Water, Urbanization, and Disease in Ancient Indonesia



Were ancient “tropical” civilizations fundamentally different from “non-tropical” ones? Judging from the relative scarcity of reported ancient cities in the tropics compared to the temperate regions, the answer to this question is “yes.” One reason for the relative scarcity of ancient cities in tropical areas is probably the greater difficulty encountered in obtaining potable water in hot climates. In the 14th century the people of eastern Java ameliorated waterborne disease by expanding hydraulic facilities originally designed for ceremonial purposes and then adapting them to utilitarian ends. Experience obtained from elaborate systems created to channel water from catchment areas to bathing places, symbolic pools, and moats, apparently constituted a valuable pre-adaptation for tropical urban life in Java.