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Mapping of lost branch of the Nile River may solve ancient mystery of the pyramids

The Great Pyramid of Egypt and other ancient monuments in Giza exist on an isolated strip of land on the edge of the Sahara desert.

The inhospitable location has long intrigued archaeologists, some of whom have found evidence that the Nile River once flowed near these pyramids in some way, facilitating the construction of the landmarks beginning 4,700 years ago.

Using satellite imagery and analysis of sediment cores, a new study published this month in Communications Earth & Environment magazine mapped a 40-mile-long dry branch of the Nile, long buried beneath farmland and deserts.

“Although many efforts to reconstruct the Nile's earliest watercourses have been undertaken, they have been largely limited to collections of soil samples from small sites, which has led to the mapping of only fragmentary sections of the Nile's ancient canal systems ”, said the study's lead author, Eman Ghoneim, professor and director of the Space and Drone Remote Sensing Laboratory in the department of Earth and Ocean Sciences at the University of North Carolina Wilmington (USA).

“This is the first study to provide the first map of the ancient lost branch of the Nile River.”

Ghoneim and his colleagues refer to this extinct branch of the Nile River as Ahramat, which is Arabic for pyramids.

The ancient waterway would have been approximately half a kilometer wide, with a depth of at least 25 meters, similar to the contemporary Nile, Ghoneim said.

“The large size and extended length of the Ahramat Branch and its proximity to the 31 pyramids in the study area strongly suggest a functional watercourse of great importance,” Ghoneim said.

She stated that the river would have played a key role in transporting the enormous building materials and workers needed for the construction of the pyramids by the ancient Egyptians.

“In addition, our research shows that many of the pyramids in the study area have a causeway, an elevated ceremonial walkway, that runs perpendicular to the course of the Ahramat Branch and ends directly at its bank.”

Hidden traces of a lost waterway

The river's tracks are not visible in aerial photos or optical satellite images, Ghoneim said. In fact, she only noticed something unexpected while studying radar satellite data from the wider area in search of ancient rivers and lakes that could reveal a new source of groundwater.

“I am a geomorphologist, a paleohydrologist who analyzes landforms. I have this kind of trained eye,” she said.

“As I was working with this data, I noticed this very obvious branch or sort of riverbank, and that didn't make sense because it's really far from the Nile,” he added.

Born and raised in Egypt, Ghoneim was familiar with the cluster of pyramids in this area and always wondered why they were built there. She applied to the US National Science Foundation for funding to investigate further, and geophysical data obtained at ground level using ground-penetrating radar and electromagnetic tomography confirmed that it was an ancient branch of the Nile. Two long earth cores that the team extracted using drilling equipment revealed sandy sediments consistent with a riverbed at a depth of about 25 meters.

It is possible that “countless” temples are still buried beneath the agricultural fields and desert sands along the riverbank of the Ahramat Branch, according to the study.

Why this branch of the river dried up or disappeared is still unclear. A period of drought and desertification likely brought sand to the region, silting up the river, Ghoneim said.

The study demonstrated that when the pyramids were built, the Nile's geography and riverscapes differed significantly from today, said Nick Marriner, a geographer at the French National Center for Scientific Research in Paris. He was not involved in the study, but carried out research into the river history of Giza.

“The study completes an important part of the past landscape puzzle,” Marriner said. “By putting these pieces together, we can get a clearer picture of what the Nile floodplain looked like in the time of the pyramid builders and how the ancient Egyptians used their environments to transport building materials for their monumental endeavors.”

Virtual tour shows the Great Pyramid and Sphinx of Ancient Egypt

Source: CNN Brasil

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