Aswan High Dam, 2.5 miles across and 364 feet high, was completed in 1971
to supply cheap hydroelectric power to Egypt and Sudan. Lake Nasser, the
impoundment on the Nile River, covers some 2,000 square miles.
dynasty bronze tomb stove, made between 206 B.C and 220 A.D.
POSTED 5 JULY 2001 If you're old enough to remember Egypt's Aswan High Dam, you'll recall the uproar over the flooding of thousands of archeological sites along the great river. The less chronologically challenged may know the parallel controversy over the gargantuan Three Gorges Dam, now abuilding on China's Yangtze River.
Flat, fertile river valleys have long lured humans -- and people have lived along the Yangtze and Nile for thousands of years. Three Gorges will be the largest dam in history, and yet critics say China is spending only a fraction of what's needed to recover artifacts before the waters rise.
Dams flood evidence of the past. Roads pave it over. And buildings suffocate it under concrete. Whether it's a tunnel, a road or a parking lot, construction can obliterate clues to the past.
But construction can also reveal, thanks to state and federal mandates that builders engage in "salvage archaeology." As the name implies, salvage is a quick and dirty excavation of artifacts and other traces of human settlement, performed before the earth-movers move in.
can dig it
A little squirt'll do ya. A pottery vessel is exposed in a shallow dig. Wetting helps bring out color on the ancient pot.
Salvage archaeology is a mixed blessing. You get the money -- and the earthmovers, which destroy or cover all traces of the past.
Since money for archaeology is always tight, the mandate to perform salvage archaeology before building federally-supported pipelines, powerlines and highways is "a tremendous boon to archeology," says Marlin Hawley, a Wisconsin archaeologist who directs salvage digs.
Effigy mounds are some of the most amazing ancient earthworks. What does salvage archaeology say about the builders of Wisconsin's Indian mounds?
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