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
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
“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.”
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.
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.
Posted by Usama Soomro in his blog on is a response to a question that everyone who knows the Middle East pondered about. It is about whether T. E. Lawrence maker or demolisher of the modern Middle East? So here is it is.
There are uncountable hot and cold stories of Turkish, British, and German soldiers, families, and agents of World War I, most of the stories are evident and some of them are unclassified. Here is the story of a 5.5-inch young boy who changed the geography and demography of Arab countries including Saudi Arabia in the first world war. Thomas Edward Lawrence was a British agent, army officer, diplomat, and archaeologist. He was born on the 16th of August in 1888. He is known as a renowned person of first world war. His played a role in espionage during the Sinai and Palestine movement and the Arab rebellion against the Ottoman Empire during the First World War. His activities and association made him popular. In the rebellion against the Ottoman Empire. He made his name public as Thomas Edward Lawrence. His work for the people of Arab and their lands described him vividly in his writings, his deeds and in the historical aspect of history. His fame internationally coined him as Lawrence of Arabia In a film which was released in 1962, that film Lawrence of Arabia is one the great movies of all time. This film is based on his work and activities in wartime. He was a student of archaeology, history, and culture in Jesus oxford college. While studying in Oxford he spent much of his time in studies. He was fond of learning new languages, cultures, history, and religious wars. During his studies British declared the war against the ottoman empire and Germany, he had two brothers, they joined the British royal military. While serving in France they killed. Their death affected him deeply. He served as a junior archaeologist in Carchemish working for the British Museum on archaeological excavations in ottoman Syria in 1910. When the war breaks out in 1914, he joined the army as a second lieutenant. He was employed at the geographical section of war, for office works he was sent to Cairo as a map officer and liaison. His knowledge about Arabs and Arabia helped British intelligence in Cairo. However, behind the Arab mutiny, he united the Arabs to fight for their rights and their land. Until the primary warfare the total region, as well as today’s Asian nation, Syria, Israel, Asian country, Yemen, the petty Persian Gulf Dubai and Egypt, were nominally a part of the Turkish Empire with its capital at urban centre – nominally, as a result of the British Empire in impact ruled Egypt and also the Gulf states, and possessed the port of city. When the Arab rebellion started in 1916 he was posted to undertake dangerous missions inside the territory of enemies. Arabs revolted against the Ottoman Empire because the Ottoman Empire subjugated some Arab states like Syria, Damascus, and Hejaz. Hussain bin Ali started the Arab revolt against Turks. His interest in his academics made him able and his credibility helped him to do all the dangerous missions. He used to disguise himself as a common person for the secret missions. One of his secret missions was stared when the Arab revolt began in 1916. He used Arab nationalism as a weapon, the reality behind the rebellion, were some certain British people who encouraged and supported Arab revolt against the colonial rule of Turks. When he posted to Cairo, he made his mind that he has to join the group who is already fighting against Turks so he decided to join the group of guerilla campaigners, which was lead by Amir Faisal bin Hussain sheriff his father Hussain was the ruler of Hijaz state(now part of Saudi Arabia). Hussain sheriff said to his people that no power on earth can take away the land of Arabs from Arabs. He was guaranteed from the British if the Ottoman Empire demolishes they would be guaranteed self-rule. Hussain sheriff had four sons named as Ali, Abdullah, Faisal, and Zaid. All these four led and fought the Arab revolt with support of British, on the agreement that after the war they would never intervene in the Arab land. He got major success when he bombarded the railway line in Hijaz(province) which was the only source of food, weapon and only route of travelling from Arab to turkey for ottoman empire. After a year of the Arab revolt, Lawrence advised Alfaisal to attack the port of Aqba. Alfaisal assaulted the port and conquered the city of Aqba in 1917 the most strengthening city among the ottoman empire. Aqaba could have been assaulted from the seaside, but the narrow mountainous defiles leading were strongly defended and would have been very difficult to attack. So they did form the backside of the Aqba fort that strategy which was given by Lawrence led Arabs towards victory. What is now in Jordan. Some of the historians say the Lawrence had sexual relations with his friend and assistant named Dahom whom he taught the camera work and from him, he learned the Arabic language but what so ever for the Lawrence he lead to the great Arab revolt, which led Arabs towards sovereignty and independence. Although, In Arab revolt, there were many people apart from Lawrence who led rebellion like Hussain ibn Ali who founded a secret society in Damascus to fight for Arab independence and power. Apart from demolishing railway line in Hijaz and occupying Aqba, he took part in many militant activities one of the activity was carved out in 1918, Arab revolt occupied Damascus. After the accomplishments of his mission in the Middle East, he joined the royal air force. He got his retirement from the royal air force on February 26, 1935. He was returning to home so he can enjoy the retirement. While returning to the home he faced motorcycling accident on May 13 in 1935, which took his life forever.
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.
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.
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 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 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.”
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.
Originally posted on Jayson Casper: Man walking past voting wall, Marrakesh, Morocco For the first time in his life, Rachid Imounan cast a vote—and overturned Morocco’s Islamist-oriented government. He is not alone. Turnout surged to 50 percent as liberals routed the Justice and Development Party (PJD), which led the North African nation’s parliament the past…
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