Tuesday, June 19, 2007

There have already been a depressing number of reports this week about the potential threat to archeaological sites in different parts of the world. This article on the New York Times website looks at the threat to the Nubian Kushite sites posed by the new Meroe Dam, a situation which echoes that of the 1960s when the Aswan High Dam was constructed, creating Lake Nasser and burying 1000s of years of archeaology forever. If you are asked for a username and password, type egyptnews into both fields.

Scholars have come to learn that there was more to the culture of Kush than was previously suspected. From deciphered Egyptian documents and modern archaeological research, it is now known that for five centuries in the second millennium B.C., the kingdom of Kush flourished with the political and military prowess to maintain some control over a wide territory in Africa. Kush’s governing success would seem to have been anomalous, or else conventional ideas about statehood rest too narrowly on the experiences of early civilizations like Mesopotamia, Egypt and China. How could a fairly complex state society exist without a writing system, an extensive bureaucracy or major urban centers, none of which Kush evidently had?

Archaeologists are now finding some answers — at least intriguing insights — emerging in advance of rising Nile waters behind a new dam in northern Sudan. Hurried excavations are uncovering ancient settlements, cemeteries and gold-processing centers in regions previously unexplored.

. . .

To archaeologists, knowing that a virtually unexplored land of mystery is soon to be flooded has the same effect as Samuel Johnson ascribed to one facing the gallows in the morning. It concentrates the mind.

Over the last few years, archaeological teams from Britain, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Sudan and the United States have raced to dig at sites that will soon be underwater. The teams were surprised to find hundreds of settlement ruins, cemeteries and examples of rock art that had never been studied. One of the most comprehensive salvage operations has been conducted by groups headed by Henryk Paner of the Gdansk Archaeological Museum in Poland, which surveyed 711 ancient sites in 2003 alone.
Obviously, it is not merely the archaeology of the Kushite era that is being lost.

The article is accompanied by photographs and maps.