When and how was the water cycle discovered? Did people, like ancient Greek philosophers, have any correct ideas on the water cycle? Was its discovery more of a recent thing?

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    $\begingroup$ Some argue that the water cycle was completely understood by Hebrew scholars as evidenced by the text fom the Hebrew bible dated as early as the 10th century BCE. $\endgroup$
    – nwr
    Commented Feb 9, 2020 at 20:22
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    $\begingroup$ "The first published thinker to assert that rainfall alone was sufficient for the maintenance of rivers was Bernard Palissy (1580 CE), who is often credited as the "discoverer" of the modern theory of the water cycle. Palissy's theories were not tested scientifically until 1674, in a study commonly attributed to Pierre Perrault." $\endgroup$
    – Conifold
    Commented Feb 10, 2020 at 8:18
  • $\begingroup$ It was understood in a general way in the ancient world. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 5, 2020 at 17:30
  • $\begingroup$ This article discusses this topic of the water cycle. I recommend giving it a read: Science and the Bible $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 14, 2021 at 8:49

1 Answer 1


In Aristotles Meteorology, we have:

Now, the sun, moving as it does, sets up processes of change and becoming and decay, and by it's agency the finest and the sweetest water is carried up and is dissolved into vapour and rises to the upper region, where it is condensed again by the cold and so returns the earth.

And he notes this again in his Physics that:

Zeus does not send the rain in order to make the corn grow: it comes of neccessity. The stuff which has been drawn up is bound to cool, and having cooled, turns to water and comes down. It is merely concurrent that this having happened, the corn grows.

Hence, the hydrological or water cycle, at least in Europe, was known by Aristotles time, and so by 350 BCE.


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