Could an ancient Nile Delta shipwreck be an environmental omen for modern-day Egypt?

n 2016 this imposing five-metre-tall pharaoh was discovered on the seabed at Thonis-Heracleion. (Christoph Gerigk, Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation)
n 2016 this imposing five-metre-tall pharaoh was discovered on the seabed at Thonis-Heracleion. (Christoph Gerigk, Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation)
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Updated 23 July 2021

Could an ancient Nile Delta shipwreck be an environmental omen for modern-day Egypt?

n 2016 this imposing five-metre-tall pharaoh was discovered on the seabed at Thonis-Heracleion. (Christoph Gerigk, Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation)
  • Archaeologists have discovered an ancient ship designed for navigation on the shallow waters of the delta
  • The discovery among the ruins of the sunken city of Thonis-Heracleion serves as a stark environmental warning

LONDON: The very existence of the low-lying Nile Delta, created by sediment deposited by the mighty river even as it is eroded by the waters of the Mediterranean, has always been one of nature’s great balancing acts.

Now, as fears grow over the extent of the threat to Egypt’s coastline posed by climate change, a stunning new archaeological find from the sunken ancient Egyptian city of Thonis-Heracleion serves as a stark warning of the dangers of humankind and nature working in disharmony.

A ship, a rare example of a Ptolemaic galley, has been discovered by Franck Goddio, a French marine archaeologist who, working with Egypt’s Supreme Council for Antiquities, has been leading underwater excavations in Aboukir Bay for the past two decades.

Once Egypt’s most important port, predating the foundation of nearby Alexandria by Alexander the Great in 331 B.C., the ancient city of Thonis-Heracleion — a combination of its ancient Egyptian and Greek names — dates to the eighth century B.C. It was lost to the sea some 1,600 years later, after a series of natural disasters, including an earthquake and tidal waves, took a great bite out of the Egyptian coastline.

The city’s remains, painstakingly uncovered since 2000, are spread over 110 sq km of seabed, some 7km off the modern-day shoreline.

The loss of the ship would have been a cinematically spectacular moment. According to the Paris-based European Institute for Underwater Archaeology (IEASM), which was founded by Goddio, the recently uncovered vessel “sank after being hit by huge blocks from the famed temple of Amun, which was totally destroyed during a cataclysmic event in the second century B.C.”

The marine archaeologists discovered the ship had been moored at a landing stage along the south face of the temple when disaster struck. The heavy stone blocks that were the instruments of its destruction also proved to be the key to its survival for over 2,000 years.

“The fallen blocks protected these precious naval remains by pinning them to the bottom of the deep canal, which was then filled with the debris of the sanctuary,” said a spokesperson for the IEASM.

The galley, which lies under 5 meters of hard clay, its woodwork jumbled with the remains of the temple, was detected thanks to the use of cutting-edge technology: A prototype “sub-bottom profiler” that allowed the archaeologists to see what lay beneath the mud and buried blocks of stone.

What they found was a 25-meter-long rowing ship, which, with a flat-bottom and keel, was designed for navigation on the Nile and the shallow waterways of the delta. It was also equipped with a large mast step, suggestive of a tall mast and a large sail.

“Before this discovery, Hellenistic ships of this type were completely unknown to archaeologists,” said Franck Goddio. Preliminary research showed that the hull was “built in the classical (Greek) tradition … However, it also contains features of ancient Egyptian construction and allows us to speak of a mixed type of construction.”

In another part of the city, the archaeologists have also discovered a large submerged burial mound, “covered with sumptuous funerary offerings,” that dates back to the first years of the 4th century B.C.

This discovery, says the IEASM, “beautifully illustrates the presence of Greek merchants and mercenaries who lived in Thonis–Heracleion, the city that controlled the entrance to Egypt at the mouth of the Canopic branch of the Nile.”




The newly discovered remains of a galley, found beneath the mud in the sunken city of Thonis-Heracleion. The ship was moored alongside the temple of Amun and sunk by huge blocks of stone when the building was dramatically destroyed in the second century BC. (Christoph Gerigk, Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation)

Greek traders were allowed to settle in the city during the late Pharaonic period. There, they built their own religious sanctuaries, close to the huge temple of Amun, on the banks of a canal that ran through the city. These too were destroyed in the same cataclysmic event that toppled the great temple. Just as the two cultures once thrived side by side, the remains of their respective temples lie together in the mud at the bottom of the bay.

Archaeologists believe these and other buildings, which were discovered in pristine condition, slipped suddenly into the deep canal during a landslide. This was likely caused by several earthquakes, followed by tidal-waves “which triggered land liquefaction events (and) caused a 110 sq km portion of the Nile Delta to collapse under the sea, taking with it the cities of Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus.”

Today, Egypt faces an even greater, if somewhat slower-moving, environmental catastrophe than the one that swept away Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus. According to research over the past decade, the sea is not yet done with swallowing the delta.

Excluding Cairo, which sits at its southernmost end, the delta is home to over 40 percent of Egypt’s population and more than 60 percent of the country’s agricultural land. More than 12 percent of the delta is no higher than a meter above sea level. Another 18 percent, temporarily protected by coastal defenses, which also serve to divert problems of erosion further along the coastline, is actually below sea level.

The delta, the source of most of modern Egypt’s food and the backbone of the country’s economy, was formed and refreshed over millennia by the rich sediment carried down the Nile during the annual floods from the river’s origins south of the equator in the headwaters of the Blue and White Niles.

This timeless process of renewal was first interrupted in 1902 by the construction of the first Aswan Low Dam, and again more seriously in the 1960s by the building of the Aswan High Dam.




This gold image of the god Bes is among the latest finds from the lost city of Thonis-Heracleion. Bes was considered to be the protector of the people in their daily life and was also worshiped as the protector of pregnant women. (Christoph Gerigk, Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation)

This, concluded researchers at Maryland University’s Department of Geographic and Environmental Systems, writing in the journal of the Geological Society of America in 2017, led to “a marked reduction of Nile water and sediment below the Aswan High Dam that can now reach the delta coast.”

Even as climate change is seeing the level of the Mediterranean rise inexorably, so the lack of sedimentary deposits is causing the delta itself to gradually sink — a problem, they added, “likely to be seriously exacerbated in years ahead by construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).”

Ethiopia is even now pressing ahead with filling the GERD reservoir, despite a lack of agreement on how the process should be managed with its downstream neighbors, Sudan and Egypt.

And the delta is under attack on two fronts.

The vulnerability of the Nile Delta to rising sea levels was highlighted as long ago as 2010 by an environmental scientist at Egypt’s Mansoura University. Analyzing imagery from NASA’s 2000 Shuttle Radar Topography Mission, carried on board the Space Shuttle Endeavor, Mohamed E. Hereher concluded that a rise in sea levels of just 1 meter “would inundate more than a quarter of the Nile Delta area, while a 2 meter sea level rise should relocate the shoreline 60-80 km southward of its current position.”

Back in 2000, as Hereher wrote in the journal Geomatics, Natural Hazards and Risk, it was thought that the more significant threats to the delta were the “blocking of sediment delivery to the coast, possible increased rates of subsidence and the removal of coastal dunes.”




Precious offerings, including imported Greek ceramics, were deposited for funerary purposes by the Greek settlers in Thonis-Heracleion. (Christoph Gerigk, Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation)

Then, the rate of rising sea levels was not considered a major concern. Thanks to the subsequent global research focus on climate change, however, that has changed.

In a paper presented at the Cairo Water Week conference in 2019, Egyptian researchers concluded that “climate change-related sea level rise has exerted significant impacts on coastal zones and Nile Delta is considered one of the most affected areas. (Potential) coastal inundation, destruction of infrastructure, land cover and displacement of millions of people are among several impacts of sea level rise in the Nile Delta coastal zone.”

The loss of the vital, life-giving land of the delta to the sea is a scenario that would have been painfully familiar to the inhabitants of the ancient cities of Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus, now mere memories preserved in the mud and rubble of a once great civilization.

The Hilti Foundation, a non-profit philanthropic organization based in Liechtenstein, has supported Franck Goddio’s marine archaeology in Egypt since 1996 with the motto: “Exploring the past to understand the present.”

As the story of the destruction of one of the glories of ancient Egypt emerges from the depths of Aboukir Bay, for modern-day Egypt those words carry a message of great urgency.

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Twitter: @JonathanGornall


Houthi terror chief among 20 killed as coalition strikes back

Houthi terror chief among 20 killed as coalition strikes back
Updated 19 January 2022

Houthi terror chief among 20 killed as coalition strikes back

Houthi terror chief among 20 killed as coalition strikes back
  • Coalition air strikes hit militia targets in Yemen's capital following Houthi drone attack in Abu Dhabi
  • Abdullah Qassim Al-Junaid, the dead Houthi leader, was head of the Iran-backed militia’s aviation academy

JEDDAH: A Houthi terrorist chief was one of about 20 people killed on Tuesday when airstrikes by the Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen struck militia targets in Sanaa.

Abdullah Qassim Al-Junaid, the head of the Iran-backed militia’s aviation academy, had been sentenced to death in his absence by a court in Marib last year on charges of staging a military coup and committing war crimes.

Tuesday’s airstrikes targeting Houthi camps and strongholds in the Yemeni capital were the heaviest in nearly three years. They followed a Houthi drone attack on Monday on an oil storage depot on the outskirts of UAE capital Abu Dhabi, in which three people died, and the launch of eight armed drones from Yemen to Saudi Arabia, which the Kingdom’s air defenses intercepted and destroyed.

After Monday’s drone strike the UAE said it reserved the right to respond to “terrorist attacks and criminal escalation,” and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan agreed in a phone call to “jointly stand up to these acts of aggression.”

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The US vowed to hold the Houthis accountable for the attack, which was also condemned by the UN, the EU, Britain andFrance, and throughout the Gulf and the wider Middle East, including Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett sent a letter of condolence to Abu Dhabi’s crown prince, offering “security and intelligence support in order to help you protect your citizens from similar attacks.”

Bennett said: “I have ordered the Israeli security establishment to provide their counterparts in the UAE with any assistance, should you be interested. Israel is committed to working closely with you in the ongoing battle against extremist forces in the region, and we will continue to partner with you to defeat our common enemies.” 

The attack on Abu Dhabi came as the Houthis suffered a series of military defeats in the Yemen war, including a lengthy battle in which they were driven out of Shabwa province by the UAE-trained Giants Brigades. That defeat dealt a blow to the Houthis’ campaign to capture the battleground province of Marib, the government’s last stronghold in the north.

“There is no end in sight for the Yemen war,” said Elisabeth Kendall, a researcher at the University of Oxford’s Pembroke College. “Rather, the conflict is escalating.”

However, she added: “The UAE will not rush to a knee-jerk reaction. It has invested heavily in Yemen, particularly in new political and military infrastructure in the south. It is unlikely to veer from its long-term strategy… on the basis of a provocation.”


Sudanese barricade streets, staging rallies in protest against coup

Sudanese barricade streets, staging rallies in protest against coup
Updated 19 January 2022

Sudanese barricade streets, staging rallies in protest against coup

Sudanese barricade streets, staging rallies in protest against coup
  • EU foreign affairs chief says repeated calls for authorities to refrain from violence against protesters ‘have fallen on deaf ears’

KHARTOUM: Sudanese shuttered shops and barricaded streets with burning tires and rocks on Tuesday, staging angry rallies to protest against one of the bloodiest days since a coup derailed the country’s democratic transition.

Security forces on Monday opened fire killing at least seven people as thousands marched against the army’s Oct. 25 takeover, taking the total number killed in a crackdown since the coup to 71, according to medics.

“No, no to military rule,” protesters chanted in southern Blue Nile state, where some carried banners daubed with the slogan “No to killing peaceful protesters,” said witness Omar Eissa.

The protests come as Washington ramps up pressure in a bid to broker an end to the months-long crisis in the northeast African nation, with top US diplomats expected to arrive in the capital Khartoum for talks.

Sudan’s main civilian bloc, the Forces for Freedom and Change, called for two days of civil disobedience to begin on Tuesday.

“Shop closed for mourning,” said a series of small signs posted on the closed outlets at the sprawling Sajane construction supplies market in Khartoum. One of the merchants, Othman El-Sherif, was among those shot dead on Monday.

Protesters — sometimes numbering in the tens of thousands — have regularly taken to the streets since the coup led by Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan nearly three months ago.

The military power grab derailed a fragile transition to civilian rule following the April 2019 ouster of autocrat Omar Bashir, with Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok resigning earlier this month warning Sudan was at a “dangerous crossroads threatening its very survival.”

After Monday’s deaths, the UN special representative Volker Perthes condemned the use of live ammunition, while the US Embassy criticized “violent tactics of Sudanese security forces,” the latest such appeals by world powers, which have not curbed a rising death toll. On Tuesday, police fired tear gas at dozens of protesters setting up roadblocks in east Khartoum.

In several other parts of Khartoum, many pharmacies and other shops were shuttered.

Sudan’s University for Science and Technology suspended all activities as part of civil disobedience, according to an official statement.

Outside the capital, hundreds of protesters also staged demonstrations in other cities, witnesses said.

“We took to the streets to protest the massacre that the security forces committed in Khartoum yesterday,” said protester Hassan Idris, in the eastern state of Kassala.

Al-Burhan on Tuesday formed a fact-finding committee to probe Monday’s violence, with its findings to be submitted within 72 hours, Sudan’s ruling Sovereign Council said in a statement.

It comes as US Assistant Secretary of State Molly Phee and special envoy for the Horn of Africa, David Satterfield, were expected in Khartoum, where they would “reiterate our call for security forces to end violence and respect freedom of expression and peaceful assembly,” spokesman Ned Price said.

On Monday, Sudan’s police said they used “the least force” to counter the protests, in which about 50 police personnel were also wounded.

Sudan’s authorities have repeatedly denied using live ammunition against demonstrators, and insist scores of security personnel have been wounded during protests. A police general was stabbed to death last week.

On Tuesday the “Friends of Sudan” — a group of Western and Arab nations calling for the restoration of the country’s transitional government, and which includes the US, EU, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and the UN — held talks in Saudi Arabia.

“Deep concern about yesterday’s violence,” the UN envoy Perthes said on Twitter, after attending the meeting via video link.

“International support and leverage is needed. Support for political process needs to go along with active support to stop violence.”

The EU foreign policy chief said Sudan’s military rulers have shown an unwillingness to negotiate a peaceful settlement to the country’s ongoing crisis.

EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said that repeated calls for Sudanese authorities to refrain from violence against protesters “have fallen on deaf ears.”

Borrell said the ongoing crackdown, including violence against civilians and the detention of activists and journalists, has put Sudan on “a dangerous path away from peace and stability.” He urged the military authorities to de-escalate tensions, saying: “avoiding further loss of life is of the essence.”

The crackdown, Borrell said, also risks derailing UN efforts to find a peaceful solution to the crisis.

The protest groups, which have continued to mobilize protesters against the coup, have rejected negotiations with the generals. They insist on handing over power to a fully civilian government to lead the transition.


As Shiite rivals jostle in Iraq, Sunni, Kurdish parties targeted

 As Shiite rivals jostle in Iraq, Sunni, Kurdish parties targeted
Updated 18 January 2022

As Shiite rivals jostle in Iraq, Sunni, Kurdish parties targeted

 As Shiite rivals jostle in Iraq, Sunni, Kurdish parties targeted
  • In recent days, unknown attackers have hurled grenades at Kurdish and Sunni targets including political party offices and a lawmaker’s home

BAGHDAD: As Iraq’s Shiite leaders jostle to secure a majority in the newly elected parliament, Sunni and Kurdish minorities have been caught up in a spate of warning grenade attacks, analysts say.

In recent days, unknown attackers have hurled grenades at Kurdish and Sunni targets including political party offices and a lawmaker’s home — groups that could help Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr win the critical parliamentary majority needed to make his choice of prime minister.

“It is a way of punishing the forces that have allied with Moqtada Sadr to form a parliamentary majority,” said political scientist Ihsan Al-Shammari.

“Their message is political,” he added, calling the attacks “part of the mode of political pressure” adopted by some groups.

In multi-confessional and multi-ethnic Iraq, the formation of governments has involved complex negotiations since the 2003 US-led invasion toppled dictator Saddam Hussein.

No single party holds an outright majority, so the next leader will be voted in by whichever coalition can negotiate allies to become the biggest bloc — which then elects Iraq’s president, who then appoints a prime minister.

HIGHLIGHTS

•Grenades have been lobbed at the home of a Taqadum lawmaker, as well as at the party offices of Azm, Taqadum and the KDP in Baghdad.

•On Sunday, flashbang stun grenades were hurled into the branches of two Kurdish banks in Baghdad — wounding two people.

In previous parliaments, parties from Iraq’s Shiite majority have struck compromise deals to work together and form a government, with an unofficial system whereby the prime minister is Shiite, the president is a Kurd and the speaker of parliament is Sunni.

But Sadr, who once led an anti-US militia and who opposes all foreign interference, has repeatedly said the next prime minister will be chosen by his movement.

So rather than strike an alliance with the powerful Shiite Coordination Framework — which includes the pro-Iran Fatah alliance, the political arm of the former paramilitary Hashd Al-Shaabi — Sadr has forged a new coalition.

That includes two Sunni parties, Taqadum and Azm, as well as the Kurdistan Democratic Party.

It has infuriated the Coordination Framework — who insist their grouping is bigger.

In recent days, grenades have been lobbed at the home of a Taqadum lawmaker, as well as at the party offices of Azm, Taqadum and the KDP in Baghdad.

On Sunday, flashbang stun grenades were hurled into the branches of two Kurdish banks in the capital Baghdad — wounding two people.

The heads of both banks are said to be close to political leaders in Iraq’s autonomous northern Kurdistan region.

There has already been unrest following the election, with Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi escaping unhurt when an explosive-packed drone hit his residence in November during what his office called an “assassination attempt.”

No group has claimed the attack.

While the culprits of the recent grenade blasts have also not been identified, a security source charged that the attacks “convey the messages of the parties that lost in the elections.”

The purpose, the security source claimed, is to “disrupt the formation of the government” — implicitly pointing to the Coordination Framework, and in particular the Fatah alliance.

Fatah lost much of its political capital in the Oct. 10 polls, having secured only 17 seats, compared to the 48 it had before.

It alleged the vote was rigged, but Iraq’s top court rejected a complaint of electoral irregularities filed by Hashd.

Hashd, which maintains an arsenal of weapons, fighters and supporters, has sought a variety of ways to make itself heard outside parliament, including demonstrations and sit-ins.

“Rather than accepting defeat at the polls, they threaten violence,” said Lahib Higel, of the International Crisis Group.

Sadr has considered striking deals with certain members of the Coordination Framework, such as Fatah chief Hadi Al-Ameri, at the expense of other figures in the bloc, such as former Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki, Higel said.

But such an arrangement “is not Iran’s preference” Higel argued, adding that Tehran “would rather see a consensus that includes all Shiite parties.”

However, she said Iran could settle for a deal where Shiite parties held sway. “It is possible that they (Iran) would accept a scenario where not everyone is represented in the next government, as long as there is a sufficient amount of Shiite parties, including some Hashd factions,” she said.


Giants Brigades discover cache of mines, explosive devices smuggled by Houthis under guise of UN aid

Giants Brigades discover cache of mines, explosive devices smuggled by Houthis under guise of UN aid
Updated 18 January 2022

Giants Brigades discover cache of mines, explosive devices smuggled by Houthis under guise of UN aid

Giants Brigades discover cache of mines, explosive devices smuggled by Houthis under guise of UN aid
  • The minister said the boxes had UN logos on them and called on the UN and relief organizations to investigate
  • He urged the international community to designate the militia as a terrorist organization

RIYADH: The Giant Brigades fighting the Houthis in Yemen have discovered a large quantity of mines and explosive devices hidden by the militia in aid boxes in Harib, Saudi Press Agency reported on Tuesday.

The Houthi militia left the boxes, used to smuggle weapons, behind after fleeing the district in Marib province, Yemen’s information minister Moammar Al-Eryani said.

The minister said the boxes had UN logos on them and condemned the Houthi actions as “a heinous crime that reveals the ugly face of the criminal militia.”

He said the crime reveals tricks used by the militia to transport weapons and ammunition and exploit humanitarian work as a cover to continue killing Yemenis and carry out criminal activities. 

It also shows how the militia employs airports and ports to smuggle ballistic missiles and Iranian-made drones, he said. 

“We call on the UN and international relief organizations to investigate the incident and denounce the crime of using their logos as cover to transport and store mines and explosive devices used by the Houthi militia in homes, schools, mosques, markets, roads, (targeting) innocent civilians, including women, children, and the elderly,” Al-Eryani said.

He also called on the international community, and UN and US envoys for Yemen to condemn these practices and put pressure on the Houthi militia to stop its crimes against civilians.

He urged the international community to designate it as a terrorist organization and prosecute its leaders in the International Criminal Court as “war criminals.”

The discovery comes a day after the Houthis carried out a drone and missile attack on the UAE that killed three people.

The attack was condemned by the UN and the international community.


UAE calls for UN Security Council session over Houthi attack on Abu Dhabi

Lana Nusseibeh, the UAE's ambassador to the UN, urged the Security Council to convene in response to the deadly terrorist attack on Abu Dhabi on Monday. (UN)
Lana Nusseibeh, the UAE's ambassador to the UN, urged the Security Council to convene in response to the deadly terrorist attack on Abu Dhabi on Monday. (UN)
Updated 18 January 2022

UAE calls for UN Security Council session over Houthi attack on Abu Dhabi

Lana Nusseibeh, the UAE's ambassador to the UN, urged the Security Council to convene in response to the deadly terrorist attack on Abu Dhabi on Monday. (UN)
  • Emirati envoy Lana Nusseibeh urged the council to speak with one voice and ‘unequivocally’ condemn the outrage
  • Three people were killed and six injured in drone strike on oil facility, and a fire was sparked at Abu Dhabi’s international airport

NEW YORK: The UAE mission at the UN in New York on Tuesday called on the Security Council to convene in response to the deadly terrorist attack on Abu Dhabi a day earlier.

In a letter addressed to the Norwegian delegation, which holds the presidency of the council this month, the UAE’s permanent representative to the UN denounced the Houthi militia in Yemen for targeting civilians “in flagrant violation of international law” and called on the council to “unequivocally” condemn the attacks “with one voice.”

“The UAE expresses its condolences to the families of the deceased and wishes those injured a speedy recovery,” Lana Nusseibeh said in the letter.

“This illegal and alarming escalation is a further step in the Houthis’ efforts to spread terrorism and chaos in our region.

“It is another attempt by the Houthis, using the capabilities they have unlawfully acquired in defiance of UN sanctions, to threaten peace and security.”

Three people were killed and six injured in a drone assault on a key oil facility in the Emirati capital, and a separate fire was sparked at Abu Dhabi’s international airport, police said. The Houthis claimed responsibility for the attack, which immediately drew condemnation worldwide.

On Friday the Security Council unanimously condemned another hostile Houthi act, the seizure on Jan. 3 of the UAE-flagged ship Rwabee in the Red Sea off the coast of Yemen and the detention of its crew.

In a statement drafted by the UK, council members demanded the immediate release of the vessel and those on board, and urged the Houthis to guarantee the safety and well-being of the crew.

They also called on all sides to resolve the issue quickly and highlighted the importance of preserving freedom of navigation in the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea, in accordance with international law.

The hijacking of the Rwabee marked the latest Houthi assault in the Red Sea, a crucial route for international trade and energy shipments.