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WHEN DID MODERN WATER FILTRATION BEGIN?

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The history of water filters is indelibly tied to the history of water, itself. As human industry has grown and water has become more contaminated, water filters have emerged over the centuries in response to the growing recognition of the need for pure, clean water to drink and the realization that such water does not occur naturally. Water has greatly affected humanity and civilization for millennia. Because water is so absolutely vital to our body systems, we, as living beings, are entirely dependent upon water. In fact, this simple substance, more than any other factor, guided the formation of civilization.

Early civilizations were clustered around water sources, and it was water that initiated the first substantial agriculture in the Fertile Crescent, leading to more complex and sedentary civilizations. For centuries, water availability guided the type of foodstuff that could be grown in an area. Water was also the impetus and guiding force behind the first cross-cultural interactions. Early trade was completely dependent upon water, for transportation of goods and sustenance of people and animals. Throughout the centuries, as technology developed, people have gradually gained more control of water. They have been able to transport water to arid lands, stop and redirect rivers, and even determine when, where, and how much rain will fall.

Even with increased control of water resources, water still continues to dominate the political, economic, and social structure of all nations. This statement can be verified by looking at political struggles within the United States over water resources or throughout the Middle East over access to limited water. Concerning conflict in the Middle East, former World Bank Vice President Ismail Serageldin stated in 2000, "Many of the wars of this [20th] century were about oil, but the wars of the next century will be about water" (Smith, 2000). In modern times, concerns over water quality remain supreme. Over the years, scientists have discovered more and more contaminants in fresh water sources, and these same scientists have noted a strong correlation between drinking water contamination and many significant health problems.

Due to the rampant impurity of water and the crucial, physiological need for clean, fresh drinking water, several treatment alternatives have emerged throughout the history of water treatment. Water filtration, one of the more viable and prominent of these treatment alternatives, has something of a remarkable past. Historians believe that the use of water filters began more than 4000 years ago! The earliest recorded attempts to find or generate pure water date back to 2000 b.c.e.. Early Sanskrit writings outlined methods for purifying water. These methods ranged from boiling or placing hot metal instruments in water before drinking it to filtering that water through crude sand or charcoal filters (Baker & Taras, 1981). These writings suggest that the major motive in purifying water was to provide better tasting drinking water. It was assumed that good tasting water was also clean. People did not yet connect impure water with disease nor did they have the technology necessary to recognize tasteless yet harmful organisms and sentiments in water.

Centuries later, Hippocrates, the famed father of medicine, began to conduct his own experiments in water purification. He created the theory of the "four humors," or essential fluids, of the body that related directly to the four temperatures of the seasons. According to Hippocrates, in order to maintain good health, these four humors should be kept in balance. As a part of his theory of the four humors, Hippocrates recognized the healing power of water. For feverish patients, he often recommended a bath in cool water. Such a bath would realign the temperature and harmony of the four humors. Hippocrates acknowledged that the water available in Greek aqueducts was far from pure in its quality. Like the ancients before him, Hippocrates also believed good taste in water meant cleanliness and purity of that water. Hippocrates designed his own crude water filter to "purify" the water he used for his patients. Later known as the "Hippocratic sleeve," this filter was a cloth bag through which water could be poured after being boiled (Baker & Taras, 1981). The cloth would trap any sentiments in the water that were causing bad taste or smell. The ancient civilizations of Greece and Rome designed amazing aqueducts to route water pathways and provide the first municipal water systems.

On the American continent, archeological evidence suggests that the ancient Mayan civilization used similar aqueduct technology to provide water to urban residents. Further advancements in water technology ended, for the most part, with the fall of these civilizations. During the middle Ages, few experiments were attempted in water purification or filtration. Devout Catholicism throughout Europe marked this time period, often known as the Dark Ages due to the lack of scientific innovations and experiments. Because of the low level of scientific experimentation, the future for water purification and filtration seemed very dark.

The first record of experimentation in water filtration, after the blight of the Dark Ages, came from Sir Francis Bacon in 1627 (Baker & Taras, 1981). Hearing rumors that the salty water of the ocean could be purified and cleansed for drinking water purposes, he began experimenting in the desalination of seawater. Using a sand filter method, Bacon believed that if he dug a hole near the shore through which seawater would pass, sand particles (presumable heavier than salt particles) would obstruct the passage of salt in the upward passage of the water; the other side of the hole would then provide pure, salt-free water. Sadly, his hypothesis did not prove true, and Bacon was left with salty, undrinkable water. His experiment did mark rejuvenation in water filter experimentation. Later scientists would follow his lead and continue to experiment with water filtration technology.


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