Sudan’s ‘forgotten’ pyramids risk being buried

Sudan’s ‘forgotten’ pyramids risk being buried

This article republished from The Conversation is about Sudan’s ‘forgotten’ pyramids that risk being buried by shifting sand dunes and take with them all related history.

Rampant desertification expansion towards the north does not meet any counter-movement. But, conversely, in the south, one ambitious African-led reforestation project is leading the way.
To combat sand movement and desertification by increasing the vegetation cover along the southern edge of the Saharan desert, a Green Wall is proposed. It is being implemented throughout the continent from ocean to ocean.
In the southern edge of the MENA region, we sadly do not share the same concern and do not consecrate to date more than little attention paid to it. Is it the force of habit or what else?

Sudan’s ‘forgotten’ pyramids risk being buried by shifting sand dunes

Ahmed Mutasim Abdalla Mahmoud, University of Nottingham

The word “pyramid” is synonymous with Egypt, but it is actually neighbouring Sudan that is home to the world’s largest collection of these spectacular ancient structures.

Beginning around 2500BC, Sudan’s ancient Nubian civilisation left behind more than 200 pyramids that rise out of the desert across three archaeological sites: El Kurru, Jebel Barkal and Meroe, in addition to temples, tombs and royal burial chambers.

Sudan’s ‘forgotten’ pyramids risk being buried
Map of Sudan with dots
Nubian archaeological sites in modern-day Sudan and Egypt. Google Maps

Despite being smaller than the famous Egyptian pyramids of Giza, Nubian pyramids are just as magnificent and culturally valuable. They even offer a crowd-free experience for intrepid tourists.

Built of sandstone and granite, the steeply-sloping pyramids contain chapels and burial chambers decorated with illustrations and inscriptions carved in hieroglyphs and Meroitic script celebrating the rulers’ lives in Meroe – a wealthy Nile city and the seat of power of Kush, an ancient kingdom and rival to Egypt.

Located about 220km north of the capital Khartoum, the cultural gem of Meroe is now one of Sudan’s most significant Unesco world heritage sites. However a lack of preservation, severe weather conditions and negligent visitors have all taken their toll on its monuments. Back in the 1880s, for instance, the Italian explorer Giuseppe Ferlini blew up several pyramids in his search for Kushite treasure, leaving many of the tombs missing their pointy tops. Many more of Sudan’s other pyramids were subsequently plundered and destroyed by looters.

Shifting sands

These days sandstorms and shifting sand dunes pose the biggest threat to Sudan’s ancient heritage sites. This phenomenon is nothing new, and was even chronicled thousands of years ago. An inscription found in a temple from the 5th century BC describes a Kushite king giving an order to clear out sand from the pathway:

His Majesty brought a multitude of hands, to wit, men and women as well as royal children and chiefs to carry away the sand; and his Majesty was carrying away sand with his hand(s) himself, at the forefront of the multitude for many days.

But today the threat has been exacerbated by climate change, which has made the land more arid and sandstorms more frequent. Moving sands can engulf entire houses in rural Sudan, and cover fields, irrigation canals and riverbanks.

Sudan’s ‘forgotten’ pyramids risk being buried
Pyramids covered by sand
Sand creeps over a pyramid at the northern royal cemetery of Meroe. Ahmed Mahmoud, Author provided

While some archaeologists believe sand movement helps to preserve ancient artefacts from thieves, it is known to be detrimental to excavated sites, reburying them beneath the desert. Sand blown by the wind also erodes delicate stonework and sculptures.

Fighting back against desertification

The best way to combat sand movement and desertification is to increase the vegetation cover, and one ambitious African-led reforestation project is leading the way.

Bringing together more than 20 nations, the Great Green Wall is a multi-billion dollar movement to stop the spread of the Sahara Desert by restoring 100 million hectares of land across the continent from Senegal in west Africa to Djibouti in the east. The intention is to cultivate the largest living barrier of trees and plants on the planet, with Sudan having the longest stretch of the “wall”.

Map of Africa with green line and shaded orange bit.
The great green wall will run through the Sahel region to the south of the Sahara. sevgart / wiki, CC BY-SA

Only 4% of the target area has been covered so far, with big variations from country to country. When it is more complete, this experimental project will hopefully limit the frequency of dust storms and slow the movement of sand onto fertile lands and Unesco sites in northern Sudan. It will also contribute to tackling the extreme heatwaves in semi-arid areas such as the capital Khartoum, where the temperature goes well above 40°C during summer.

However, monitoring the impact of the project, which spans 5,000 miles across Africa, requires “big picture” data. This comes from the latest satellites and remote sensing technologies.

Sand-tracking satellites

Satellite imagery can provide valuable information about sand movement. For instance satellites are used to monitor the dust storms that transport sand from the Sahara across the Atlantic Ocean to supply the Amazon rainforest with essential fertilising nutrients.


Sudan’s ‘forgotten’ pyramids risk being buried
Satellite image of Sudan with large dust clouds
Dust storm over Sudan, August 2017. NASA MODIS

But what about on a smaller scale? How do you predict if and when sand will submerge a field, a watering hole – or a pyramid?

In my own research I have previously used multiple overlapping images taken from aeroplanes to generate digital elevation models for sand dunes in northern Sudan. That led to my current PhD research which focuses on monitoring the movement of sand dunes using satellite optical and radar images, airborne laser imagery and other techniques. My research also investigates the influence of factors such as wind speed and direction, presence of vegetation and topography.

Colleagues and I ultimately want to develop our understanding of how sand dunes grow in size and how they migrate across the desert. This will enable us to monitor the effectiveness of interventions such as vegetation barriers, helping to combat desertification and climate change and to ensure people in Sudan are able to grow enough food. And we may even be able to predict when and where those pyramids will be buried – and what we can do to prevent it.

Ahmed Mutasim Abdalla Mahmoud, PhD Researcher, Sand Movement in Sudan, University of Nottingham

Read the original article.


An Homage To Zaha Hadid: “Abstracting The Landscape”

An Homage To Zaha Hadid: “Abstracting The Landscape”

Marking five years since the passing of renowned architect and artist Zaha Hadid, Zurich’s Galerie Gmurzynska presents a celebratory and revelatory exhibition of her work entitled “Abstracting the Landscape”.

The picture above is for illustration and is of Ocula.

An Homage To Zaha Hadid: “Abstracting The Landscape” Exhibition At Galerie Gmurzynska In Zurich

Nel-Olivia Waga, Contributor to Travel

I write about conscious luxury, focusing on travel, well-being & art.

Described as the “Queen of Curves”, this Iraqi-British innovator was one of the major figures of late 20th Century and 21st Century architecture and design. Her buildings and interiors always dared to be different and her global legacy reveals her creative and enduring genius. What she achieved is an influential body of work which others look to for inspiration.

Zaha Hadid Abstracting Landscapes at Gallery Gmurzynska Paradeplatz Zurich
Zaha Hadid Abstracting The Landscape at Gallery Gmurzynska Paradeplatz Zurich GMURZYNSKA

Hers was a career marked by recognition for all that she contributed to the development of design and function. Her impact on the built environment was extensive and driven by her fusion of Modernism into her architectural creations. This saw her become the first woman to receive the Pritzker Architecture Prize and the only woman ever to be presented with the Royal Gold Medal from the Royal Institute of British Architects. Her numerous and acclaimed exhibitions have included “The Great Utopia” at the Guggenheim Museum and Art Basel in both Switzerland and Miami.

Zaha Hadid Abstracting The Landscape at Gallery Gmurzynska Paradeplatz Zurich
Zaha Hadid Abstracting The Landscape at Gallery Gmurzynska Paradeplatz Zurich GMURZYNSKA

Her architecture always evolved as she was never prepared to stand still or to accept anything that would compromise her vision. She was always eager to challenge preconceptions bringing some much-needed refreshment to an architectural establishment that can often appear stale and inflexible. The fact that her many buildings already seem timeless is a testament to her ongoing relevance and her ability to prompt those who follow to strive to achieve such a level of authenticity.

Zaha Hadid Abstracting The Landscape at Gallery Gmurzynska Paradeplatz Zurich
Zaha Hadid Abstracting The Landscape at Gallery Gmurzynska Paradeplatz Zurich GMURZYNSKA

Galerie Gmurzynska has had a long association with Zaha Hadid having highlighted her work in a number of earlier exhibitions. There is therefore an initial poignancy around this collection of models, drawings, artworks and sculptures as it prompts the thought that she has now gone. However, the sheer vibrancy of the pieces quickly dispels any feelings of melancholy and it is a joy to look at and experience what is so carefully set out here. 

“When we saw Zaha’s design for the “Great Utopia” exhibition of Russian Avantgarde at the Guggenheim New York in 1992, it took our breath away. And that is what our relationship was about, to implement breathtaking projects ever since. For most she will be remembered as the female architect who broke the glass-ceiling. For her the term “female architect” was irrelevant. For us, as a gallery, her drawings and paintings could be considered works of art, while Zaha never considered herself to be an artist. Zaha was an eternaly curious and artistic minded person with a vision. It is this Zaha that we attempt to present in our current exhibition as an homage to Zaha Hadid.” says Matthias Rastorfer, CEO and Partner at Galerie Gmurzynska

Zaha Hadid Abstracting The Landscape at Gallery Gmurzynska Paradeplatz Zurich
Zaha Hadid Abstracting The Landscape at Gallery Gmurzynska Paradeplatz Zurich GMURZYNSKA

Zaha Hadid’s use of non-figurative forms and shapes fuses technology with art and the clever interplay of light and color combinations show her freshness of vision, creativity and technical expertise. Elements of the exhibition are so “reach out and touch” that they draw both the hand and the eye as they fill the gallery’s floor space. The sinewy contours of many of the works on display seem irresistible and lure both our eyes and hands to discover more. The mixing of media adds depth to the exhibits and there is also the contrast between the modernity on show here as it juxtaposes with the traditional architecture of the commercial building which appears opposite.

Zaha Hadid Abstracting The Landscape at Gallery Gmurzynska Paradeplatz Zurich
Zaha Hadid Abstracting The Landscape at Gallery Gmurzynska Paradeplatz Zurich GMURZYNSKA

The exhibition involved close co-operation with the late artist’s designs team who act as the guardians of her legacy and who seek to preserve and respect her artistic integrity. It is fitting that Galerie Gmurzynska has decided to incorporate key elements of Zaha Hadid’s work as a permanent element of its gallery space. This will act as a reminder and a living memorial of this great architect and artist’s depth of contribution over the length of her career. 

Nel-Olivia Waga at Galerie Gmurzynska's Zaha Hadid Exhibition: ″Abstracting The Landscape″ in Zurich
Nel-Olivia Waga at Galerie Gmurzynska’s Zaha Hadid Exhibition: “Abstracting The Landscape” in Zurich XANDRA M. LINSIN

Impressive on all levels.

I view luxury lifestyle from a conscious perspective and am most passionate about wellbeing, art and travel. I am the founder of the lifestyle blog her-etiquette.com (follow me on Instagram: @her_etiquette). I also run the consulting firm HER CIRCLE which specializes in sustainable luxury strategies and marketing concepts with purpose. Before becoming an entrepreneur I have worked in Sales & Marketing at Coutts & Co, Deutsche Bank and Hugo Boss. Based between Zurich and London, I travel the world and write about the joy of the journey. 

Arabian cult may have built 1000 monuments older than Stonehenge

Arabian cult may have built 1000 monuments older than Stonehenge

NewScientist HUMANS article by Ibrahim Sawal tells us that Arabian cult may have built 1000 monuments older than Stonehenge. Let us see what these are.

The picture above is for illustration and is of Mysterious, massive stone monuments in Arabia.

Arabian cult may have built 1000 monuments older than Stonehenge

ancient monument
There are 1000 ancient monuments across one region of Saudi ArabiaAAKSA and Royal Commission for AlUla

A vast site in north-west Saudi Arabia is home to 1000 structures that date back more than 7000 years, making them older than the Egyptian pyramids and Stonehenge in the UK.

Named after the Arabic word for rectangle, mustatil structures were first discovered in the 1970s, but received little attention from researchers at the time. Hugh Thomas at the University of Western Australia in Perth and his team wanted to learn more about them, and embarked on the largest investigation of the structures to date.

Using helicopters to fly over north-west Saudi Arabia and then following up with ground explorations, the researchers found more than 1000 mustatils across 200,000 square kilometres – twice as many as were previously thought to exist in this area. “You don’t get a full understanding of the scale of the structures until you’re there,” says Thomas.

Made from piled-up blocks of sandstone, some of which weighed more than 500 kilograms, mustatils ranged from 20 metres to more than 600 metres in length, but their walls stood only 1.2 metres high. “It’s not designed to keep anything in, but to demarcate the space that is clearly an area that needs to be isolated,” says Thomas.

In a typical mustatil, long walls surround a central courtyard, with a distinctive rubble platform, or “head”, at one end and entryways at the opposite end. Some entrances were blocked by stones, suggesting they could have been decommissioned after use.

Excavations at one mustatil showed that the centre of the head contained a chamber within which there were fragments of cattle horns and skulls. The cattle fragments may have been presented as offerings, suggesting mustatils may have been used for rituals.

Read more: Ancient rock art rewrites the natural history of Arabia

Radiocarbon dating of the skulls shows that they date to between 5300 and 5000 BC, indicating that this was when this particular mustatil was built – and maybe the others too. If so, the monuments would together form the earliest large-scale, ritual landscape anywhere in the world, predating Stonehenge by more than 2500 years.

“This could completely rewrite our understanding of cults in this area at this time,” says team member Melissa Kennedy, also at the University of Western Australia. She says that further south, religious groups became focused in homes, with families displaying small shrines, but the opposite was happening in ancient Saudi Arabia with the mustatils.

There may also have been a relation between the construction of mustatils and the environment. Built during the Holocene Humid Phase – a period between 8000 and 4000 BC during which Arabia and parts of Africa were wetter, and what are now deserts were grasslands. But droughts were still common. Kennedy says it is possible that cattle were herded and used as offerings to the gods to protect the land from the changing climate.

Mustalils were typically clustered in groups of two to 19, suggesting that gatherings may have been broken up into smaller social groups.

“The mustatils themselves are probably associated with an annual or generational coming-together of people who would normally be out with their herds and cattle,” says Gary Rollefson at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, suggesting that these rituals were important for bringing communities together. “But there’s no indication that these guys spent a lot of time around the mustatil.”

Discover megalithic MaltaSome of the world’s oldest structures

“These structures are enigmatic,” says Huw Groucutt at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena, Germany. He says they show that remarkable human cultural developments took place in the Arabian peninsula.

But despite all the new findings, there is still much to learn. “People are going to understand these structures even more in the future,” says Thomas. “It’s nice to be at the forefront, but we’re also excited to see what other people find.”

Journal reference: AntiquityDOI: 10.15184/aqy.2021.51

More on these topics in ARCHAEOLOGY

The Red Sea is no longer a baby ocean

The Red Sea is no longer a baby ocean

The Red Sea is no longer a baby ocean by Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres comes as quite a surprising assertion if one is not familiar with the subject. It gives a fairly good picture of this most historical strip of sea water.

The feature picture above is of the Red Sea as showing on its Facebook page.

The Red Sea is no longer a baby ocean
Bathymetric chart of a part of the Red Sea. Credit: GEOMAR

It is 2,250 kilometers long, but only 355 kilometers wide at its widest point—on a world map, the Red Sea hardly resembles an ocean. But this is deceptive. A new, albeit still narrow, ocean basin is actually forming between Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. Exactly how young it is and whether it can really be compared with other young oceans in Earth’s history has been a matter of dispute in the geosciences for decades. The problem is that the newly formed oceanic crust along the narrow, north-south aligned rift is widely buried under a thick blanket of salt and sediments. This complicates direct investigations.https://d1b7959727b37f996fc1656abcaeb098.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

In the international journal Nature Communications, scientists from GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel, King Abdullah University for Science and Technology in Thuwal (Saudi Arabia) and the University of Iceland have now published a study that makes a good case for the Red Sea being quite mature and having an almost classical oceanic evolution. “Using a combination of different methods, we can show for the first time that the structures in the Red Sea are typical for a young but already fully developed ocean basin.” says Dr. Nico Augustin from GEOMAR, lead author of the study.

In addition to information from high-resolution seafloor maps and chemical investigations of rock samples, the team primarily used gravity and earthquake data to develop a new tectonic model of the Red Sea basin. Gravity anomalies have already helped to detect hidden seafloor structures such as rift axes, transform faults and deep-sea mountains in other regions, for example in the Gulf of Mexico, the Labrador Sea or the Andaman Sea.

The authors of the current study compared gravity patterns of the Red Sea axis with comparable mid-ocean ridges and found more similarities than differences. For example, they identified positive gravity anomalies running perpendicular to the rift axis, which are caused by variations in crustal thickness running along the axis. “These so-called ‘off-axis segmentation trails’ are very typical features of oceanic crust originating from magmatically more active, thicker and thus, heavier areas along the axis. However, this observation is new for the Red Sea,” says Dr. Nico Augustin.

Bathymetric maps, as well as earthquake data, also support the idea of an almost continuous rift valley throughout the Red Sea basin. This is also confirmed by geochemical analyses of rock samples from the few areas that are not overlain by salt masses. “All the samples we have from the Red Sea rift have geochemical fingerprints of normal oceanic crust,” says Dr. Froukje van der Zwan, co-author of the study.

With this new analysis of gravity and earthquake data, the team constrains the onset of ocean expansion in the Red Sea to about 13 million years ago. “That’s more than twice the generally accepted age,” Dr. Augustin says. That means the Red Sea is no longer a baby ocean, but a young adult with a structure similar to the young southern Atlantic some 120 million years ago.

The model now presented is, of course, still being debated in the scientific community, says the lead author, “but it is the most straightforward interpretation of what we observe in the Red Sea. Many details in salt- and sediment-covered areas that were previously difficult to explain suddenly make sense with our model.” While it has thus been able to answer some questions about the Red Sea, the model also raises many new ones that inspire further research in the Red Sea from a whole new scientific perspective.

Professor: ‘certification’ mania hobbles Middle East development

Professor: ‘certification’ mania hobbles Middle East development

Leading scholar says region must place more importance on liberal arts, not just science and engineering, to build better societies by Anna McKie could be an unprecedented way of covering the recurring issue of underdevelopment not through traditional knowledge but by using the art and humanities knowledge. Let us see what is proposed as per the very words of a Professor: ‘certification’ mania hobbles Middle East development.

The picture above is for illustration and is of another article on how a MENA summit weighs liberal arts’ role in post-Covid recovery by the Times Higher Education.

Professor: ‘certification’ mania hobbles Middle East development

April 8, 2021

Students in the Middle East and North Africa are too often more interested in “acquiring” a degree than developing the understanding that should come with it, a leading scholar has warned.

Safwan Masri, Columbia University’s executive vice-president for global centres and global development, said too many young people were steered into courses focused on science and engineering when critical thinking and intercultural understanding were desperately needed across the region.

Professor: ‘certification’ mania hobbles Middle East development

Degree Certificates
Source: iStock

Speaking at Times Higher Education’s MENA Universities Summit, Professor Masri said future leaders being trained in institutions across the region were “not fully prepared to lead”, the product of “technocratic societies led by a global technocratic class”.

“Students – and the parents who bankroll them – are often more interested in acquiring professional certification than truly understanding the world and the role of an educated citizen within it,” said Professor Masri.

“Here in MENA, young people fortunate enough to attend university are almost unilaterally steered into STEM training.

“But STEM competency is only half of the equation. We need people who also know how to organise societies, articulate and secure alignment on political ideals, and build robust civil societies that expand rights and freedoms to historically marginalised groups.”

Professor Masri, an expert on the contemporary Arab world and the head of Columbia’s study centre in Amman, Jordan, said the solution had to be a greater embrace of liberal arts education across the region.

He acknowledged that this “won’t be easy” because generations of Arabs “have been indoctrinated with hyper-nationalist propaganda, exclusionary rhetoric and dogmatic religious discourse at the expense of critical thinking and questioning skills”.

“Progress cannot be achieved without deprogramming and reprogramming this mindset, to learn to coexist with different points of view and ways of life,” Professor Masri said.

“Unless liberal arts training is more highly valued in this region, the region’s ambitions will be thwarted. We must achieve balance. We must help students – and the parents who fund many of them – understand the crucial interplay between content [of academic training] and context [understanding of society].”

At the summit, held online in partnership with NYU Abu Dhabi, Professor Masri also argued that at a time of geopolitical turmoil and “historic levels of misunderstanding” between countries and the people within them, knowledge diplomacy led by universities “may be our last and best tool if we are to rebuild a broken world”. He highlighted Columbia’s decision to maintain its global centre in Istanbul even in the face of increasing persecution of academics.

“The solution wasn’t to give in, we contended, but to dig in – to support academics and students, to continue to share knowledge,” Professor Masri said.

But Professor Masri expressed concern about the “weaponisation” of knowledge, highlighting that while Gulf states’ attempts to exercise soft power by funding Middle East studies centres in Western universities ostensibly had “no strings attached”, there were “uncomfortable stories” of researchers at these centres coming under pressure after writing about issues such as human rights and democracy.

A better model of knowledge diplomacy, he argued, was that of the Covid vaccines, which were the result of thousands of researchers crossing the globe over decades, generating the knowledge that informed the vaccines’ designs.

“The Covid vaccine represents decades’ worth, perhaps even centuries’ worth, of university-generated knowledge – distilled down to little more than an ounce of liquid, all concentrated in a single shot,” Professor Masri said.

“This medical and scientific breakthrough will reconnect the people of the world.”

anna.mckie@timeshighereducation.com

Twitter: @annamckie

Read more about: