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Ancient Irrigation Tool: Dragonbone Water Lift

Source: Science and Technology Daily | 2023-09-22 10:40:21 | Author: ZONG Shihan


A model of the dragonbone water lift on display at the National Museum of China. (PHOTO: VCG)

By ZONG Shihan

The dragonbone water lift, a milestone invention first made during the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220), is a wooden machine used for irrigation.

It gets its name from its shape, which was thought to resemble the spine of a dragon. In Chinese folklore, the Dragon King was a water and weather god who controlled floods and droughts and could unleash the rain and the winds.

The body of the water lift is a large wooden trough that can hold water and has axles attached to both ends. The axles connect a chain with blades to both sides of the trough. When the trough is placed in water, its handlebars are rotated. It causes the blades on the chain to rotate, pumping up water.

The dragonbone water lift has several advantages. It can be used continuously and is easy to operate and transport, which means it can be used in different locations.

The original water lift was operated manually. Later, it was improved and could be operated using animal, wind or water power.

Improved by Ma Jun, an inventor and engineer who lived during the Three Kingdoms period (220-280), the dragonbone water lift played a significant role in agriculture in the past.

When modern water pumps came into use, the dragonbone water lift gradually withdrew. However, its working principle lives on. It is still used in modern dredging equipment such as the bucket-wheel excavators commonly seen in coastal regions and ports.

Editor: 宗诗涵

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