ALACAHOYUK, Turkey (AFP) - In this central Turkish village, peasants and archaeologists celebrate a unique achievement -- a 3,246-year-old dam, once buried under mud and slime, is back in service to irrigate farmlands.he dam is a heritage of the Hittites, who ruled over vast areas of the Middle East from 2000 to 1000 BC, fought Pharaoh Rameses The Great, among others, and built some of the biggest cities of the time in the heart of Anatolia, the Asian part of modern Turkey.
The 2,500 inhabitants of Alacahoyuk know the Hittites well: since the early 20th century, archaeologists have been digging the remains of a royal city at the entrance of their village about 160 kilometers (100 miles) east of Ankara.
The tombs of the settlement, its foundations still guarded by two imposing stone lions, have yielded some of the most precious Hittite treasures -- plates, jewelry, bronze and gold statuettes now on display at the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara.
The dam, however, was unknown until 2002, when a team of Ankara University archaeologists began a new dig in marshlands about two kilometers (1.2 mile) away.
Assisted by the government and local authorities, the team removed 2.5 million cubic meters (88 million cubic feet) of mud from the site to recover the dam, and, after some restoration, put it back into operation.
Built by a barren hill surrounded by poplars, the reservoir has a capacity to hold up to 30,000 cubic meters (1.1 million cubic feet) of water from a subterranean stream.
It came complete with an antique purifying pool to make the water drinkable, as well as irrigation channels.
"It is the only dam in the world to have been repaired and put into use for its original purpose 3,240 years after its construction... It is truly unique," Aykut Cinaroglu, the head of the archaelogical team in charge of the dig, said proudly.
The dam, he explained, is the only one surviving from 10 dams built by the Hittite king Tudhaliyas IV, in 1240 B.C.
The king ordered the dams built after he was forced to import wheat from Egypt to save his people from famine after drought hit the Anatolian farmlands.
The dam wall of stone and natural clay was built in a way that experts say strikingly resembles modern-day construction techniques.
"The only difference is that today we use cement instead of clay, although clay is still used in the construction of some dams," archaeologist Duygu Celik said.
Alacahoyuk Mayor Huseyin Saykan was equally enthusiastic about the latest gift from the Hittites to his people: the ancient tribe's heritage has already secured a flow of thousands of tourists -- and revenues -- to the village every year.
"Up to now, this area was merely a swamp and the water was wasted... Our people could not irrigate their fields," he said. "But now they can, thanks to the Hittite dam that has returned to its original function."
How many of you are familar with the Hitties?