Secrets of the Sands: The Revelations fo Egypt's Everlasting Oasis

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Amid a sea of sand, in a part of Egypt so parched that decades pass between rain-storms, a green island may contain the whole of human history. It is called Dakhleh, the "ever-lasting oasis," and it holds a rich trove of archaeological clues. In Secrets of the Sands, acclaimed science writer and journalist Harry Thurston follows an international team of archaeologists as they unlock secrets of nearly half a million years -- secrets that may overturn commonly held notions about where, and with whom, lies the ...
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Overview

Amid a sea of sand, in a part of Egypt so parched that decades pass between rain-storms, a green island may contain the whole of human history. It is called Dakhleh, the "ever-lasting oasis," and it holds a rich trove of archaeological clues. In Secrets of the Sands, acclaimed science writer and journalist Harry Thurston follows an international team of archaeologists as they unlock secrets of nearly half a million years -- secrets that may overturn commonly held notions about where, and with whom, lies the cradle of Egyptian civilization. Over the course of a thirty-year dig, the team has discovered a perfect Old Kingdom town, with buildings ranging from palaces to common bakeries; the oldest monumental architecture in Egypt, older even than the earliest of the pyramids; an archive of 10,000 papyri; huge caches of mummies, some still covered in ancient gold foil; an entire Roman city -- a desert Pompeii swallowed up by shifting sands; and the world's two oldest books, their pages of thin wood still bound together with age-old string. Perhaps most impressive of all is that these discoveries occurred in a single, magical place where it is possible to trace human habitation back more than 400,000 years ... before the advent of modern Homo sapiens.

Thurston is an inquisitive and insightful guide, blending the best of adventure, travelogue, and scientific mystery in his narrative. In an account as captivating as it is enlightening, he portrays both the dig itself and the surrounding archaeological culture, introducing us to maverick adventurers and trivia-touting professors as well as the rugged romance of the desert oasis. At the same time, Secrets of the Sands traces on a grand historical scale the way human civilization has been shaped by the changing environment of the Sahara. An enthralling detective story that sheds new light on the rise of Egyptian civilization, Secrets of the Sands lays bare a parable about the fragile balance between humankind and the world around us, a parable that is especially relevant in an era of diminishing resources.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
About 400 miles south of Cairo and 170 miles west of the Nile valley, the Dakhleh Oasis rises like a mirage out of the sands of the great Sahara desert. In this fascinating study-which is equal parts travelogue, archeological treatise, detective story, environmental white paper and historiography-journalist Thurston reveals the long history of this phenomenal oasis, which has supported life for over 400,000 years. Drawing on 30 years of archeological findings, Thurston reconstructs the various cultures that have passed through the oasis since prehistoric times. The earliest inhabitants, based on ax-tool remains, were likely Homo erectus. In the Middle Stone Age, Homo sapiens began to take over, disrupting the Dakhleh's flourishing floral and faunal life. According to archeologist C.S. Churcher, the oasis had provided refuge for African fauna for tens of thousands of years, but cattle-breeding humans gradually moving into the area destroyed them. Some archeologists believe nomadic people brought the designs for the pyramids and the Sphinx from this area when they were driven out by drought. The Roman occupation further disrupted the Edenic oasis as aqueducts were built to divert water to crops and settlements in the nearby desert. Thurston takes this gradual destruction of the Dakhleh Oasis as a case study for what its future holds if the people now living there do not start to practice good water conservation techniques. Thurston's tale would have been even more valuable if he had spent less time on environmental lessons and focused more on the human history of this incredible area that is just being uncovered. (Oct.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Traditionally, Egyptologists have sought the origins and development of Egyptian civilization within the confines of the Nile valley and Delta or looked to the east in Mesopotamia for the catalyst of civilization. More recently, evidence has been discovered in the neighboring desert areas, obviating the need for a "master race" to bring advanced culture from afar. Thurston, a journalist and science writer, reveals for the general reader the history and mysteries of the oases of Egypt's Western Desert and the Dakhleh Oasis in particular. The engrossing narrative, occasionally verging on the poetic, recounts the excavations, research, and discoveries of the Dakhleh Oasis Project (DOP), sponsored by the Toronto-based Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities. The DOP is noted for its "environmental archaeology," documenting the complex interrelationships between humans and the desert/oasis environment during the 400,000 years of its attested occupation. The author suggests that it was perhaps "environmental refugees" from a more evolved culture in the Western Desert who brought the technologies of herding and agriculture to the Nile valley dwellers and triggered the birth of pharaonic civilization. The key element in the oasis equation is water, particularly how the mismanagement of artesian well water jeopardized the viability of the oases for human habitation. Highly recommended for all public libraries.-Edward K. Werner, St. Lucie Cty. Lib. Syst., Ft. Pierce, FL Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Science writer Thurston takes an enchanting historical tour of Egypt’s deep Saharan oasis. In the midst of the Great Sand Sea, at "its driest core, its dead heart," where rain comes every few decades and showers evaporate before reaching the ground, lies the Island of the Blessed, as the ancients called Dakhleh Oasis. Wrought by earth movement, climatic changes, and the human hand, the oasis seems to stand outside time but in fact has experienced three periods of prosperity and influence—great periods indeed, judging by the artifacts found there. Thurston fluently tracks Dakhleh’s course as it has come to be understood by a company of archaeo-scientists (zoologists, botanists, geo-morphologists, epigraphers), capturing the breadth of viewpoints that has garnered so much rich information from the Dakhleh site. Early Stone Age tools have been unearthed here, as well as New Stone Age petroglyphs; Holocene rock art document stages in the development of human relations with animals, including evidence of corrals. Refugees from Dakhleh’s cyclically degraded environment might have served to spur the great Nile Valley civilization. Sites have given up marvels like golden mummies, enameled glass vessels decorated with gladiators, and the oldest books extant: thin boards with writing on them tied together with string, dating to the fourth century. Dakhleh is also a trove of the everyday (one of the books is a record of goods and services from tenant farmers) that provides insights into flint-knapping and bread-baking, farming and the wine trade. Ancient and complex communities have lived here on and off for eons; it remains inhabited today. Thurston notes, though, that this moment ofprosperity may be headed for another fall, as overtapping the aquifer and salinisation imperil the oasis’s future. Juicy archaeological journalism, brimming with facts and speculation about the deep desert’s critical influence on Egyptian history. (26 b&w photos, 1 map) Agent: Dean Cooke
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781559707039
  • Publisher: Arcade Publishing
  • Publication date: 10/28/2003
  • Pages: 400
  • Product dimensions: 5.54 (w) x 9.78 (h) x 1.08 (d)

Table of Contents

Acknowledgements
Prologue 1
Pt. I Island of the Blessed
1 The Other Egypt 6
Pt. II The Garden: c.400,000-12,000 B.P.
2 Everlasting Oasis 34
3 The Garden 55
Pt. III Crossers of the Sand: 12,000-4000 B.P.
4 The Great Stone Ring 72
5 A Gift of the Desert 93
6 Crossers of the Sand 120
Pt. IV Lords of the West: c.2700-332 B.C.
7 Lords of the West 140
8 New Light on the Old Kingdom 161
9 A Tale of Woe 183
Pt. V A Curse of Sand and Salt: 332 B.C.-700
10 The Romans Are Coming 210
11 A Desert Pompeii 233
12 Skin of the Gods 259
13 Signs of the Cross 279
14 A Curse of Sand and Salt 300
Pt. VI The Lost Oasis: 700 -
15 The Lost Oasis 316
16 The New Valley 340
17 History's Lessons 355
Epilogue 371
Bibliography 373
Index 384
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