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- Print Length: 401 pages
- Publisher: Arcade; 1 edition (December 18, 2012)
- Publication Date: December 18, 2012
- Sold by: Simon & Schuster Digital Sales Inc.
- Language: English
- ASIN: B00AQZJ1TK
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Secrets of the Sands: The Revelations of Egypt Kindle Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Excavations also revealed that the level of adaptability of the people to their arid environment reflected the rise and fall of empires of which little was known before.
The Dakhleh Oasis, a two thousand square kilometre area in Egypt's Western Desert comprises a patchwork of villages, palm groves and farmed fields. The casual visitor would find it difficult to imagine that this area of sand, rocks and lush green fields holds a unique historical record into our ancient past. Tracing the fascinating history of the Oasis and its surroundings, Thurston conveys the extraordinary story of this region and of the research project and its findings over the last 25 years. Presented in a conversational style, Thurston chronicles the discovery of the extraordinary treasures of this land based on two visits to the Dakhleh Oasis Research Project (DOP) and many discussions he had with project members over the years.
Initiated by two adventurous Canadians, fascinated by ancient Egypt, the project was launched in 1977 in collaboration with the ROM (Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto). Ever since, it has been expanding in size and scope, attracting an international team of experts. It is unique in its mandate and methodology. The mandate has been the study of human adaptability to a dryland ecozone and human activity's impact on it, from prehistory to today. It has required a team with very diverse scientific expertise. The research addresses archaeology, genetic makeup of early humans, ancient flora and fauna, land and water resource management, climate change and much more. This multidisciplinary approach allowed the team, over time, to map the history of the oasis, its peoples' living conditions and environment, identifying it as probably the world's oldest uninterruptedly lived-in location. Dakhleh was blessed above all else by the interminable availability of water from an underground aquifer, supplied by artesian wells. As long as the resources were used responsibly, Oasis dwellers benefited from fresh water irrespective of changing climatic conditions. Thurston reports on the earliest agricultural societies, their rise to becoming the breadbasket of Egypt followed by their fall when land and water resources were overexploited. A remarkable result, explains Thurston, has been the emerging understanding of the fundamental influence of climate change on human development and, in parallel the potentially devastating impact of human behaviour on fragile ecosystems.
His thoroughly researched study of the history of the Dakhleh Oasis is a treat for anybody interested in the history of human civilization and the interdependence of human development and fragile ecosystems. Thurston succeeds in presenting the reader with a fascinating and gripping story, "a microcosm of the human drama being played out on our planet". He argues convincingly that by understanding the past we can learn lessons for the present. "In essence, it's about water, its exploitation and conservation".
The book is so information rich that you want to go back to it, each time following a different theme or historical time frame. The chapters follow the historical chronology so that it is easy to select certain cultural periods. Unfortunately, for those interested in following a specific theme through time, the index will not help you much as it omits the all-important cross-references to topics and issues. The bibliography on the other hand is useful and leads to more specific readings. [Friederike Knabe, Ottawa Canada]
For nearly five hundred thousand years humanity has found refuge in this scattering of springs and wells that have come and gone with the changes in Earth's environment. A Canadian-led project is vividly chronicled by Maritime science journalist Harry Thurston in this oustanding book. Known as the Dakhleh Oasis Project, it has probed the desert for a generation. Thurston follows the multi-national, multi-discipline team of anthropologists, mineralogists, and archaeologists as they probe the sands for evidence. The results are building a chronicle of understanding of land use, environmental change and the ebb and flow of human society in the region. Dakhleh, once isolated from the Nile Valley, was ultimately governed by pharonic appointees. Conditions fluctuated along the great river system, but Dakhleh achieved a stability rarely enjoyed within an empire. Later, the Romans came, building roads and temples, scattering coins and leaving graves.
Thurston follows Royal Ontario Museum team leader Tony Mills, as he explains the discoveries the team has made over twenty-five years. The oldest finds, of course, are the flint tools used by the earliest human settlers. Later, communities formed, their construction testifying to environmental conditions - walls were carefully placed to resist the onslaught of desert winds. With a regular source of water, Dakhleh's farming practices diverged from that of the Nile Valley, producing exportable wines and olive oils, in addition to the grain crops. It was this economic stability that allowed Egyptian governors to achieve autonomous status within the Pharaoh's Empire. Dakhleh's isolation was sufficient to generate its own gods.
Mills' team members are gathered from around the globe - Australia, Canada, Poland are represented. These are dedicated workers, not least of which is Tatyana Smekalova who daily follows a clearly defined plot to record underground magnetic indicators by marching up and down with detecting device and a computer strapped to her back. Her records show where to dig and where to ignore. The swerving needle of her device has revealed buried communities and a major temple. More important, she finds pottery storage sites that provide clues about how people lived. Pottery may contain anything from grains to coins.
Thurston depicts the findings of immense importance. Mummies, hidden from grave robbers emerge with golden faces. The dry air preserves even straw sandals, revealed after centuries of abandonment. Reams of papyrus rolls came to light, but in Thurston's account, the greatest discovery was a stack of wooden platters, once tied together with string. As the sand was brushed away, writing appeared on the pieces of wood. The package proved to be the world's oldest book!
On a flight to the camp, Thurston encountered a courteous young Egyptian, who offered him a window seat, saying "It's only desert". Sorrowing at the light dismissal, Thurston reflects on the many treasures unearthed from the young man's "Only desert". In relating the journey through immense time in his account of the project he's nearly become part of it. Under his deft touch, Island of the Blessed reads more like an adventure yarn than history or science. Yet the science is solid and the history valid, related with a captivating style. The story isn't merely ancient societies and artefacts. A major element in the researchers' work is tracking how the fluctuating environment affected human life. So long as the water continued to flow, the communities survived. Changes in weather cycles and excessive demands are draining the water below our reach. It's becoming an all too-familiar tale. The great underlying water table is disappearing, a fact being repeated in many places. North America is not exempt. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa]