Thursday, Oct 18, 2018
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EDITORIAL

Balance between feeding people, protecting artifacts in Egypt

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Standing in stark contrast to each other in Egypt are a modern dam and irrigation system, juxtaposed with ancient ruins that were tributes to gods and kings from a time long before Christ.

The modern marvels are threatening the ancient marvels.

And the threat is being neutralized by the same kind of muscle power that built both.

The temple of Kom Ombo in Egypt, about 400 miles from Cairo, has proved a treasure trove for archaeologists who have rescued decaying mummies, hieroglyphs, a relief of Sobek, the crocodile god of the temple, even 4,000-year-old grains of wheat.

Mideast-Egypt-Nile-Waters

A boat sails along the river Nile in Cairo. A trench around the temple of Kom Ombo in Egypt has rerouted irrigation waters to the Nile, protecting ancient artifacts found in the temple.

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The finds — pages in a book of human history — are imperiled by the water power that man has harnessed and redirected such that what once was a desert, subject to cycles of flood and drought, now is lush with sugar cane and, generally, one of the most agriculturally productive swaths in the world. The accomplishment was the outcome of 1971 construction of the Aswan High Dam, 30 miles upstream from Kom Ombo. The dam changed the lives of Egyptians, allowing them to cultivate food virtually to the edge of the Nile.

While lives were improved, the irrigation waters used to feed the fields also soaked the soil beneath the Kom Ombo temple, damaging its foundation.

It’s been a year since engineers and laborers rallied to improve the drainage system with a $9 million project. A 30-foot deep trench around the temple walls has been dug so it will redirect the groundwater to the mighty Nile. Alongside the laborers — dozens in number — are archaeologists who are rescuing all that they can from the temple, dated between 305 B.C. to 30 B.C. And their finds are the stuff of literal legend — such as a bust of Marcus Aurelius and a sand-encrusted, finely preserved, two-foot sphinx — a man’s head on a lion’s body — which was plumbed from a wet hole.

Brains and brawn are being combined to save ancient treasure while maintaining the fertility of the Nile delta. It is an inspiration.

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