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Ancient Technology: Farming Terraces

The Banaue Rice Terraces in Luzon Island, Philippines

The Banaue Rice Terraces in Luzon Island, Philippines
The Banaue Rice Terraces in Luzon Island, Philippines

I love mountains. I also love stairs. So, my first glimpse of mountains covered in rice terraces was thrilling! Someday it would be really nice to visit some and experience them for myself (I may not have to travel so far, as you’ll see).

What I didn’t know is just how ancient these terraces are, and how common!

The most famous terraces are in the jungle of the northern Philippines. My kids are just finishing up a missionary story about a lady who went to live in one of these valleys. The people had been repairing and using their stone terraces for as far back as their memory went. Our best guess is that they are 2 to 3 thousand years old.

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Since I’ve run into some other terraces while studying other cultures, I decided to find out how old these terraces can be and how common they are around the world. Here’s what I’ve found:

Terraces are a very efficient and reliable way to grow crops. It is much simpler to divert mountain streams in times of low rain than to worry about flooding and drought. Terracing takes advantage of the warmer sunshine and air on the mountain sides.

Ancient terraces in Peru (we guess they were trying new techniques)
Ancient terraces in Peru (we guess they were trying new techniques)

Have you ever grown a garden in a raised bed? This takes advantage of the same conditions as a terrace. You can control much more of the growing conditions with them. The Incas even used different soils to grow different crops. This is much easier in a small walled area. There is even more on the Machu Picchu site, so please check it out.

These terraces are also the reason the mountain regions of Southeast Asia are able to support so many people. I found a Water History page that starts out with an Evolutionary story of how they started working together in the first place. We know that people have been forming societies since the very beginning. The rest of the page is great at explaining the advantages these people have as well as the loss of individuality they suffer from being just one worker among many.

That’s the wonderful thing about following Jesus. I am just a tiny part of His kingdom, but He is so big He cares about me more than I do! What a great God to serve!

Just how many places did/do people use this kind of farming? Have a look (I was completely blown away!):

China has a number of spectacular terraces (just gorgeous!)
Palau (east of the Philippines) terraces used by unknown ancients
Vietnam 2,000 year old terraces
Bali “the most beautiful” of them all
Nepal (this site has a lot of pictures)
Sri Lanka
New Zealand
Mayas of Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize (immodest ads)
Incas (Peru)
Georgia, USA near Brasstown Bald mountain
New Mexico
Canary Islands
Malta, Majorca, Sicily, and Crete
Greece and Italy plus a technical paper for those who’re interested
Swaziland (click the “Homes & terraced areas” picture for a close up)
Afghanistan (for more info read HERE)
England (not as obvious as the Eastern ones, but the same idea. Many leave only traces, but are common.)

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Mountain of Ingushetia showing ancient terracing (Russia, just north of Rep. of Georgia)
Mountain of Ingushetia showing ancient terracing (Russia, just north of Rep. of Georgia)

Although there are skeptics saying these terraces are all recent, that isn’t backed up by the facts. As for how old these terraces could be, the paper on Malta says it all. “Terrace construction methods have apparently changed little over time. It is only recently that some farmers have taken short-cuts and repaired terrace retaining walls with standard limestone building blocks. Such repairs never last long.”

Our earliest ancestors were already very smart. They were strong, cooperative (they were caring for their own family), and talented. God’s Word predicts this kind of similarity beautifully. He is trustworthy and cares for us!

Who giveth food to all flesh: for his mercy endureth for ever. O give thanks unto the God of heaven: for his mercy endureth for ever. Psalm 136:25,26

Cheri Fields Lake Michigan profile 2020

Written by Cheri Fields

Hi, I’m Cheri Fields: 2nd generation homeschooling mom of seven, wife, writer, and science lover. There is a wealth of information available to help people see how trustworthy God and His testimony in the Bible is. The key is to explain concepts simply so they can be understood by anyone. This is my goal, and I’ve had a lot of fun tackling areas where the world tests our faith.

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