Conservation Sudan

Sudan relics at risk from dam floods

Appeal to archaeological community as proposals leave three- to six-year window

Rescue excavations near Sudan's Merowe Dam in 2004

The Sudanese ministry for antiquities is appealing to the international archaeological community to conduct rescue operations to salvage Sudan’s rich archaeological heritage, which is at risk from a series of dams planned in areas including Kajbar, Shereiq and Upper Atbara. The proposed dams will flood various regions along the Nile within three to six years. International experts met representatives from the ministry and the Dams Implementation Unit at the British Museum in London in May to share information and lay the foundation for a large-scale rescue campaign reminiscent of the one mounted more than a decade ago when the Merowe Dam project was under way.

One of the meeting’s key outcomes was learning how much time archaeologists have to work before the flooding begins—a simple yet vital question that resulted in much to-ing and fro-ing before those assembled received an answer. It appears that scholars have around three years until flood waters from the Upper Atbara dam are released, and around six years in the case of the Kajbar and Shereiq dams.

“These proposed dams will severely damage our cultural heritage,” said Abdelrahman Ali, the director-general of the National Corporation for Antiquities and Museums (NCAM), who opened the meeting with a plea for assistance in salvaging his country’s heritage. Ali was followed by Muawia Mohammed Salih from the Dams Implementation Unit, who said that the dams are part of the government’s plans to “exploit its vast and diverse resources to achieve human welfare by sustainable development” and that it was necessary to “safeguard Sudan’s remaining water share allotted in the 1959 Nile Water Agreement”.

He added that his department was aware of the significance of the archaeological sites within the regions to be flooded and that the unit is “enthusiastic about co-operating with international archaeological bodies”.

The vast number of archaeological sites within Sudan is a testament to the country’s long and rich history. A survey of the Upper Atbara area by El-Hassan Ahmed Mohammed from the NCAM has recorded at least 40 sites, including prehistoric settlements and cemeteries, 30 of which are in the flood zone.

The University of Leicester’s David Edwards, who has worked in northern Sudan’s Third Cataract region for more than 20 years and who has, with Ali Osman Mohammed Salih from the University of Khartoum, recently published a survey of the area, said that there “is certainly no lack of archaeology” in the Kajbar region, noting that there are hundreds of ancient, medieval and post-medieval sites.

Of the three “at-risk” regions, Kajbar appears to be the most widely explored by archaeologists. Edwards suggested several areas as a priority for future work in the region, including Arduan Island, which has an extraordinary concentration of pre-Kerma pottery.

He also spoke of the academic interest in the region’s rock art, particularly in Sabu. The British Museum’s Derek Welsby noted the fine examples of rock art in Sabu and expressed the need to record and, if possible, remove important examples, especially those on Nubian sandstone that will not withstand the flooding.

Although the meeting in London was just the first step in what is sure to be a lengthy and complex campaign, and essential details such as comprehensive maps of the regions to be flooded are still forthcoming, the archaeological community’s desire to help appears to be strong.

Ironically, Sudanese cultural heritage may benefit from the political turmoil in countries such as Egypt, Syria, Iran and Iraq, as archaeologists prevented from working in these countries could be diverted to projects in Sudan.

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18 Jul 12
15:40 CET


With the recent split between Sudan and South Sudan, it would be helpful to know where this dam is in relation to the new border.

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