Kharga Oasis and the Darb el-Arbain in Athens

The cultivation of the desert with water irrigated from underground aquifer systems aims at creating technically what naturally is called an oasis.

Some of the largest (natural) oases of the Western Desert, hundreds of kilometers away from the Nile Valley, have been for millennia the sites of intense human activity and may therefore see at some point their water resources exhausted (see, however, THIS).

Rational planning and rationed extraction of the underground water may on the contrary create settlements that are marvelously adapted to the region, especially if combined with renewable energy resources, like the sun and the wind, both prevalent in the desert milieu.

Last night, during a captivating lecture of high academic quality at the Cultural Center of the Embassy of the Arab Republic of Egypt in Athens, Dr. Nikolaos Lazarides, Assistant Professor of Ancient History at the California State University in Sacramento, referred in passing to social issues of the modern communities of the Kharga Oasis, as he experienced them leading an epigraphic mission as part of the North Kharga Oasis Survey, a project directed by Dr. Salima Ikram, professor of Egyptology at the American University in Cairo.

Subsequently, he stated that for the more than 100,000 people living in Kharga today, archaeology has become one of the new means of income through the tourists attracted by the rich cultural heritage in the oasis.

Some of the inhabitants of Kharga are actually Nubians who were resettled there after the forced exodus following the building of the Aswan High Dam and the flooding of Lower Nubia…

This was not the only link of course that yesterday’s lecturer made between Egypt and its southern neighbors. And quite naturally so, since Kharga is one of the stops on the Darb el Arbein, the forty days road that starts in Darfur in Western Sudan and ends at the town of Asyut in Middle Egypt. Therefore, he referred in several occasions to the contacts between Pharaonic and Graeco-Roman Egypt (the focal points of his own academic interest; thus, leaving us in want for more detailed information about Kharga in the Christian period, for the attraction of which see HERE and HERE) and the Kerman, Kushite, and Meroitic Sudanese states that were facing Egyptian invasions at some times and challenging the Egyptian state at others, while there was a constant exchange of commodities, among which were slaves who were very important at least until the official abolition of slavery by the British colonial power.

The Athenian venue was co-organized, apart from the Embassy of Egypt, by the Scholars’ Association of the Onassis Foundation (of which Lazarides was a beneficiary in the past), and by the Hellenic Society for the Study of Ancient Egypt (HSSAE).

Sai Island is in a privileged position for the study of interaction between Egypt and the Sudan and we hope that in the future, and given the absence of a Greek Society for Nubian Studies, a similar event organized by the HSSAE and the GNM will underscore the potential for scientific exchange always existing between Egypt and the Sudan through the pivotal region of Nubia, and the study of its peoples’ past culture, present condition, and future fate.

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