Friday, February 19, 2010

The High Dam and its negative effects

Al Ahram Weekly (Jill Kamill)

This is a fascinating article, to which a short exerpt simply cannot do justice. Jill Kamill looks at the impacts of the Aswan High Dam on Egypt's heritage - everything from water damage to monuments to the increase in tomb robbing during the dam's construction. If you are interested in the High Dam, in Egypt's heritage and in some of the background to modern legislation in Egypt concerning smuggling you really shouldn't miss out on this article.

Egypt's ancient tombs and temples had survived for thousands of years, but why was it assumed they were indestructible? Jill Kamil looks at how the potential danger of the High Dam was ignored

Half a century ago, we tended to think that the monuments built by the ancient Egyptians along the full length of the Nile Valley had stood for so long that they must be immune to the forces of time and nature.

Now we know differently. As Egypt celebrates the foundation of the High Dam, the cornerstone of the country's economic development envisioned by Gamal Abdel-Nasser, articles are appearing in the press about its planning stages, construction and advantages. I am reminded of some of its disadvantages, especially for the country's ancient heritage.

During its construction between 1960 and 1971, the High Dam at Aswan was regarded as a boon that would improve conditions for the conservation of monuments. The stabilisation of the river would certainly overcome the danger of high floods, and this would enable the reinforcement of undermined foundations and prevent further collapse of large structures. Furthermore, the injury caused to some monuments by the excessive wetting and drying out each year would be ended.

Or so it was thought. Egyptologists were hopeful that the future of the monuments would be assured. Before long, however, it was becoming clear that the higher average water table was damaging reliefs through seepage and salt erosion, and that the combination of these effects was even more damaging than the annual -- and temporary -- inundation. True, the annual flood had totally destroyed reliefs on the lower reaches of the temple walls, but those parts above flood level were -- considering their age -- well-preserved. Now the seepage and salt erosion were also causing progressive deterioration of the reliefs on the upper walls. There was no doubt that the legendary "Hundred-gated Thebes" was under threat.

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