Desert highway too close for comfort to Abydos
Egypt, Environment, 5/31/2002
The Supreme Council for Antiquities (SCA) and the Roads and Bridges Authority are at loggerheads over the proposed Cairo-Aswan highway through the Western Desert.
The road, which would pass by prominent archaeological sites and pose a threat to dozens of monuments, would be sacrilege as Abydos that was considered by the ancient Egyptians as a religious centre, dedicated to the worship of Osiris.
Archaeolgical officials set the alarm bells ringing when they learned that the highway project would damage monuments still buried underground. Work began on the desert highway a few years ago. It was only when the work site was within fifteen kilometres of the Abydos site that archaeologists sat up and took notice. Only then did they try to stop the project dead in its tracks.
In October 2000, an ad-hoc committee was formed to conduct a field study, after which it was recommended that the course of the road be diverted to avoid the site. But the Roads and Bridges Authority is intent keeping to its original plan. According to an Arabic newspaper another archaeological committee went to the site to assess the situation.
Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni said that the project was not an isolated case as previous development projects have interfered with excavations.
"But we usually manage to reach a compromise," the minister said, referring to the north-west coastal resort of Marina, where the Ministry of Housing changed plans in order to preserve the precincts of the Roman site of Marina.
Abydos contains antiquities dating from prehistoric times until the New Kingdom. Dr Zahi Hawas, SCA Secretary-General said that the 50-metre wide roadway will cause funerary monuments to crack.
Pollution from traffic and vibration will harm antiquities above and below ground, said Hawas, adding that the road would irreversibly spoil the site and detract from its spirituality, since the ancient Egyptians associated temples, tombs and other buildings devoted to religious ritual with the deserts and the mountains.
The ad-hoc committee suggested two alternatives: either have the road pass through agricultural land, or cut a route through a mountain area. The People's Assembly objected to the first, on the grounds that 65 feddans (acres) of arable land would be lost. The second proposal, albeit more costly, would be better.
Two American and German excavation teams, who have been working in Abydos for the last twenty years, are expected to continue undisturbed to find more artefacts, Dr Yehia Al Masri, Director of Upper Egypt Antiquities, said.
But so far work on the site has been stopped until the SCA and the Roads and Bridges Authority arrive at a compromise.
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