Scourge of the desert

Rudolf Kuper, one of the most skilled archaeologists operating in Egypt’s Western Desert, and a strong defender of its rights, has spoken out against the “scourge of the desert” – tourism.  An article in New Scientist (8th April 2000) quotes him speaking at the Eighth International Congress of Egyptologists in Cairo: “Unless urgent measures are taken, Egypt will be left with not one prehistoric site intact.”  All 10 of the sites he excavated in the Western Desert have been damaged by tourists.  They dampen rock art to improve the colour for photography, which causes the paint to flake.  They take artefacts as souvenirs.  They break the stalactites off in Djara cave.

The archaeological heritage of the desert is of key importance to an understanding of how the Egyptian economy evolved to the point that it could develop centres of power which eventually became a kingdom under a single ruler.  Egypt’s past has been largely lost from the Nile, buried beneath settlements, farmland and silt, with only a few lucky survivors left to to represent the entire material culture of the Nile’s prehistory.  The desert contains a vast repository of knowledge, much of it untapped.  It tourists are allowed to destroy parts of it, the story of Egypt’s prehistoric past will also be destroyed.

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