A large number of lines of water collection wells were identified by aerial surveys in the arid region near the ancient city of Sauran on the Middle Syr Darya (South Kazakhstan, Central Asia). They are locally called karez, which in Persian means ‘water uplift’. Initially these were assumed to be qanat, a water collection and distribution system that is widespread in the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia. Recent surveys discovered more than 100 km of such lines in the Sauran area. The most surprising discovery was that there was no evidence of galleries that might have collapsed due to poor construction or maintenance. The excavations of a series of these wells are described and a new model for water transport and delivery is proposed that takes advantage of the local hydrogeology. The study has historical significance for the reconstruction of water and land use in the Turkestan oasis during the last 2000 years; and the rediscovery of this forgotten technique could have economic significance for modern land reclamation in desert zones.

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