There are also other important ancient dams in Yemen such as the Dam of Jufaynah, the Dam of Khārid, the Dam of Aḑra’ah, the Dam of Miqrān and the Dam of Yath’ān. Historically, Yemen has been recognized for the magnificence of its ancient water engineering. From the Red Sea coast to the limits of the Rub' al Khali desert are numerous ruins of small and large dams made of earth and stone.
The site of the great Dam of Ma'rib, also called the Dam of 'Arim (Arabic: سـدّ الْـعـرم, sadd al-ˁArim) is upstream (south-west) of the ancient city of Ma'rib, once the capital of the ancient kingdom of Saba’ (Arabic: سَـبَـأ, possibly Sheba). The Kingdom of Saba' was a prosperous trading nation, with control of the frankincense and spice routes in Arabia and Abyssinia. The Sabaeans built the dam to capture the periodic monsoon rains which fall on the nearby mountains and so irrigate the land around the city.
Recent archaeological findings suggest that simple earth dams and a canal network were constructed as far back as 2000 BC. The Great Dam of Ma'rib dates back to about the 8th century BC and is considered the oldest known dam in the world, being counted as one of the most wonderful feats of engineering in the ancient world.
The medieval Arab geographer Yāqūt al-Ḥamawī describes it thus:
It is between three mountains, and the flood waters all flow to the one location, and because of that the water only discharges in one direction; and the ancients blocked that place with hard rocks and lead. The water from springs gathers there as well as floodwater, collecting behind the dam like a sea. Whenever they wanted to they could irrigate their crops from it, by just letting out however much water they needed from sluice gates; once they had used enough they would close the gates again as they pleased.