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Cambridge University Science Magazine
Picture credit: Dr Judith Bunbury
Ancient temple near Luxor
For instance, five Coptic monasteries (dating from the 3rd to 6th century AD) border the populous floodplain between Danfiq and Qamula. Such monasteries were typically built in isolated situations, for example in the desert or on islands, so the location of these five monasteries initially appears puzzling. However, it now seems that they were probably cut off from the floodplain by the river at the time of their foundation."Importantly, the drift contrasts with a static river commonly implied when Egyptologists plot the present-day Nile on maps of archaeological times," explained Dr Hillier.The Nile channels life-giving water within arid Egypt, so it forms an important aspect of Egyptian life ancient and modern.Those researching Egypt are somewhat aware that the river moves. For example, observations by Ptolemy (121-141 AD) have been compared to modern maps, but this method has limitations."The present work was inspired by Dr Judith Bunbury’s and Angus Graham’s work determining how land builds out into the river," said Hillier. "By examining chips from the carving of monuments and fragments of pottery, they show a westward drift near Luxor."
Picture credit: Angus Graham
The River Nile
The team went on to determine river drift over the last 200 years using old maps, and then used satellite land-height (SRTM) and image (LandSat) data to extend these trends thousands of years into the past.The new ways of using satellite data provide a relatively quick and easy method of establishing how widely ancient river courses might have ranged, and a basis for investigation along the whole Egyptian Nile. The team also expects the method to be applicable to other inhabited river systems.The research will be published in the Journal of Archaeological Science. Dr Hillier and Dr Bunbury are based in the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Cambridge. Mr Graham is based in the Institute of Archaeology, UCL.Department of Earth SciencesInstitute of Archaeology, UCLJournal of Archaeological Science

Written by J. K. Hillier