly to the Persian Gulf. A third of Lake Hammar dried up, and thousands of Marsh Arabs moved deeper into the surviving wetlands or fled to Iran and elsewhere. Some sources estimate that fewer than 10,000 remain in Iraq, recognized as a “persecuted minority” by the European Parliament, to pursue their traditional lifestyle. To compound the offense of ethnocide, Saddam’s actions have caused probably irreversible environmental damage. International organizations such as the UN Human Rights Commission, the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, and the International Wildfowl and Wetlands Research Bureau have been watching in alarm, but have been powerless to act.

Further reading

Maxwell, Gavin. 1990. A Reed Shaken by the Wind. London: Isis.

Salim. S. M. 1962. Marsh Dwellers of the Euphrates Delta. London: Athlone.

Young, Gavin. 1977. Return to the Marshes: Life with the Marsh Arabs of Irag. London: Collins.

Maiden Castle

Dorset, England

The ancient British hill fort now known as Maiden Castle (from mai-dun, Celtic for “great hill”), about 3 miles (4.8 kilometers) southwest of modern Dorchester, grew from a neolithic village to become the largest pre-Roman fortress among nearly 1,400 in England. Indeed, it was one of the most extensive in western Europe. Still visible 2,000 years after its massive ramparts were completed, the fort crowns a low saddleback chalk hill south of the Frome Valley. Its strength did not lie (as in the case of others) in its siting, but rather in the sheer size and scale of its fortifications. By the middle of the first century b.c., four rings of ditches and steeply sloping earthen walls, in places as much as 90 feet (28 meters) high and reinforced by timber palisades or drystone structures, occupied an area of 100 acres (40 hectares). Within the defenses, the long axis of the fort is over 0.5 mile (0.8 kilometer) and its inner circumference about 1.5 miles. It was a remarkable engineering achievement, not only in terms of its monumentality, but also because of its organic nature, by which it grew over twenty centuries.

Maiden Castle has a long prehistory, revealed by archeological studies first undertaken by Mortimer Wheeler in 1934–1938; further excavation took place in 1985–1986 under the direction of Niall Sharples. The first earthwork was a neolithic causewayed camp (ca. 4000 b.c.) consisting of a single ditch and bank