Plant and Soil

, Volume 374, Issue 1–2, pp 779–792 | Cite as

Properties of anthropogenic soils in ancient run-off capturing agricultural terraces in the Central Negev desert (Israel) and related effects of biochar and ash on crop growth

  • H. L. van Asperen
  • A. M. C. Bor
  • M. P. W. Sonneveld
  • H. J. Bruins
  • N. Lazarovitch
Regular Article


Background and aims

In the Central Negev hills (Israel) many ancient terraced wadis exist, which captured run-off and caused gradual soil aggradation, which enabled agricultural practices. In these terraces, dark colored soil horizons were observed, containing charcoal, as can be found in Terra Preta soils, suggesting higher fertility compared to natural soils. The aim of our investigation was to investigate these anthropogenic soils and to study the effects of charcoal and ash addition on soil properties and crop growth.


We investigated 12 soil profiles, focusing on possible differences between light and dark colored soil horizons. We also investigated the effects of amendment of charcoal and ash on the growth of wheat (Triticum Aestivum L.) in a 40-day pot experiment involving two water regimes.


Results show that charcoal content in light and dark horizons were both low (<0.2 %), but significantly lower bulk densities were found in dark colored horizons. In the crop experiment, charcoal addition resulted in decreased crop growth, while, in the water deficit regime, ash addition resulted in increased crop growth.


Considering the observed charcoal and the results from the crop experiment, we hypothesize that, in ancient run-off capturing agricultural systems, ash was purposefully added as fertilizer.


Ancient desert agriculture Run-off farming Anthropogenic soils Fertilizer Biochar Ash 



We express our thanks to the late Professor Arieh Singer for his invitation to perform charcoal quantification analyses in his laboratory. Thanks are also due to Mr. Vasily Rosen, MSc., for his assistance and advice during the charcoal analyses.

We thank Professor Noam Weisbrod for his advice, his permission to use his laboratory for soil analyses and lending the necessary equipment.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • H. L. van Asperen
    • 1
    • 4
  • A. M. C. Bor
    • 1
  • M. P. W. Sonneveld
    • 1
  • H. J. Bruins
    • 2
  • N. Lazarovitch
    • 3
  1. 1.Soil Geography and Landscape GroupWageningen UniversityWageningenThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Bona Terra Department of Man in the Desert, Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert ResearchBen-Gurion University of the NegevMidreshet Ben-GurionIsrael
  3. 3.Wyler Department of Dryland Agriculture, French Associates Institute for Agriculture and Biotechnology of Drylands, Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert ResearchBen-Gurion University of The NegevMidreshet Ben-GurionIsrael
  4. 4.Department of Remote SensingUniversity of BremenBremenGermany

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