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Replastering of the Great Mosque of Djenné

Replastering of the Great Mosque of Djenné

The evening before the crépissage, the annual replastering of the Great Mosque of Djenné, Balphady Yaro is throwing a party for his friends and neighbors in the town’s Konofia neighborhood.


06/2020 Escape


As militant attacks get closer, Katarina Höije tells the story of a Malian town defiantly continuing its annual tradition of replastering a mosque. Here is :

An Ancient Mud Mosque Annually Restored

Rickety plastic chairs and tables line the winding streets around Djenné’s main square, where the mosque looms over the town’s low mud-brick houses. There are plates of riz au grastasty rice with meat and vegetables—and chilled soft drinks. Ivorian Coupé-Décalé music reverberates on soft mud walls. Djenné, a town of about 35,000 in the central region of Mali, is famous for its traditional mud-brick architecture and its UNESCO-protected mosque. Fifty-two feet (16 meters) high and built on a 300-foot-long (90-meter) platform to protect it from flooding, the mosque is the world’s largest mud-brick building.

The Annual Restoration of An Ancient Mud Mosque, photo by Annie Risemberg
Young men and boys run down the front steps of the mosque after dropping off baskets of mud. (Photo: Annie Risemberg, The New Traditional)

Touching up its walls each year—crépissage, the French word for ‘plastering’—is a proud and exuberant ritual that involves the whole town. “The crépissage is the most important event of the year, even bigger than Eid al-Fitr, Tabaski (the Malian equivalent of Christmas), and marking the end of Ramadan,” says Yaro, a 30-year-old lawyer and host of the celebration known as ‘la nuit de veille.’ Sitting under a tarpaulin strung between two neem trees, Yaro watches as the crowds sway through the street.

The partygoers won’t sleep until after the event. The revelry will strengthen them ahead of tomorrow’s big task, Yaro claims, sipping a soft drink. “Tonight we party, and tomorrow we will celebrate our mosque and Djenné’s cultural heritage.” The residents of Djenné come together to put a new layer of clay on their mosque every April, just before the rainy season. The crépissage is both a necessary maintenance task to prevent the mosque’s walls from crumbling and an elaborate festival that celebrates Djenné’s heritage, faith, and community. It’s also an act of defiance.

The increasing instability in Mali’s central region—fueled by inter-tribal conflicts and growing numbers of militant and jihadist groups exploiting the absence of state security forces—now threatens Djenné and its sacred annual ritual. Local militants—some linked to the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM), formed by the 2017 merger of several extremist groups operating in Mali—have invaded towns, destroyed markets, and spread their influence in central Mali.

The Annual Restoration of An Ancient Mud Mosque, photo by Annie Risemberg
A group of women carrying water needed for the mud mixture. Men and boys are responsible for bringing the mud to the mosque, while and women and girls are tasked with bringing water from the river. (Photo: Annie Risemberg, The New Traditional)

So far, Djenné and its mosque have been spared, but the security situation in the region continues to deteriorate, and more frequent attacks are being carried out in Djenné’s orbit. “We knew that the militants were getting closer to Djenné,” says town chief Sidi Yéya Maiga at his home the day before the crépissage. This year the town council even took the extraordinary step of debating whether or not to cancel their cherished tradition.

In an act of collective resistance, they decided the show must go on. On the day before the crépissage, Nouhoum Touré, the master among Djenné’s 250 masons, heads down to the riverbank to check on the mud that has been left to soak for 20 days.

The Annual Restoration of An Ancient Mud Mosque, photo by Annie Risemberg
The crépissage is the most important event in Mali. (Photo: Annie Risemberg, The New Traditional

It’s the height of the dry season, and the river has shrunk to shallow puddles and inlets. The round pools that store clay until it’s time for the crépissage look like pockmarks on the riverbed. The mud comes from further down the river and is transported here by trucks and donkey carts. Younger masons then break the blocks into smaller chunks and mix them with water. In the final stages, rice husks are added to the mud, turning it into a soft and sticky paste. The rice works like a glue, holding the mud together and keeping it from cracking as it dries. The young masons then carry the mixture, in wicker baskets, to pits in front of the mosque in preparation for the event.

Early in the morning on the long-awaited day of the crépissage, Djenné’s residents gather by the mosque and wait for Touré to smear the first blob of mud on the wall. This is the starting gun.

There is a roar from the crowd as dozens of young men—some masons, some apprentices—run to the mosque. Smaller groups of boys raise wooden ladders against the mosque wall. Carrying wicker baskets full of dripping-wet clay from the pits next to the mosque, the young men begin scrambling up the façade, using ladders to reach the wooden poles protruding from the walls. Perching perilously on the wooden scaffolding, they pick up large blobs of clay and smear them on the walls.

The Annual Restoration of An Ancient Mud Mosque, photo by Annie Risemberg
The Djenné mosque the day before the crépissage. (Photo: Annie Risemberg, The New Traditional

Nientao, the mosque’s guardian, weaves through the crowd, his pockets filled with sweets for the workers. Thousands of muddy feet trample the paths around the mosque. As the sun begins to rise over Djenné, turning shapeless shadows into dark silhouettes, a group of boys and masons tackle the minarets from the roof of the mosque.

Four hours later, the morning sun shines on the newly plastered mosque. Dark, wet clay patches on the dried mud give it a sickly look. Touré is covered in mud all the way from his plastic sandals, which have miraculously stayed on his feet, to the top of his turban. “I think we did very well,” he says, sitting in the shade of the mosque. “Normally, we re-mud the mosque over two days. This time we managed to get it done in only one day.”

The Annual Restoration of An Ancient Mud Mosque, photo by Annie Risemberg
Residents carrying mud, from pits to the mosque ahead of the crépissage. (Photo: Annie Risemberg, The New Traditional)  

A little later, there is a crack as the loudspeakers come on, then the sound of Djenné’s mayor, Balfine Yaro, clearing his throat. Everyone looks on in silence as he makes his way to the front of the crowd. He declares Djenneka Raws the winning team. Djelika Kantao and Yoboucaïna have prevailed. For the winners, there is pride, honor, and a cash prize of 50,000 West African francs, or about $90 (€80). “With the money,” says Kantao, beaming with pride, “I will buy new solar panels for the neighborhood, so we no longer have to live in darkness.”


Delve into a world of traditions being kept alive unique individuals through The New Traditional. This story and images are featured in the book.

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Virtual reality can bring ancient cities back to life

Virtual reality can bring ancient cities back to life

An eye-opener amongst all current development lines in archaeology would be this article dated 27 February 2020 that states that Virtual reality can bring ancient cities back to life and improve conservation.


Virtual reality can bring ancient cities back to life and improve conservation

Tarek Teba, University of Portsmouth

Around 3,300 years ago, the port city of Ugarit was a vibrant urban centre, located strategically on the overland network linking Egypt with Asia Minor and on the route between Persia and India in the east and Greece and Cyprus in the west. The city’s origins date back to 3000BC and the first alphabet and alphabetic writing system are believed to have developed there in the 14th century BC.

Today Ugarit is a Bronze Age archaeological site in northwest Syria, first excavated in 1929. It can tell us a huge amount about the past, but Ugarit is also a place in its own right. The conservation of the site needs to help us understand the site’s history, as well as preserving and restoring what remains. Our work on virtual reality and reconstruction can meet both these goals.

Virtual reality can bring ancient cities back to life
Figure 1: The location of Ugarit and its historic links. Google Map

Although only 30% of Ugarit has been excavated, the discovered areas give clues about the organisation of the city. The buildings include royal palaces, large houses, tombs, sanctuaries, public buildings and temples. Ugarit’s golden age was between the 14th and 12th century BC, and the excavated ruins show that interesting political, social and economic evolution took place in the city.

The royal area shows evidence of a developed political system, with complex defensive architecture and a well-structured palace. Domestic areas reveal important information about the Ugaritic people’s everyday life and their veneration of the dead. However, the structures are in a ruined condition and some are deteriorating, thanks to being exposed for more than 90 years with only minimal maintenance and repair work.

Virtual conservation

A shift toward using virtual technologies as preservation methods to document historic sites and provide educational opportunities has taken place in recent years. This prevents misguided architectural conservation, which can damage a site.

Augmented reality can project reconstructions onto archaeological ruins, such as at the medieval village of Ename in Belgium. Elsewhere, virtual reconstruction has produced 3D textured models, including of the “Sala dello Scrutinio” at the Doges’ Palace in Venice.

Virtual reality can bring ancient cities back to life
Figure 2: A map of the city of Ugarit showing the excavated areas and the sacred route between the Royal Palace and the Temple. Latakia National Museum, Syria

We have used computer-aided design modelling to test out conservation options for Ugarit and to investigate the effects of possible conservation interventions on the ruins. This led to changes in design concepts and materials to better fit the aims of the conservation.

Preserving a sacred route

Excavations have revealed a key sacred route that linked the Royal Palace with the main Temple of Baal and passed through public areas of Ugarit. Researchers believe that the king followed this sacred path to practice cult sacrifices at the temple.

The route contains important tangible elements, such as the remains of the palace, houses, and the temple, for example. But the conservation strategy also intends to reconstruct the intangible aspects of the route – the monumental fortifications, the scale of the temple, and the experience of walking the sacred path, all of which cannot be easily grasped from the remaining ruins.

Virtual reality can bring ancient cities back to life
Figure 3: Point A of the Sacred Route. The Author

Virtual reconstruction is an effective tool to assess these proposals and judge their ability to protect the ruins, as well as revealing intangible aspects, such as the atmosphere of a street, which are lost to time. We have developed virtual tours which create an opportunity for screen displays to be installed on the site before the actual proposal is implemented.

Virtual reality can bring ancient cities back to life
Figure 10: Virtual reconstruction of interventions proposed for Point C of the sacred route – the Temple of Baal. The author, Author provided

These virtual tours include an area of the site that historically featured a plaza and tavern. Here the conservation approach includes the creation of a social and entertaining hub. This will allow the urban environment of the plaza and the dim and cosy interior of the tavern to be restored.

The tours provide reliable evidence for the second stage of the conservation proposal, the design stage and community consultation. However, the political situation in Syria has put the consultation process on hold.

This political situation also means that it is not possible to visit Ugarit at the moment – a position shared by hundreds of archaeological sites around the world. So the virtual reconstructions serve another purpose: they allow those interested a glimpse of this fascinating city and provide an opportunity to raise awareness of the site’s cultural importance with an international audience.

Tarek Teba, Senior Lecturer, School of Architecture, University of Portsmouth

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation

Pieces of Ramses II obelisk arrive in Cairo for re-assembly

Pieces of Ramses II obelisk arrive in Cairo for re-assembly

Pieces of Ramses II obelisk arrive in Cairo for re-assembly. The obelisk will be restored, assembled and erected in Tahrir Square.

By Nevine El-Aref, Friday 30 Aug 2019

Pieces of Ramses II obelisk arrive in Cairo for re-assembly

In an attempt to develop Tahrir Square and to show the whole world Egypt’s unique civilisation, eight blocks of one of Ramses II’s obelisks, found in his temple at San Al-Haggar archaeological site in Zagazig, arrived in Cairo on Friday.

They will be restored, assembled and erected in Tahrir Square.

Mostafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), said that the transportation of the parts of the obelisk was carried out under tight security by the tourism and antiquities police, within the framework of the government’s plan to beautify and develop Tahrir Square as part of the Historic Cairo Development project.

Pieces of Ramses II obelisk arrive in Cairo for re-assembly

The obelisk is carved in red granite and decorated with scenes depicting Ramses II standing before the gods with his different titles written alongside. After restoration and assembly, the obelisk will be 17 metres tall and weight 90 tonnes.

Mohamed Al-Saeidy, director of the SCA’s Technical Office, said that the antiquities ministry completed the first phase of the development project at San Al-Haggar archaeological site last September.

A collection of two obelisks, two colossi and two columns from the temple of Ramses II were restored, assembled and re-erected in their original location.

Now, he continued, the ministry has started the second phase of the project, which aims to restore, assemble and re-erect more obelisks, colossi and columns.

Pieces of Ramses II obelisk arrive in Cairo for re-assembly

In collaboration with the French Institute for Oriental Archaeology in Cairo (IFAO), the antiquities ministry has recently launched a project to upgrade the facilities and services provided to the site’s visitors, including the establishment of a visitor centre, the installation of signage, and the development of a website for the site.

Pieces of Ramses II obelisk arrive in Cairo for re-assembly

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Turkey starts filling huge Tigris river dam

Turkey starts filling huge Tigris river dam

Reuters’ ENVIRONMENT reported on August 2, 2019, that Turkey starts filling huge Tigris river dam, activists say in an article by Ali Kucukgocmen.

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey has started filling a huge hydroelectric dam on the Tigris river, a lawmaker and activists said, despite protests that it will displace thousands of people and risks creating water shortages downstream in Iraq.

Turkey starts filling huge Tigris river dam
FILE PHOTO: A general view of the ancient town of Hasankeyf by the Tigris river, which will be significantly submerged by the Ilisu dam being constructed, in southeastern Turkey, June 1, 2019. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

Citing satellite images, they said that water was starting to build up behind the Ilisu dam, a project that has been decades in the making and which aims to generate 1,200 megawatts of electricity for southeast Turkey.

Turkish officials have not commented on work at the dam. Turkey’s State Hydraulic Works (DSI), which oversees dam projects, referred questions to the Presidency, and the Agriculture and Forestry Ministry was not available to comment.

However, President Tayyip Erdogan said earlier this year that Turkey would start filling the Ilisu dam in June, a year after it briefly held backwater before backing down following complaints from Iraq about reduced water flows in mid-summer.

The dam, which first gained Turkish government approval in 1997, is a key part of Turkey’s Southeastern Anatolia Project, designed to improve its poorest and least developed region.

Turkey starts filling huge Tigris river dam
FILE PHOTO: The Tigris river flows through the ancient town of Hasankeyf, which will be significantly submerged by the Ilisu dam being constructed, in southeastern Turkey, August 26, 2018. REUTERS/Sertac Kayar

Iraq says the dam will create water shortages by reducing flows in one of two rivers which the country depends on for much of its supplies. Around 70% of Iraq’s water supplies flow from neighboring countries, especially via the Tigris and Euphrates rivers which run through Turkey.

Satellite images from the past two weeks show the dam has started holding water, said Necdet Ipekyuz, a lawmaker from Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). He said a road in the area has already been submerged.

“They are taking steps slowly to decrease the reactions to water being held. That is why they are not informing the public,” he said, adding that several HDP lawmakers tried to visit the dam in July but were prevented by police.

Environmental campaigners have unsuccessfully challenged the dam project at the European Court of Human Rights on the grounds it would damage the country’s cultural heritage.

SUBMERGED TOWN

The rising waters of the dam are also expected to eventually submerge the 12,000-year-old town of Hasankeyf. Residents are being moved from the ancient town to a “New Hasankeyf” nearby, while historic artefacts have also been transported out of the area.

A group of NGOs, lawmakers and labor unions shared satellite images of the dam showing the increase in water levels between July 19-29.

“The current situation is strengthening the idea that the valves have been closed permanently,” the group, known as Hasankeyf Coordination, said in a statement.

“Because the dam lake is growing every day, the people who live in these areas are worried. They cannot know when the water will reach their residential or agricultural areas.”

The Iraqi government said in a statement that Turkish and Iraqi officials had discussed the water resources of the two rivers in Baghdad on Wednesday to see how they could “serve the interests of both countries”.

Turkey proposed setting up a joint research center in Baghdad for water management and to work together on some agriculture plantations in Iraq, as well as projects for development of drinking water infrastructure. FILE PHOTO: The Tigris river flows through the ancient town of Hasankeyf, which will be significantly submerged by the Ilisu dam being constructed, in southeastern Turkey, August 26, 2018. REUTERS/Sertac Kayar

The European Court of Human Rights in February dismissed the case brought by environmental campaigners to block the dam project, saying heritage protection is the responsibility of Turkish authorities and it had no jurisdiction.

The government needs to make an announcement, even if the dam were being filled for a trial run, said HDP’s Ipekyuz. “They are trying to tie a belt around the Tigris river’s neck and suffocate it,” he said.

Additional reporting by John Davison and Ahmed Aboulenein in Baghdad; Editing by Dominic Evans and Susan Fenton

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Babylon designated UNESCO World Heritage Site

Babylon designated UNESCO World Heritage Site

The Ancient Iraqi city of Babylon designated UNESCO World Heritage Site by Raya Jalabi took rather a long time to arrive. But better later than never, here it is with however a warning that the site is in an “extremely vulnerable condition” and great need of urgent conservation.

RUINS OF BABYLON, Iraq (Reuters) – The ancient city of Babylon, first referenced in a clay tablet from the 23rd century B.C., was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site on Friday, after a vote that followed decades of lobbying by Iraq.

A view of a replica of Ishtar gate at the ancient city of Babylon near Hilla, Iraq July 5, 2019. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani

The vote, at a UNESCO World Heritage Committee meeting in Azerbaijan’s capital Baku, made the ancient Mesopotamian city on the Euphrates River the sixth world heritage site within the borders of a country known as a cradle of civilization.

Iraqi President Barham Salih said the city, now an archaeological ruin, was returned to its “rightful place” in history after years of neglect by previous leaders.

Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi also welcomed the news.

“Mesopotamia is truly the pillar of humanity’s memory and the cradle of civilization in recorded history,” he said.

The government said it would allocate funds to maintain and boost conservation efforts.

Babylon, about 85 kilometers (55 miles) south of Baghdad, was once the center of a sprawling empire, renowned for its towers and mudbrick temples. Its hanging gardens were one of the seven ancient wonders of the world, commissioned by King Nebuchadnezzar II.

Visitors can stroll through the remnants of the brick and clay structures which stretch across 10 square kilometers, and see the famed Lion of Babylon statue, as well as large portions of the original Ishtar Gate.

As the sun began to set on the crumbling ruins, activists and residents flocked to the replica Ishtar gate at the site’s entrance to celebrate what they called a historic moment.

“This is very important, because Babylon will now be a protected site,” said Marina al-Khafaji, a local who was hopeful the designation would boost tourism and the local economy.

It would allow for further exploration and research, said Makki Mohammad Farhoud, 53, a tour guide at the site for more than 25 years, noting that only 18% of it had been excavated.

“Babylon is the blood that runs through my veins, I love it more than I love my children,” he said.

DECADES OF NEGLECT

Excavations of what was once the largest city in the world, began in the early 19th century by European archaeologists, who removed many artifacts.

In the 1970s, under President Saddam Hussein’s restoration project, the southern palace’s walls and arches were shoddily rebuilt on top of the existing ruins, causing widespread damage.

This was exacerbated during the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, when U.S. and Polish troops stationed nearby built their military base on top of the Babylonian ruins.

Many inscriptions written by soldiers can still be seen on the ancient bricks.

The site is in dire need of conservation, Farhoud said. Unlike three other World Heritage sites in Iraq, UNESCO did not designate Babylon as one in “in danger” after objections from the Iraqi delegation.

Iraq is replete with thousands of archaeological sites, many of which were heavily damaged or pillaged by Islamic State during its barbaric three-year-rule which ended in 2017.

The other five World Heritage Sites are the southern marshlands, Hatra, Samarra, Ashur and the citadel in Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region.

Reporting by Raya Jalabi; Editing by Richard ChangOur Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Tutankhamen head fetches millions at UK auction

Tutankhamen head fetches millions at UK auction

Tutankhamen head fetches millions at UK auction despite Egypt’s protests written by Marie-Louise GumuchianNavdeep Yadav gives us a good reading of the difference between nations in terms of space and time.

LONDON (Reuters) – A brown quartzite head of young king Tutankhamen sold at auction in London for more than 4.7 million pounds on Thursday, in the face of Egyptian demands for its return.

The more than 3,000-year-old sculpture, displayed at Christie’s London auction house, shows the boy king taking the form of the ancient Egyptian god Amen.

An unnamed buyer bought the head for 4,746,250 pounds ($5.97 million), including commission and in line with the estimated price before the sale, Christie’s said.

Outside, around 20 protesters stood silently and held placards that said “Egyptian history is not for sale”.

Egypt has long demanded the return of artefacts taken by archaeologists and imperial adventurers, including the Rosetta Stone kept in the British Museum – campaigns paralleled by Greece’s demands for the Parthenon sculptures, Nigeria’s for the Benin Bronzes and Ethiopia’s for the Magdala treasures.

“We are against our heritage and valuable items (being) sold like vegetables and fruit,” said Ibrahim Radi, a 69-year-old Egyptian graphic designer protesting outside Christie’s.

The 28.5 centimetres (11.22 inches) high piece, with damage only to the ears and nose, was sold from the private Resandro collection of Egyptian art.

Christie’s said it was acquired from Munich dealer Heinz Herzer in 1985. Before that, Austrian dealer Joseph Messina bought it in 1973-1974, and Germany’s Prinz Wilhelm Von Thurn und Taxis “reputedly” had it in his collection by the 1960s.

Hailing the piece as a “rare” and “beautiful” work, a Christie’s statement acknowledged controversy over its home.

“We recognise that historic objects can raise complex discussions about the past, yet our role today is to work to continue to provide a transparent, legitimate marketplace upholding the highest standards for the transfer of objects.”

Before the auction, Mostafa Waziri, secretary general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, said he was disappointed the sale was going ahead, despite requests for information and protests from government officials and Egypt’s embassy.

“I believe that it was taken out of Egypt illegally … They have not presented any documents to prove otherwise,” he told Reuters, saying that Egypt would continue to press the buyer and others for the work to be returned.

Staff at Christie’s said they had taken the necessary steps to prove its provenance and the sale was legitimate. “It’s a very well known piece … and it has never been the subject of a claim,” antiquities department head Laetitia Delaloye told Reuters.

Christie’s had been in touch with Egyptian authorities in Cairo and the London embassy, she added.

Egypt and the U.S. unveil new groundwater system

Egypt and the U.S. unveil new groundwater system

Per Wikipedia, the U.S. had minimal dealings with Egypt when it was controlled by the Ottoman Empire (before 1882) and Britain (1882–1945).

President G A Nasser (1956–70) antagonized the U.S. by his pro-Soviet policies and anti-Israeli rhetoric, but the U.S. helped keep him in power by forcing Britain and France to immediately end their invasion in 1956. American policy has been to provide strong support to governments that supported U.S. and Israeli interests in the region, especially presidents Anwar Sadat (1970–81) and Hosni Mubarak (1981–2011).

Fast forward to Tuesday, March 5, 2019, and to this story of Egypt Today.

President Donald Trump and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi In White House (FNN) – photo from Youtube

Egypt, U.S. unveil new groundwater system in Alexandria

CAIRO – 5 March 2019: Egypt and the United States ‘governments unveiled Sunday finalizing the new groundwater lowering system at the Catacombs of Kom El-Shuqafa, Alexandria. 

In a Monday statement issued by the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, it was stated that in support of Egypt’s vital tourism industry, U.S. Chargé d’Affaires Thomas Goldberger joined Minister of Antiquities Khaledal-Anany and Alexandria Governor Abdul Aziz Qansua to celebrate the completion of a groundwater lowering system at the Catacombs of Kom El-Shuqafa on Sunday, March 3. 

“This site has rich cultural significance and has the potential to attract tourists and generate revenue,” Goldberger said, adding that the United States is committed to continuing the partnership with the Government of Egypt to conserve Egypt’s cultural heritage and increase tourism. 

The U.S. Government, through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), contributed $5.7 million for a system to lower the groundwater level in partnership with the Ministry of Antiquities and the National Organization for Potable Water and Sanitary Drainage. The system preserves the site from erosion and enables tourists to access the lowest level of the Catacombs. 

Since 1995, the American people, through USAID, have provided $100 million in assistance to conserve monuments and masterpieces spanning over the full range of Egypt’s long cultural heritage – from Pharaonic times to the late Ottoman period. USAID-financed restoration and training programs helped ensure that Egypt can capitalize on the sector’s traditional role as an engine of economic growth and employment. 

Since 1978, the American people have invested $30 billion to further Egypt’s human and economic development. 

How climate change caused the world’s first ever empire to collapse

How climate change caused the world’s first ever empire to collapse

How climate change caused the world’s first ever empire to collapse by Vasile Ersek, Northumbria University, Newcastle is another story of scientists saying yet again that in the past, shifts in climate impacted one way or another  life on earth.

The picture above is that of the author while researching data from a cave in Romania to document the effects of climate change on humankind evolution.

File 20190102 32121 1d7jyfa.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
King Naram-Sin of Akkad, grandson of Sargon, leading his army to victory.
Rama / Louvre, CC BY-SA

 

Gol-e-Zard Cave lies in the shadow of Mount Damavand, which at more than 5,000 metres dominates the landscape of northern Iran. In this cave, stalagmites and stalactites are growing slowly over millennia and preserve in them clues about past climate events. Changes in stalagmite chemistry from this cave have now linked the collapse of the Akkadian Empire to climate changes more than 4,000 years ago.

Akkadia was the world’s first empire. It was established in Mesopotamia around 4,300 years ago after its ruler, Sargon of Akkad, united a series of independent city states. Akkadian influence spanned along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers from what is now southern Iraq, through to Syria and Turkey. The north-south extent of the empire meant that it covered regions with different climates, ranging from fertile lands in the north which were highly dependent on rainfall (one of Asia’s “bread baskets”), to the irrigation-fed alluvial plains to the south.

 

 

The Akkad empire during the reign of Narâm-Sîn (2254-2218 BC). Mount Damavand is labelled in blue.
Zunkir / Semhir / wiki, CC BY-SA

It appears that the empire became increasingly dependent on the productivity of the northern lands and used the grains sourced from this region to feed the army and redistribute the food supplies to key supporters. Then, about a century after its formation, the Akkadian Empire suddenly collapsed, followed by mass migration and conflicts. The anguish of the era is perfectly captured in the ancient Curse of Akkad text, which describes a period of turmoil with water and food shortages:

… the large arable tracts yielded no grain, the inundated fields yielded no fish, the irrigated orchards yielded no syrup or wine, the thick clouds did not rain.

Drought and dust

The reason for this collapse is still debated by historians, archaeologists and scientists. One of the most prominent views, championed by Yale archaeologist Harvey Weiss (who built on earlier ideas by Ellsworth Huntington), is that it was caused by an abrupt onset of drought conditions which severely affected the productive northern regions of the empire.

 

 

Sargon of Akkad – or maybe his son, Naram-Sin.
Iraqi Directorate General of Antiquities / wiki

Weiss and his colleagues discovered evidence in northern Syria that this once prosperous region was suddenly abandoned around 4,200 years ago, as indicated by a lack of pottery and other archaeological remains. Instead, the rich soils of earlier periods were replaced by large amounts of wind-blown dust and sand, suggesting the onset of drought conditions. Subsequently, marine cores from the Gulf of Oman and the Red Sea which linked the input of dust into the sea to distant sources in Mesopotamia, provided further evidence of a regional drought at the time.

Many other researchers viewed Weiss’s interpretation with scepticism, however. Some argued, for example, that the archaeological and marine evidence was not accurate enough to demonstrate a robust correlation between drought and societal change in Mesopotamia.

A new detailed climate record

Now, stalagmite data from Iran sheds new light on the controversy. In a study published in the journal PNAS, led by Oxford palaeoclimatologist Stacy Carolin, colleagues and I provide a very well dated and high resolution record of dust activity between 5,200 and 3,700 years ago. And cave dust from Iran can tell us a surprising amount about climate history elsewhere.

Gol-e-Zard Cave might be several hundred miles to the east of the former Akkadian Empire, but it is directly downwind. As a result, around 90% of the region’s dust originates in the deserts of Syria and Iraq.

 

 

Mount Damavand is a ‘potentially active’ volcano, and the highest peak in Iran. Gol-e-Zard Cave is nearby.
Vasile Ersek, Author provided

That desert dust has a higher concentration of magnesium than the local limestone which forms most of Gol-e-Zard’s stalagmites (the ones which grow upwards from the cave floor). Therefore, the amount of magnesium in the Gol-e-Zard stalagmites can be used as an indicator of dustiness at the surface, with higher magnesium concentrations indicating dustier periods, and by extension drier conditions.

The stalagmites have the additional advantage that they can be dated very precisely using uranium-thorium chronology. Combining these methods, our new study provides a detailed history of dustiness in the area, and identifies two major drought periods which started 4,510 and 4,260 years ago, and lasted 110 and 290 years respectively. The latter event occurs precisely at the time of the Akkadian Empire’s collapse and provides a strong argument that climate change was at least in part responsible.

The collapse was followed by mass migration from north to south which was met with resistance by the local populations. A 180km wall – the “Repeller of the Amorites” – was even built between the Tigris and Euphrates in an effort to control immigration, not unlike some strategies proposed today. The stories of abrupt climate change in the Middle East therefore echo over millennia to the present day.The Conversation

Vasile Ersek, Senior Lecturer in Physical Geography, Northumbria University, Newcastle

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Palestinian architect Nadia Habash discusses

Palestinian architect Nadia Habash discusses

Rima Al Sammarae wrote on November 4th, 2018 about how life carries on in the Palestinian territories, notably for a certain Nadia Habash, co-owner and director of Habash Consulting Engineers and adjunct lecturer at Birzeit University.  Here is, courtesy to Middle East Architect how:

Palestinian architect Nadia Habash discusses working with Peter Zumthor and persevering under a 29-year travel ban

“The most important and difficult competition that I have ever won was the archaeological park at Hisham’s Palace,” said Nadia Habash, co-owner and director of Habash Consulting Engineers and adjunct lecturer at Birzeit University. “It was launched by UNESCO in partnership with the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, and the jury was led by Peter Zumthor.”

The project, which was awarded to Habash’s office, called for a masterplan of one of Palestine’s most significant sites — the archaeological park of Hisham’s Palace in Jericho, and included the protective sheltering of the mosaic floors of the Grand Bath Hall, as well as other sensitive areas. During the three-part judging process, Zumthor led the participants around the site, questioning their thinking, allowing them to defend their proposals and engaging in discussions.

 

Habash with Peter Zumthor, as they worked together on the renovation of the archaeological park at Hisham’s Palace

“It was a great opportunity to work with him,” Habash said. “I liked his way of thinking  —  he’s a genius. Later on, when we worked together to deliver the project, I realised we think alike in many ways. And the same thing happened when I met Rifat Chadirji and Rasem Badran, who both judged my graduation project. They really read between the lines and realised my intentions. They didn’t only judge what was on the paper. There was a connection between us, and I think that connection deals with the way we approach context.”

A purveyor of critical regionalism, a term originally coined in 1981 to counter the placelessness and lack of identity of international style, as well as whimsical individualism and the ornamentation of Postmodern architecture, Habash is committed to preserving context and the use of architecture as a political, cultural and social tool.

In a paper she recently published, ‘Architecture as Resistance’, which explores the use of architecture in Palestine as a form of opposition against the Israeli occupation, she wrote, “As architects, we have a social responsibility towards our community as we should be serving them rather than serving capitalist interests. I believe that architecture serves as a catalyst for social processes, at least in the limited context of local communities, and as expressed in the early twentieth century by Hannes Meyer, director of the Bauhaus School of Architecture, who stressed that as designers, we are servants to the community. Our task is a service to the people.”

 

Habash sitting with Iraqi architect Mohamed Makiya

 

Propagating her beliefs has not come without consequence. Having suffered a 29-year ban on traveling outside of Palestine by the Israeli government for being an “influence on public opinion”, which has spanned most of her career and was only just lifted in July 2017, Habash has proved to be a local hero of sorts. While she was stripped of regional and international opportunities, she persevered in propelling the field of architecture forward in Palestine.

Between 1986 and 1987, she helped establish the architecture department at Birzeit University, where she continues to teach today. While the university previously only had an engineering department, where architecture-related courses were taught, Habash and her colleagues organised a new curriculum that would, and continues to, bridge architectural philosophies with realistic practice.

“Teaching and my relationship with my students are very important to me,” she said. “And till today, my students tell me that I not only teach them the alphabet of architecture, but also how architecture is a tool for resistance and resilience to achieve sustainable development.”

In addition to co-establishing the architecture department at Birzeit University, Habash also helped launch the Union of Arab Architects, became the first women to head a regional branch of the Engineers Association, which spans Jordan and Palestine, and served as city councilor in Ramallah.

 

Before and after images of Bdelqader Abdelhadi Palace, rehabilitated by Habash Consulting Engineers

Her time with the Ramallah Municipality occurred between 2013 and 2017, and she led the committee of cultural heritage with the mission to protect the city from rapid development and international franchising.

“The urban expansion of Ramallah has been fast and vicious,” she said. “The city is very appealing for developers because it has always been known as a tourist destination within the region. They started affecting the scenery of the town with their international franchises and branding, and for me, this is horrifying. It is not authentic at all.

“The city was beginning to lose its character. While it’s not possible to stop them — they are big international companies, after all — we led the conversation on the importance of preserving our cultural heritage, which is a treasure for us. It is our essence. We need to protect it and base our development around it.”

Habash’s political engagement has always been managed in parallel with the work that comes in through her architecture office. Her extensive number of projects across Palestine include the rehabilitation of Arraba Palaces and the Old Road, the rehabilitation and addition to St. Nicolas Elderly Bait Jala, the rehabilitation of Mar Afram Children’s Library, the revitalisation of Bethlehem Old Market, Al-Istiqlal Park and the water reservoirs at Deir Istya and Kufur Abboush.

“The challenge of the water reservoirs was that they are located on the highest point of the village, in the middle of the historic centre, and I didn’t want to harm the traditional architecture there,” said Habash. “I designed new buildings to serve new functions, but with the vernacular architectural style so that they harmonise with the surrounding environment. And this is how I deal with all of my projects — I study the context very well and I specify what elements of architecture are used in the specific village.”

 

Habash working on the model of the Grand Bath Hall of Hisham Palace

At the moment, Habash, who has been shortlisted for a Tamayouz Excellence Award for Women in Architecture and Construction, is nearing the completion of another rehabilitation project — the Vernacular Heritage Pilot Enhancement Project in As-Samou’, located in the southernmost part of the West Bank, just south of Hebron.

Intending to rescue the built heritage of As-Samou’ and revive its weaving-based economy, the project consists of a number of interventions that will enhance the local vernacular architecture, such as the consolidation of 12 traditional ahwash located in the historic centre, and the rehabilitation of a hosh that will create a Cultural and Youth Centre. The rehabilitation of the hosh supports the training and capacity building of young craftsmen in the town and surrounding areas.

“We have renovated many places in Palestine,” she said, “and there are many other institutions here who do similar work. But this project was particularly special for us — the people in the area are very happy and due to their training, they are distinguished from other craftsmen. We gave them this chance, and that feeling is very special.”

 

Five ways ancient India changed the world – with maths

Five ways ancient India changed the world – with maths

MENA-Forum is proud to reproduce Five ways ancient India changed the world – with maths with our compliments to the author as well thanks   to the publishers because of its obvious interest for its readers of the MENA region.
File 20170920 16437 hxdak9
Bakhshali manuscript.
Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford

Christian Yates, University of Bath

It should come as no surprise that the first recorded use of the number zero, recently discovered to be made as early as the 3rd or 4th century, happened in India. Mathematics on the Indian subcontinent has a rich history going back over 3,000 years and thrived for centuries before similar advances were made in Europe, with its influence meanwhile spreading to China and the Middle East.

As well as giving us the concept of zero, Indian mathematicians made seminal contributions to the study of trigonometry, algebra, arithmetic and negative numbers among other areas. Perhaps most significantly, the decimal system that we still employ worldwide today was first seen in India.

The number system

As far back as 1200 BC, mathematical knowledge was being written down as part of a large body of knowledge known as the Vedas. In these texts, numbers were commonly expressed as combinations of powers of ten. For example, 365 might be expressed as three hundreds (3×10²), six tens (6×10¹) and five units (5×10⁰), though each power of ten was represented with a name rather than a set of symbols. It is reasonable to believe that this representation using powers of ten played a crucial role in the development of the decimal-place value system in India.

Brahmi numerals.
Wikimedia

From the third century BC, we also have written evidence of the Brahmi numerals, the precursors to the modern, Indian or Hindu-Arabic numeral system that most of the world uses today. Once zero was introduced, almost all of the mathematical mechanics would be in place to enable ancient Indians to study higher mathematics.

The concept of zero

Zero itself has a much longer history. The recently dated first recorded zeros, in what is known as the Bakhshali manuscript, were simple placeholders – a tool to distinguish 100 from 10. Similar marks had already been seen in the Babylonian and Mayan cultures in the early centuries AD and arguably in Sumerian mathematics as early as 3000-2000 BC.

But only in India did the placeholder symbol for nothing progress to become a number in its own right. The advent of the concept of zero allowed numbers to be written efficiently and reliably. In turn, this allowed for effective record-keeping that meant important financial calculations could be checked retroactively, ensuring the honest actions of all involved. Zero was a significant step on the route to the democratisation of mathematics.

No abacus needed.
Shutterstock

These accessible mechanical tools for working with mathematical concepts, in combination with a strong and open scholastic and scientific culture, meant that, by around 600AD, all the ingredients were in place for an explosion of mathematical discoveries in India. In comparison, these sorts of tools were not popularised in the West until the early 13th century, though Fibonnacci’s book liber abaci.

Solutions of quadratic equations

In the seventh century, the first written evidence of the rules for working with zero were formalised in the Brahmasputha Siddhanta. In his seminal text, the astronomer Brahmagupta introduced rules for solving quadratic equations (so beloved of secondary school mathematics students) and for computing square roots.

Rules for negative numbers

Brahmagupta also demonstrated rules for working with negative numbers. He referred to positive numbers as fortunes and negative numbers as debts. He wrote down rules such as: “A fortune subtracted from zero is a debt,” and “a debt subtracted from zero is a fortune”.

This latter statement is the same as the rule we learn in school, that if you subtract a negative number, it is the same as adding a positive number. Brahmagupta also knew that “The product of a debt and a fortune is a debt” – a positive number multiplied by a negative is a negative.

Negative cows.
Shutterstock

For the large part, European mathematicians were reluctant to accept negative numbers as meaningful. Many took the view that negative numbers were absurd. They reasoned that numbers were developed for counting and questioned what you could count with negative numbers. Indian and Chinese mathematicians recognised early on that one answer to this question was debts.

For example, in a primitive farming context, if one farmer owes another farmer 7 cows, then effectively the first farmer has -7 cows. If the first farmer goes out to buy some animals to repay his debt, he has to buy 7 cows and give them to the second farmer in order to bring his cow tally back to 0. From then on, every cow he buys goes to his positive total.

Basis for calculus

This reluctance to adopt negative numbers, and indeed zero, held European mathematics back for many years. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz was one of the first Europeans to use zero and the negatives in a systematic way in his development of calculus in the late 17th century. Calculus is used to measure rates of changes and is important in almost every branch of science, notably underpinning many key discoveries in modern physics.

Leibniz: Beaten to it by 500 years.

But Indian mathematician Bhāskara had already discovered many of Leibniz’s ideas over 500 years earlier. Bhāskara, also made major contributions to algebra, arithmetic, geometry and trigonometry. He provided many results, for example on the solutions of certain “Doiphantine” equations, that would not be rediscovered in Europe for centuries.

The Kerala school of astronomy and mathematics, founded by Madhava of Sangamagrama in the 1300s, was responsible for many firsts in mathematics, including the use of mathematical induction and some early calculus-related results. Although no systematic rules for calculus were developed by the Kerala school, its proponents first conceived of many of the results that would later be repeated in Europe including Taylor series expansions, infinitessimals and differentiation.

The leap, made in India, that transformed zero from a simple placeholder to a number in its own right indicates the mathematically enlightened culture that was flourishing on the subcontinent at a time when Europe was stuck in the dark ages. Although its reputation suffers from the Eurocentric bias, the subcontinent has a strong mathematical heritage, which it continues into the 21st century by providing key players at the forefront of every branch of mathematics.

Christian Yates, Senior Lecturer in Mathematical Biology, University of Bath

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Conversation

Today’s Iraq eager to get back its antiquities

Today’s Iraq eager to get back its antiquities

Per the US Library of Congress, the world’s first civilizations grew up in the fertile valley between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, the region of the Middle East long known as Mesopotamia (from the Greek meaning ‘between two rivers’), that roughly corresponds to the territory of present-day Iraq. These ancient civilizations included Sumer, the Babylonian Empire, and the Assyrian Empire. This modern map produced by the Directorate General of Antiquities of Iraq shows the locations of archaeological sites and rock monuments in the country. The table at the lower left lists chronological periods from the Paleolithic to the Islamic. The table at the upper right lists ancient place names such as Ashur, Babylon, and Nineveh, and their equivalents in modern Arabic. Today’s Iraq eager to get back its antiquities is covered by this proposed article of AlMonitor written by Adnan Abu Zeed with translation by Sahar Ghoussoub was published on August 3, 2017. It shows that the Middle East upheavals have amongst many other things consequences that are at best of times unpredictable. These normally include all sorts of rights but also duties such as those described here.

Recovered artifacts are seen at the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad July 15, 2015. The U.S. handed back to Iraq on Wednesday antiquities it said it had seized in a raid on Islamic State fighters in Syria, saying the haul was proof the militants were funding their war by smuggling ancient treasures. The Iraqi relics were captured by U.S. special forces in an operation in May against an Islamic State commander known as Abu Sayyaf. They included ancient cylindrical stamps, pottery, metallic bracelets and other jewelry, and glass shards from what appeared to be a colored vase.[gallery ids="81735"]

Iraq eager to get back antiquities smuggled to US

BAGHDAD — Iraq is working to recover the thousands of ancient artifacts illegally imported into the United States by Oklahoma City-based arts-and-crafts retailer Hobby Lobby.

“Iraqi and US officials are in constant contact, and the smuggled artifacts are in safe hands now with the US Homeland Security and the US judiciary, which will issue a final verdict on the case,” Maysoon al-Damluji, a member of the Iraqi parliament’s Committee of Culture and Information, told Al-Monitor. “Meanwhile, the Iraqi Embassy is communicating with the US State Department to retrieve the artifacts.”

Hobby Lobby was fined $3 million in July for buying some 5,500 artifacts in 2010 that had been smuggled into the United States through a dealer based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), according to the US Justice Department. The company paid $1.6 million for the items, which were sent to three different addresses of the company in Oklahoma City. The antiquities include clay cuneiform tablets, cylinder seals and ancient clay bullae that were used to place authenticating seals on documents.

Damluji said, “The course of things is in favor of Iraq to recover its archaeological pieces. It is only a matter of the time needed for administrative and legal procedures in the United States.”

She was confident when she told Al-Monitor, “There is an atmosphere of optimism regarding positive responses from the United States to this effect, given the existent law … whereby the trade in Iraqi artifacts and antiquities is not allowed, unlike the Gulf countries, including the UAE. A UAE-based dealer was involved in the [latest] smuggling operation because the UAE is not among the list of countries acceding to the UNESCO convention on smuggling of antiquities.”

The Iraqi Embassy in London and a legal team will work with the US Justice Department, “which has the final decision on the issue of returning the stolen artifacts to their rightful owners,” Damluji said. Moreover, under a 2015 UN Security Council resolution, countries are required to return smuggled or looted antiquities to their countries of origin.

The Justice Department said the Hobby Lobby acquisition “was fraught with red flags” and Hobby Lobby even ignored the warning of an expert it had hired who said the items might have been looted from Iraq. The company never met with the dealer who claimed to own the artifacts. Rather, a different dealer had the company wire payment to the personal bank accounts of seven other people, the Justice Department said.

Iraq has a history of fighting to retrieve its stolen antiquities and has recovered 4,300 artifacts smuggled out of the country since 2014 after Islamic State (IS) militants seized control of vast areas of the country’s north, east and west.

The United States pledged a year ago to protect and restore historic sites and museums in Iraq, according to the US State Department’s top adviser on Iraqi cultural heritage, John Russell.

A source at the US Embassy in Baghdad, who asked not to be named, said that “the embassy’s instructions regarding smuggling cases are very strict.”

Even before the Hobby Lobby case, government sources revealed that the Iraqi Embassy in Washington was following up on more than 5,000 antiquities smuggled from Iraq after 2003. The Iraqi Embassy in Cairo also has sought to restore manuscripts and other items smuggled to Cairo from Iraqi monasteries and churches in Mosul. In 2016, Iraq recovered the head of the King Sanatruq I statue, which is one the significant monuments registered in the Iraqi Museum of Antiquities. The statute was stolen in 2003.

Iyad al-Shammari, rapporteur of the parliamentary Committee of Antiquities, told Al-Monitor that the Public Authority for Antiquities in Iraq has contacted UNESCO “to urge the United States to hand over [any] stolen Iraqi artifacts,” and he expressed great hope of solving the issue soon. “Iraq has been preoccupied for years in trying to retrieve antiquities smuggled outside,” he said, adding that “some of the archaeological pieces were lost and sold on the black market.”

In 2016, artifacts smuggled from Syria and Iraq were being sold on eBay. Shammari stressed that the “Iraqi Ministry of Culture addressed the US Embassy in Baghdad to start the official and necessary procedures to recover the smuggled artifacts.”

Iraq also plans investigations to obtain the names of smugglers.

 Adnan Abu Zeed, Contributor,  Iraq Pulse is an Iraqi author and journalist. He holds a degree in engineering technology from Iraq and a degree in media techniques from the Netherlands.

Read more: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2017/08/hobby-lobby-iraq-artifacts-us-smugglers.html#ixzz4oxchdga9

How has Palestinian traditional clothing changed over time?

How has Palestinian traditional clothing changed over time?

Quora requested me to answer this question of Mark L. Levinson and 3 others. How has Palestinian traditional clothing changed over time?  My answer is here below and I would be happy to have all views and comments, experts in the subject included.

I am no expert in anthropology neither in sociology but I shall endeavour to give what I learned from the multitude of friends I encountered whilst staying and working in the Gulf countries.

The Palestinians like all other peoples around the Mediterranean basin, dressed throughout their history in a wide range of cloths, fabrics and designs. These had variations according to the specifics of the region or town and were of course under the influence of every power that ruled them to date.

There were times of rebellion and times of conciliation and / or reconciliation. For instance, during the times of the presence of the Jewish tribes loitering around well before the advent of nation states, one could not tell a Palestinian from a Jew; they had the same accoutrement. And we are told that they do share the same DNA characteristics.

This went on for some centuries but after the people of the latter as mesmerized by the power and wealth left for Europe in pursuit of the retreating Romans, the fashion had reverted back to that of that of the pre-Roman times.

The following Byzantine period shone little bit in the same way but in a much sterner extravagance. This was soon to be followed by the successive Arab Kalifates with a total departure from the above through a more oriental vista onto the world.

More recently, it is the Ottomans that left an indelible mark on the men and women of the region with their floating robes, headdresses, shoes, etc.

The British didn’t have time to bear any pronounced mark but they did influence the rich and the wealthy in opening the routes of emigration to Europe and later on to America.

The Israelis today being themselves from as diverse an origin cannot imprint a definite style. Could this be at the root of the on-going conflict? Europe is not that far off and its eastern and central regions from which most of these originate from come second to their western counterparts in terms of numbers. Hence a more adversarial attitude that is not conducive to a more effective influence.

Asia with all its ICTs is just around the corner. Social media carry the load in the latest fashion in investment ideas swaps.

America is on the other hand on the other side of the world, but Hollywood isn’t, with all those brave action films heroes in fatigues, baseball caps and all, lambasting each other mercilessly with oversized machines. Closer to us still, there is this multitude per the above, that is housed, looked after relatively well in all GCC countries, but that is another story that could be told on a different occasion.

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