Posted by: preservenile | November 19, 2012

Archaeology, Dams, and Politics. Again…

Two weeks ago the Sudan Dams’ Crisis was presented and discussed in the 9th African Archaeological Research Days that took place in Southampton. See HERE for a review from a Nubiological perspective.

The interest was high, although in the last days the various google alerts on the Sudan Dams’ topic mainly concentrate on what is happening with (or mostly against…) the Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile:

Sometimes also the news consist in praises of the achievements of the Sudanese government  – lastly the completion of the heightening of the Roseires Dam, alleged to be the longest dam in the world with a length of 25 kilometres!

While occasionally news from the victory of some local people against plans of dams that are destructive for their natural and cultural landscape remind us of the hope that should never die that the Nubians too will win their struggle for survival…

Among the various news that appeared in the world wide web in the last days regarding the issue of dams, one particularly attracted our attention:

Hittites ahead of their time with dam building

Leaving aside the extent to whether the structure indeed is a dam, it is alarming to see such crude generalizations being expressed by a university professor in order to excuse on the basis of their archaeological interpretations crucial issues of controversial development plans, like the dams in Turkey – or in Sudan or in Ethiopia or in Uganda or in Malaysia or elsewhere…

Posted by: preservenile | October 7, 2012

News between the Nile and the Horn

A deal wished for but not expected by all is reached:

While a deal still expected and wished for is discussed:

At the same time that a big deal not wished but expected got strengthened:

There must be also time to wish for Nubia to be saved…

Posted by: preservenile | September 10, 2012

The Dams of the Nile in September 2012

It was inevitable that the death of Meles Zanawi in combination with the new political situation in Egypt would not leave unaffected the crucial issue of the sharing of the waters of the Nile. For a recent commentary see HERE.

Things seemed to get out of control last week when various media referred to the wikileak breaking of the news that Egypt was planning a military attack against the Ethiopian damming facilities and that Sudan would provide for an airbase closer to the Ethiopian territory!

Interestingly enough, it has also been announced that the long-awaited-to-open road connecting Egypt and Sudan will be officially given to public use on the 20th of September. Hoping that the two things are not connected, it is of praise that Egypt and Sudan manage to start using their shared territory of Nubia – and perhaps they will also find solutions for Hala’ib triangle too.

In the meantime, Nubia remains under threat by the plans for the new dams and the Nubians seem to be taking the front in the struggle against them, also in the media, hoping for sure that the international attention will not remain with its back turned to a problem that can easily develop into a major crisis…

Posted by: preservenile | August 19, 2012

News from Nubia, Addis Ababa and Khartoum

Even a new visitor to Sudan – albeit with the sharpness of the eyes of an experienced traveller – seems to be able to realize – and despite the obvious mistakes in some of the facts presented – that the cultural heritage of the country is “under threat from the rising waters of giant Chinese-backed hydroelectric dams. One such dam, the Merowe Dam near Dongola, was completed just before I arrived. Many foreigners have never heard of it and yet it holds back the fifth largest lake in the world. It is a perfect metaphor for this extraordinary yet alien country, where everything is arranged out of sight, and behind closed doors.”

News, however, are coming to the outside world constantly and from various sources, one of which is the new “Nubia Bulletin“.

What really attracted mostly the attention of the media, though, was the discussions between the Sudan government and the SPLM representatives at the Addis Ababa summit in the beginning of August where the latter “in its paper submitted to the mediation, demanded to include Darfur crisis, eastern Sudan, compensation of population in North Sudan affected by the construction of Kajabar [Kajbar] dam, and the issue of Aljazeera schema.” (quote from Sudan Tribune, 3/8/2012).

Interestingly enough, on the 13th of August the new Director General of the National Corporation for Antiquities and Museums in Sudan officially assumed his duties. Dr. Abdel Rahman Ali was the first Darfurian to join the Sudan Antiquities’ Service, and he is now becoming Director General – after a very successful period of direction of the Sudan National Museum – amidst both the Sudan Dams’ Crisis and the elbow-licking difficulties of the political tumults. Good luck to him and may his adamant character help all sides in such crucial moments…

Immediately after the meeting about the new dams planned in Sudan at the British Museum in May, the British Institute of East Africa took an active position against the undertaking of salvage archaeology if the principles of the World Congress on Dams are not followed. We quote from their webpage:

The BIEA has decided that it will only support archaeological or other research in the affected areas if it is satisfied that the construction of these dams adheres to the principles laid down by the World Commission on Dams, including the carrying out of a comprehensive and publicly accessible environmental impact assessment and, in particular, the consent of the local community. Professor Goudie, the president of BIEA, has written to the International Society for Nubian Studies and the Sudan Archaeological Research Society to this effect.

We continue to wait for a reaction from the International Society for Nubian Studies and the Sudan Archaeological Research Society concerning their position towards the proposed dam building scheme.

Posted by: preservenile | July 23, 2012

News from Society of Africanist Archaeologists

The 21st Bienniel of the Society of Africanist Archaeologists (SAfA) was recently held in Toronto.

We are very happy to announce that Dr. Elena A.A. Garcea, prominent research into the prehistory of Sudan and northern Africa and co-chair of the European Committee for Preserving the Middle Nile, was elected as  the new president of SAfA.

And in an even more direct relation to the dams’ crisis in Sudan, it is of crucial value that on June 23 2012 the board of SAfA adopted the following


Reaffirming its commitment to an African archaeology that is both socially
engaged and socially responsible, and mindful of its own code of ethics, SAfA
calls on its members to refrain from participating in fieldwork in areas to be
affected by the proposed dams on the Middle Nile (Sudan) until and unless
those projects enjoy the support of the resident local population and have been
the subject of independently conducted publically available Environmental
Impact Assessments. It further asks the incoming SAfA executive to
communicate this resolution to the Pan African Archaeological Association and
the Presidents of the Sudan Archaeological Research Society and the
International Society for Nubian Studies.

The resolution has been sent to the presidents of Sudan Archaeological Research Society and International Society for Nubian Studies, and we hope that these organizations will respect and endorse this motion in the immediate future.

Posted by: preservenile | June 17, 2012


Recently, two new informative texts on the so-called Dam Crisis appeared on the Net, in the Greek website

Both texts are in Greek, the English translation being nothing else than the petition of the European Committee:

The reason for not translating the entire texts is that the purpose was to inform the Greek public, whom the website is mainly addressing.

Greeks nowadays face a very difficult period with another round of elections taking place today, while the crisis is on the peak, perhaps by now precisely because the psychological condition of the Greek citizens has reached bottom…

Problems seem to be attacking the Greeks from various fronts and the latest concerns the reactions of the archaeologists, of inhabitants of Crete and other parts of the Aegean against a development plan introduced by the previous government. Well, this was made a law by the temporary government whose sole role was to lead the country to the elections of today (17th of June)…

This development plan consists in various points that include gold mining, thermal, solar, and wind energy. Most of the suggestions are rejected by local communities, ecological organizations, political parties, media… For some cases the reactions seem justifiable (gold mining), while others come as a surprise (renewable energy). We will not open here the discussion of the necessity for alternatives to fossil energy production and so on. Theoretically, our position would be in favor of such acts. But not before the consent of the local communities has been guaranteed.

This is one of the strongest arguments actually against the dam crisis in Sudan: no step ahead with any plans before the local communities agree to them. If now the dimensions of the destruction to the life of the locals seems immense at first sight, consider that for some people dam building is an alternative form of producing energy and an environment friendly form of investment and development. But not in the Middle Nile Valley!

Perhaps in the same manner, the Greek authorities should reconsider the construction of wind mills on Cretan – or any other island’s – soil before obtaining the consent of the locals and before checking the alternatives that exist, like the placement of the windmills floating amidst the seas and in areas with no serious issues due to the migrations of birds.

For some related discussion in English, see The West Crete Blog

HERE one can read in Greek the governmental decision that sparked the latest reactions (ΦΕΚ 1787/2).

Either in Greece or in Africa, though, the form of energy that seems to be the preferred one by both locals and some governments and a few investors is solar energy. Such plans in Morocco are worth surely of admiration and probably also of imitation by many other nations, including of course Sudan. Read some latest news from solar energy in Morocco HERE.

Posted by: preservenile | June 2, 2012

Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam on CNN

CNN has made an article and video about the Grand Renaissance Dam currently under construction in Ethiopia. International Rivers is critical to the project, which they deem is too expensive for such a poor country as Ethiopia and they fear that the project may instigate a water war in the region. A different opinion has been expressed in a paper by Harry Verhoeven, who suggests that Sudan, Ethiopia, and South Sudan have to cooperate since they face similar challenges in poverty reduction, climate change, population growth, and food security. He envisions that Ethiopia can produce electricity through hydropower, Sudan can grow food, and South Sudan can produce oil. These vital resources could then be exchanged. We agree that a regional approach to the water and other resources in the region is essential. The gorge of the Blue Nile is certainly a better location for dam building than the Middle Nile Valley. But the three countries in question seem very far from entering a cooperation…

Posted by: preservenile | May 31, 2012

A new page in our blog

From today, a third sub-page is introduced in the Preserve the Middle Nile blog.

It concerns the occasional contributions by our Japanese colleague, Naoyo Sekihiro.

Here is the link:

On 15 May, a meeting hosted jointly by International Society for Nubian Studies (ISNS) and Sudan’s National Corporation for Antiquities and Museums (NCAM) took place at British Museum. The topic was the new dams that are planned to be built on the Middle Nile with the aim of attracting archaeological missions to salvage the cultural heritage in the areas to be flooded. However, the meeting did not come out the way that the planners had intended, i.e. as a gathering to energize support for an uncritical salvage operation. We have previously published the agenda of the meeting, so we proceed directly to the resume:


1) Muawia Mohammed Salih of the Dams Implementation Unit (DIU) reviewed the Government of Sudan’s (GOS) current programme of dam building. He was emphasizing plans to construct new dams at Kajbar on the Third Cataract of the Nile and at Shereiq on the Fifth Cataract, as well as drawing attention to the ongoing development of dams and related agricultural schemes on the Upper Atbara and Setit. The invitation indicated that seven new dams are planned to be built.

Mr. Salih furthermore said that the DIU had offered the archaeologists working for the Merowe Dam Archaeological Salvage Project (MDASP) wonderful assistance, and that they would do the same again. This is something that may not reflect the experience of all archaeologists involved with that work!

Dr. Timothy Kendall (director of NCAM’s Jebel Barkal Archaeological Mission) – in the discussion at the end – commented that the supposed “hospital city” at Merowe is closed and that the Merowe Museum is empty and also shut. Both had been funded by DIU, and the failure of these projects demolished much of what Mr. Salih was suggesting. Concerning the Merowe Museum, which we wrote about in the previous entry, it is worth stressing again that it is not even dedicated to the history and archaeology of the Fourth Cataract Region that was flooded, but is rather focusing on the region of Merowe and Napata.  

Furthermore, one could raise the question why DIU has spent so much funds on developing the town of Merowe rather than focusing on the resettlement sites for the people affected by the dam.

Mr. Salih is be a well-known figure to the archaeologists engaged in the MDASP. He has attended several of the MDASP’s annual meetings. Perhaps it is not unrelated that no representative of the local people was ever invited to these meetings…

2) Director of Fieldwork at NCAM, El-Hassan Ahmed Mohammed, reviewed current surveys by NCAM on the Upper Atbara and Setit, where it seems that maybe three years are left to go before completion of the agricultural scheme there. He had very little precise to say about what was found during the surveys or what needs to be done before the project is completed.

Very little archaeological work has indeed been undertaken in this region previously, but the dams are underway as we wrote in a previous entry. The region will probably be under water or the plough in 2015, if everything proceeds as planned by the DIU.

3) Dr. David Edwards, University of Leicester, gave a very good review of the Mahas Survey, which was conducted in collaboration with the University of Khartoum under the co-direction of Professor Ali Osman Mohammed Salih. The results from the survey are published in the monograph The archaeology of a Nubian frontier. The Mahas region of northern Sudan is in the area around the Third Cataract, which is threatened by the planned dam at Kajbar. Dr. Edwards identified some key sites and topics that warrant particular attention. He also stressed that many palaeo-channels now some distance from the river are likely to be rich in sites, something that is not yet very well known, but that concerns a region surely to be affected by the dam.

4) MA Mahmoud Suleiman Bashir of NCAM reported on the NCAM survey within the likely confines of the Kajbar Dam, indicating that they knew of/had found 275 sites (compared to ≥700 that Edwards had recorded in a somewhat larger area and during a more extensive period of surveying).

5) Dr. Derek Welsby, director of the Sudan Archaeological Research Society’s activities in Sudan, went over some of the major Pharaonic sites that would be affected by the Dal Dam, if built. He noted that almost all of Amara West and the so-called Cathedral of Sai would be flooded, with the rest of Sai and all of Soleb at great risk. He offered some preliminary estimates of the scale (cost, equipment) needed to move buildings or rock art panels and stressed the importance of thinking of rock art within a landscape framework, although in fact all sites could benefit from such a perspective. He also emphasized that given how groundwater can seep upward, how deep some of the archaeological strata may be, and the uncertainty about the precise maximum flood level at full storage, it’d be better to assume a worse case scenario when thinking of likely impacts. His main thrust, however, was to suggest that everyone should get on with what they are already doing – especially for Dal – so as to be best prepared when the dam goes ahead (see further comments from Welsby in the discussion below).

According to Harry Verhoeven, the author of Black Gold for Blue Gold?, the Dal Dam will have the highest output of electricity of the new dams proposed on the Middle Nile… But as Dr. Welsby remarked, it will have tremendous impact on archaeology.

Moreover, we believe that one should also expect that the town of Abri will go under water, as well as much fertile agricultural land. This may be why the feasibility of this dam is still under consideration, currently by the company URS Scott-Wilson.  

6) For the Shereik Dam in the Fifth Cataract there was a presentation by Mariusz Drzewiecki from Poznan that focused on the medieval fortresses located there.

The presentation was followed by a formal appeal by Dr. Abdelrahman Ali, newly appointed Director General of NCAM, for international assistance, which started off the discussion.


Dr. Vincent Rondot, president of the International Society for Nubian Studies (ISNS), chaired the discussion. He repeatedly urged the discussants to focus on the archaeology, because that was the reason why everyone was there and appeared to be unhappy with any attempt to talk about wider ethical issues. However, he did permit a Kajbar resident to express his community’s profound opposition to the dam there, something in which he was vocally supported from the floor by a fellow Mahas Nubian, who recalled the killing of several protestors against the Kajbar Dam in 2007.

Professor Dietrich Wildung, director of the Egyptian Museum in Berlin, spoke first, and he politely urged the case for alternatives to hydroelectricity and for the Government not to go ahead with the dams, followed in similar vein by Professor Matthieu Honegger of Neuchatel University. It seemed like most speakers in the discussion were opposed to the dams, although other issues were the focus of their entries. 

Costanza de Simone from the Cairo office of UNESCO forcefully expressed  the necessity of not considering heritage issues (including archaeology) in a context devoid of concerns about human rights, while other speakers drew attention to the problems during MDASP of not having had meaningful community participation or agreement.

Several speakers, including Junior professorin Claudia Näser and Dr. Edwards also expressed strong views about including ethnography, living heritage etc. within any future work and about doing this by working with Nubian-speakers from the region.

Dr. Bruce Williams (member of the American Committee for Nubian Heritage) argued that archaeologists could not do this work without the salvage being used as justification for the dams. Dr. Derek Welsby in contrast was clear in his opinion – the dams would happen, and “sitting on the fence” (a strange term to use about principled opposition!) was pointless, and archaeologists should just get on and save sites – or “document the archaeology” as Dr. Rondot put it.

We are naturally content that some of our colleagues did speak up, although we disagree that the dams are “OK” as long as an ethnographic component and community participation have been included. Before any archaeologist decide to participate in the proposed salvage projects in Sudan, they should make sure that the dam building operations are consistent with the principles laid down by the World Commission on Dams, enjoy the support of the local population, and are undertaken in a manner consistent with the ethical principles of relevant organisations, such as the Society of Africanist Archaeologists (especially considering that ISNS itself appears – from its website – to lacks such guidelines). If these conditions are not met, it is better to refrain from giving credibility to new, dubious dam projects in Sudan.

Comments toward the very end of the British Museum meeting by Dr. Abdelrahman of NCAM that if local consent is not forthcoming the Kajbar Dam will not be built hold out some hope that continuing our campaign as archaeologists may contribute to safeguarding Nubia’s surviving heritage.

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