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Appeals to rescue Qasr Ibrim

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  • Yigal Levin
    ... ================================================== Sending out an SOS A plea goes out to rescue Qasr Ibrim, the sole in situ archaeological site remaining
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 1, 2007
      >From <http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2007/860/hr1.htm>:

      Sending out an SOS

      A plea goes out to rescue Qasr Ibrim, the sole in situ archaeological
      site remaining among Nubian monuments. Nevine El-Aref reports

      A panoramic view of Qasr Ibrim Island

      Isolated on a high hillock in the middle of Lake Nasser, the
      monumental complex of Qasr Ibrim displays a collection of
      archaeological remnants of Egypt's various historical epochs that once
      witnessed a unique civilisation.

      Qasr Ibrim was once an eagle's nest over Lower Nubia but is now an
      island, or at times a peninsula, on the east bank of the artificial
      Lake Nasser which came into being after the building of the Aswan High
      Dam in the early 1960's. The site was intermittently inhabited from as
      early as the Middle Kingdom until the 1840's. It also functioned as a
      military stronghold and a destination of religious pilgrimage for
      various armies and religious denominations.

      Throughout its 3,000-year history, Qasr Ibrim has lain on the border
      territory between Egypt and her southern neighbours. Control of the
      area around Ibrim fluctuated with the changing political situations to
      the north and south. The fortress of Qasr Ibrim, situated high above
      the Nile, provided a secure military base for whoever was the
      controlling power at the time from which to watch over traffic on the
      river, and to oversee the nomads who roamed the Eastern Desert, an
      ever-present threat to the settled communities along the Nile. From
      the earliest feature so far discovered on the site -- a length of
      massive fortification wall from about 1000 BC through to the 16th
      century AD Ottoman garrison which occupied and repaired the fortress
      to guard their southern frontier -- Qasr Ibrim's military importance
      has always been paramount. Alongside its military role, however, Qasr
      Ibrim also functioned as a religious centre early in its history, and
      a centre of pilgrimage in both pagan and Christian times. Pharaonic
      and Roman temples have been discovered, and even today the site is
      dominated by the shell of a Christian cathedral which dwarfs the
      surrounding remains.

      Since its construction during Pharaonic times as a military garrison,
      Qasr Ibrim, or PER-MIT as it was known during that time, has played a
      major political and military role, for almost 3,000 years in fact, in
      the surveillance of Egypt's southern borders and in preventing several
      military attacks from the south. It also had an economic importance as
      it was one of Egypt's main trade centres.

      The Middle Kingdom fortress of King Senusert III is the oldest
      monument found on the island along with a number of New Kingdom
      chapels of the 18th dynasty kings Thutmose III, Amenhotep II and Queen
      Hatshepsut. It also houses a mud brick temple of the 25th dynasty
      Nubian ruler Taharqa and several residential houses of the same epoch.

      During the Graeco-Roman era, no less than six mud brick temples
      dedicated to Isis, Amun and other ancient Egyptian deities were built
      along with a small military garrison and dormitory for soldiers. The
      name of the island had also been changed to PREMIS.

      When Christianity took roots in Egypt, PHRIM, as the Copts pronounced
      it, became the seat of the Coptic Patriarchy where an enormous
      cathedral dedicated to the Virgin Mary was constructed during the
      sixth century. Taharqa Temple was also been transformed into a Coptic
      church. When the Ottomans invaded the island in the 16th century, they
      changed the name of the island into Ibrim, built a small mosque and
      left some Bosnian soldiers to protect their new territory. They
      intermarried with the Nubians and formed their own families. Down the
      ages the island has been transformed into a small town filled with
      temples, a fortress, colossi, houses, a mosque, cathedral and

      In the 1960s when Egypt decided to build the High Dam and called for
      the salvage operation of Nubian monuments, all temples were relocated
      to another, safer location except the monuments of Qasr Ibrim which
      was built on top of an 80-metre tall rock formation above the Nile's
      level, thus preventing its inundation by the flow of Lake Nasser after
      the completion of the dam.

      Such remarkable preservation on site has recently been threatened by
      the high water levels of Lake Nasser associated with construction in

      Almost 60 per cent of the island has been inundated and water leaks
      into the temple most of the time. Water has also reached the
      foundation of the cathedral which has led to several cracks on its
      walls. Blocks of the podium located on the edge of the Nile have been
      dismantled which may lead to an eventual total collapse. The
      fortification walls have indeed collapsed, and mud-brick buildings
      near the new water line have fallen as well, either from the effect of
      direct water or from percolation. The most important of these are a
      25th Dynasty temple, from which a wall painting has already collapsed
      and another is now in danger of disappearing.

      Percolation through dry deposits also threatens the excellent organic
      preservation of the site. Once exposed to water, the organic matter
      decays rapidly to a brown smelly slime from which nothing can be

      "The damages increase year after year which demands the intervention
      of UNESCO to rescue and protect the only vestige of Nubian monuments
      that still remain in situ," Mohamed El-Biali, head of Aswan and Nubian
      Monuments in the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), told Al-Ahram
      Weekly. El-Biali said Egypt needs rapid and immediate action similar
      to that of the 1960s when UNESCO played a significant role in leading
      the international salvage campaign for Nubian monuments.

      Egypt renewed its appeal to UNESCO in 2000 and 2005.

      El-Biali suggests the establishment of a high-level committee
      consisting of restorers, researchers, archaeologists and documentation
      experts in order to document the site, restore its monuments, excavate
      its sand and protect it from present and future threats. El-Biali also
      called for the resumption of excavation works in the area especially
      that led by the British mission of the Egypt Exploration Society

      EXCAVATIONS IN QASR IBRIM: Excavation at Qasr Ibrim started in 1963 as
      part of the UNESCO campaign to salvage the sites and monuments which
      would be lost after the construction of the High Dam. Excavation has
      continued, usually on a biennial basis, and there remains much to do.

      The importance of such a site is two-fold. As the only surviving
      archaeological site in Lower Nubia, Qasr Ibrim is the only place where
      modern techniques of excavation and recording can be applied, or
      information gathered on subjects which the excavators of other Lower
      Nubian sites in the UNESCO campaign were unable, through pressure of
      time or lack of resources, to pursue. Furthermore, the site lies in a
      desert region with almost no rainfall, and originally at a height
      where very little insect activity took place. As a result, the
      preservation of materials not usually found on archaeological sites
      even in the rest of Egypt is outstanding. The EES routinely excavates
      leather, papyrus, wood, textiles and other plant remains, some going
      back to the first millennium BC.

      "Despite the many seasons of excavation, there is still much to do,"
      El-Biali said, adding that Qasr Ibrim has been excavated as one peels
      an onion, gradually stripping off the layers of occupation to reveal
      the ones below. The team is just now beginning to examine the early
      levels of occupation on the site: the first fortifications, the
      occupation of the Nubian pharaohs who ruled both Egypt and Nubia, the
      Roman fortress, and finally the remains of the Sudanese state which
      succeeded the Roman presence at Ibrim.

      The methodical peeling process just described has recently come under
      pressure. Even when Lake Nasser is high, the water level is low enough
      to preserve much of the fortress, but work has proceeded slowly, to
      maximise the information recovered.

      A number of Meroitic texts have been found along with Graeco and Latin
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