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The Flow of Power

Ancient Water Systems and Landscapes

Vernon L. Scarborough

A major contribution to one of the central themes in social theory, this book integrates multiple case studies of the relationship between water control and social organization. Substantial in empirical detail and featuring powerful theoretical extensions, Scarborough’s analysis encompasses early Harappan society in South Asia, highland Mexico, the Maya lowlands, north-central Sri Lanka, the prehistoric American Southwest, and Bronze Age Greece. This book is the first longitudinal study to consider water management worldwide since Karl Wittfogel put forth his “hydraulic societies” hypothesis nearly two generations ago, and it draws together the diverse debates that seminal work inspired. In so doing, Scarborough offers new models for cross-cultural analysis and prepares the ground for new examinations of power, centralization, and the economy.

2003. 224 pp., 89 black-and-white and 14 color illustrations, notes, references, index, 7 x 10

Contributors: Vernon L. Scarborough

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“The question of the relationship of water control to social organization and culture is one of the most venerable issues in social science. Scarborough offers us a fresh look. It is clear he is intimately familiar with the whole field. The six cases he selects span a vast array of environments and engineering marvels. He achieves the specialist’s dream, introducing an important new theory in a way that will be compelling to the non-specialist reader.”
—Dr. Steve Lansing, University of Arizona and the Santa Fe Institute

“In this important book, Scarborough moves us away from traditional views of water management that revolve around highly centralized water-control systems into a far more nuanced ancient world….Not only archaeologists, but futurists and everyone in the water-management world, should heed this thoughtful analysis.”
—Brian Fagan, Cambridge Archaeological Journal


  1. Water, The Fundamental Resource
  2. The Organizing Concepts of Water Work
  3. Contemporary Thought and Recent Intellectual History
  4. Engineering the Landscape for Water Management
  5. Nonagricultural Aspects of Water Management
  6. Economic Outlays and Political Risks of Water Management
  7. Archaeological Case Studies-New World
  8. Archaeological Case Studies-Old World
  9. Conclusions
There are no working papers for this book at the present time.