Nile engineering

Evidence of an ancient hydraulic engineering system has been discovered along the banks of the Nile by the British Museum’s Amara West Research Project. Satellite imagery and aerial drone and ground surveys revealed a 600-mile network of nearly 1,300 river groynes between the first and fourth cataracts. Many of these structures were submerged when the Aswan High Dam reservoir was created, while a number were found in the desert running along long dried-up channels.

The structures deflected the flow of water, encouraging the deposit of silts during the Nile’s annual inundation, which helped to protect the river banks from erosion, and created fertile land for agriculture. Larger stone walls, up to five metres thick and 200 metres long, acted as barrages to direct the flow of the river and help boats navigate the Nile rapids. The study shows that the ancient Nubians and Egyptians were capable of modifying the Nile and shaping their landscape as early as 3,000 years ago.

Excavations of a stone wall groyne in a now-dry channel, showing thick accumulations of Nile silt.
Text: Sarah Griffiths / Image: Matthew Dalton