What Is a Scoop Wheel?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 25 November 2019
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A scoop wheel is a device that lifts water, mud, or other materials. The design includes a hub equipped with radiating spokes that end in buckets for transportation. Materials are dumped at the apex of the wheel as the buckets spin around, and may enter a storage container, canal, or channel, depending on the design of the system. Scoop wheel designs have been in use around the world for thousands of years in a variety of contexts, and were especially widespread in Europe and the Middle East historically.

This equipment requires an engine to drive it. Older scoop wheels were sometimes powered by livestock or workers, before the development of mechanical engines to replace them. While these devices may superficially resemble water wheels, especially since they may be used in lakes and rivers, they are not driven by the water itself and can be used in stagnant and still waters.

One popular historic use for the scoop wheel was in land drainage, particularly in low-lying regions. The wheel could pick up water and mud for transfer, allowing people to cultivate crops and engage in other activities on the drained land. They were also used in construction projects like canals as dredgers. The wheels could be curved and sharpened to allow them to dig into the base of the canal and scoop up material to clear out the bottom, leaving a deep clearance for watercraft.


In a Persian variation known as the sakia, the device drains from the middle of the hub, rather than the top. Such scoop wheels were put in place in various regions of the Middle East for irrigation and water control. Middle Eastern inventors also developed the noria, another water lifting device that acts as a pump to lift water to a new elevation, and some versions of this device also resemble a scoop wheel. Some extant examples can be seen in ancient cities of the region, illustrating engineering technology from centuries past.

While this technology is not widely used because it has been replaced with more efficient alternatives, some scoop wheels do still function, and occasionally communities build new ones. The basic design is simple enough to enact anywhere, even in a region with limited infrastructure, which can make it useful for land reclamation, irrigation, and canal dredging in remote regions. Such devices can also be historic and cultural curiosities, and a scoop wheel may be maintained by a community as an example of historic engineering practices.


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