Building the Past: Rockscapes and the Aswan High Dam in Egypt

Nancy Y. Reynolds

in Water on Sand

Published in print December 2012 | ISBN: 9780199768677
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780199979608 | DOI:
Building the Past: Rockscapes and the Aswan High Dam in Egypt

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This chapter examines the environmental, cultural, human, and political consequences of building the Aswan High Dam in Egypt in the 1960s and 1970s. Building the High Dam was mostly about moving rock. An embankment dam made primarily from crushed hornblende granite from the adjacent valley cliffs in Aswan, the High Dam also initiated a massive movement of sand and rock from ancient archaeological sites along the Nile that were being rescued by an internationally sponsored campaign. Nubians, who would be displaced by the new lake behind the dam, protested against the injustices of their compensation and relocation, calling on the Egyptian government to move their villages, saints' shrines, and gravesites “stone by stone” to resettlement sites. These wrenching transformations of the rockscape fused into interlocking characterizations of rocks as elements of wilderness and yet also as building blocks of civilization, both ancient (archaeological/Pharaonic) and modern (the dam itself). The resulting geology of national development fueled popular recruitment campaigns for dam construction; helped to shape the agenda for national geological research; sharpened Nubian claims about the injustice of the dam; and created expectations of the dam's ability to restore time, agency, and sovereignty to Egypt.

Keywords: Egypt; Aswan High Dam; rocks; Nubians; nationalism; popular culture; UNESCO; Jamal 'Abd Al-Nasir; Aswan; Abu Simbel

Chapter.  11316 words. 

Subjects: Asian History

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