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N ORT H A F R I C A A N D T H E M I D D L E E A S T

EGYPT

E gypt is a land steeped in ancient history and is generally regarded as the birthplace of Western civilization. Egyptian monuments are some of the oldest edifices in the world and may represent the continued legacy of Atlantis. Most ancient Egyptian monuments are located on the western side of the Nile, signifying the land of the dead. Monuments on the east side of the Nile were for use of the living. Successive Egyptian pharaohs built massive stone structures dedicated to themselves and a pantheon of deities.

Ancient Egyptians worshiped many gods, both on earth and in the constella- tions. The sun god Ra was prominent in the daytime sk , while the star Sirius held greatest magnitude in the nighttime sky. A strong connection between ancient Egyptians and the heavenly bodies influenced the building of many monuments. In worship of Ra, the sloping pyramid sides represent spreading rays of the sun. During summer months, Sirius marked the flooding of the Nile and the begin- ning of the agricultural cycle. Unfortunatel , the Nile no longer floods its banks. When the High Aswan Dam was constructed in 1966, several important monu- ments were flooded and the biology of the river was seriously altered. The dam now blocks silt and fresh water from replenishing the former flood zones, and as a result the fertile Nile delta is sinking into the Mediterranean and is in serious threat of becoming unfarmable. One important sacred site, Abu Simbel, built by Ramses II, was expertly relocated on the desert plateau above the newly formed Lake Nasser. While Abu Simbel is a fascinating monument to visit, its reposi- tioning has altered the exact geographic location and thus cannot be considered a true sacred place any longer.

Great Pyramid and the Sphinx

Towering 40 stories tall on northern Egypt’s Giza Plateau is the Great Pyramid, supposedly 4,590 years old and thought to be a burial tomb for Pharaoh Cheops. This is a shortsighted theor , based on Arab writers of the Middle Ages and oth- ers from antiquity who associated the pyramid with the biblical narrative of the flood. These people believed ancient Egyptians had constructed it as a reposi- tory for their scientific knowledge and wisdom in anticipation of the disaster. At the base of the Giza Plateau rests the enigmatic Sphinx, another monument erroneously associated with a fourth dynasty pharaoh. Both monuments cer- tainly provoke more questions than answers. Speculation and probing over the ages into who built the Great Pyramid and Sphinx has proven inconclusive.

Astonishing is the enormous Great Pyramid and its physical properties. The structure contains 2.5 million blocks, each weighing 1.6 tons (1,625 kg). The pyra- mid is level to one half of an inch over an area of 13.5 acres (5.4 hectares). There are enough blocks to build a one-meter-high wall around France, or 30 Empire State Buildings, or a one-meter wall from north to south across the United States. If a circle were drawn around the base of the pyramid it would cast a

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