Sudanese archaeology: finding facts before flooding

j d worthington

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Sudan archeology flourishes before the flood - Yahoo! News

From AFP, titled "Sudan archeology flourishes before the flood", by Jean-Marc Mojon, datelined Sun., Mar. 18, 2007:

MEROWE, Sudan (AFP) - Sudan's archaeology is finally stepping out of Egypt's shadow as teams work against the clock to rescue an entire swathe of Nile Valley heritage from the rising waters of a Chinese-built dam.

"The paradox is that, yes, an entire area is being wiped off the map but thanks to the rescue project, Sudanese archaeology is being put on the map," said Sudan's antiquities chief Salah Ahmed.

The Merowe dam is a controversial hydro-electric project -- one of the largest in Africa -- being erected on the Nile's fourth cataract and due to start flooding the valley over more than 100 miles (160 kilometres) within months.

Archaeologists admit that an incalculable amount of information will be forever lost.

But the largest archaeological rescue project since the Nubian campaign launched in the 1960s during the construction of the Aswan dam in southern Egypt has unearthed heritage that would likely have remained untapped.

"This area was completely unknown to archaeologists, it was a missing chapter in Sudan's history and nobody was planning to go there because it's very hard from a logistical point of view," Ahmed told AFP.

Sudan's pre-Christian civilisations built more pyramids than the Egyptians but have received little attention since being defeated by Egyptian warrior Pharaoh Tuthmosis I (15 century BC).

"Of course, there is no Abu Simbel here," said Ahmed, in reference to the massive temples originally carved out of the mountain under the reign of Ramses II and relocated as part of a monumental transfer when the Aswan dam was built.

But teams of archaeologists from Britain, France, Germany, Poland and a dozen other countries have been relentlessly searching the fertile Nile river banks near Merowe for at least five years now and made some significant discoveries.

Some of the artefacts found in the soon to be flooded area enabled archaeologists to redefine the borders of ancient kingdoms, such as Kerma which ruled part of Nubia between 2,500 and 1,500 BC.

"We found very rich Kerma occupation farther upstream, extending the frontiers of this important kingdom by more than 200 kilometres (120 miles)," Ahmed said.

"We also found for the first time in the fourth cataract area the foundations of a pyramid, with Meroitic ceramics. This gives political importance to the area because it shows someone important was buried there."

Funerary archaeology in the area also benefits from exceptional chronological continuity, offering experts a rare chance to retrace historical developments.

"The fourth cataract is very interesting for the study of transitional periods, which are often shrouded in mystery and uncertainty," said Vincent Francigny, a resident archaeologist at France's Khartoum-based SFDAS institute.

However, there are problems afoot, including tension between local tribes, who will be evicted from their homelands, and the government, as well as natural obstacles to overcome....
 

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