IN THE DESERT DELTA OF SÏSTAN
SECTION I.-RUINS ANCIENT AND MODERN
THE southern delta of the Helmand, to the remains of which, so far as they lie within Persian territory, we now turn, is at present wholly desert ground. Ruins and other relics of widely different periods mark its intermittent occupation since prehistoric times, and the desert conditions that now prevail make it possible to trace these periods with comparative clearness by archaeological evidence. On the topographical side, inquiry into the past of this area is facilitated by physical features better defined than those to be reckoned with in respect of the wide expanse of alluvial plain and shifting Haman marshes that constitute the much greater northern delta. The division between the two deltas is formed by a well-marked gravel-covered plateau. It is a north-western extension of the ` Dasht ' barrier along the left bank of the present Helmand course, and stretches right up to the edge of the southern portion of the Haman near the village of Warmâl.
From the southern scarp of this plateau, rising here about 5o feet above the level of the ground liable to inundation from the Haman, an alluvial plain extends to the deep-cut channel of the Shelagh, a distance of about 3o miles. The latter, in years of exceptionally high floods from the Helmand, such as recur at intervals, carries water from the Haman into the terminal depression of the Gaud-i-Zirrah. The above-mentioned plain, all fertile silt, was capable of being irrigated, over a maximum width of about 15 miles from east to west, by canals which once took off from the mouth of the old bed of the Helmand known as the river of Trâkun or Rüd-i-biyâbân and now quite dry. This is shown by the map as diverging from the present Helmand river-bed about 36 miles due south of the Band-i-SIstân at a point called Bandar-i-Kamâl Khan (see Sheet No. 3o F.) ; after passing westwards in a winding course through the barrier of the Dasht it debouches in several outlets north and south of the ruin known as Yak-gumbaz, close to the boundary line between Persian and Afghan territory.1
Direct historical evidence that this old Helmand bed carried water to the southern delta can apparently not be traced back farther than the time of Timür, and that, too, only if we may trust the traditional location near the Bandar-i-Kamâl Khan of the weir known as Band-i-Rustam which Timür is said to have destroyed.2 But there is, as we shall see, good reason to assume that this area had been occupied for centuries earlier, and also that this occupation, whatever its extent may have been, did not imply simultaneous abandonment of the northern delta. Information, recorded without definite indication of its sources but probably correct, points to the continuance, down to the close of the seventeenth century, of at least partial cultivation of the area commanded by canals from the Rüd-i-biyâban.3 According to local tradition a change came about during the reign of Malik Fath `Ali (A. n. 1692-1721). The Rüd-i-biyâbân then ceased to receive an appreciable volume of water, and cultivation along it became restricted to the wide trough of the old river-bed, being dependent on canals that took off from what has remained ever since the only active course
1 For some account of the Rüd-i-biyàbàn, ` the waterless pp. 129 sqq.