In May 2012 Forum for Africa Studies together with the Department of Archaeology & Ancient History at Uppsala University and the Nordic Africa Institute initiated a discussion about the planned dam projects in the middle Nile Valley. Questions raised included the role of archaeology (rescue activities) in a politically charged and sensitive context as well as the political and economic stakes of dam building and the need for new energy sources for development. For a summary of the questions at hand see the short text below. A larger meeting will be held in November 2012.


SUDAN : 3D - Dams, Development and Discourses about the Middle Nile


By Irmgard Hein*, Paul Sinclair*, T. Ostigård**

*Dept. of Archaeology & Ancient History, Uppsala University
** Nordic Africa Institute

The Sudan is planning new dam projects on the Middle Nile. Six locations are foreseen, and two of these the Kagbar Dam and the Shereiq dam are already chosen for the erection of dams in the near future.  Such dam constructions would flood considerable parts of the Nile valley, and without doubt, the areas in question would be lost as cultural regions, not only from an archaeological point of view, but also for the inhabitants. 

The emerging situation out of such plans is controversial. On the one hand there is a need for energy resources and this is supported by promise of economic development by the government, which should benefit the population of the area, on the other hand we are dealing with the potential relocation of Nubian inhabitants, the loss of their homes and their cultural heritage. An international petition against the construction of the dams and stressing alternative energy sources  has been launched  (see link below).The Sudanese Antiquities authority (NCAM) has set up a rescue appeal (see, in order to  save the monuments within the threatened areas.  On the 15th of May 2012 a meeting was organized by the ISNS (International Society for Nubian Studies) at the British Museum in London,  archaeologists from different parts of the world attended this meeting. The appeal was repeated by the Sudanese representatives, highlighting the supposed benefits of the previous Merowe dam building, in the 4th Cataract area. About 70.000 people allegedly had to be relocated during the process of the Merowe dam construction. However, the stated intention by the Sudanese authorities to build the dams was opposed by some Sudanese participants claiming to represent the directly affected local communities.

Three positions of archaeologists and anthropologists concerned with the Sudan can be discerned at this stage. These include the outright rejection of any researcher getting involved in the rescue projects because this would lend support to the government plans, and undermine the well founded complaints of the affected communities. A second position was taken by concerned researchers who are willing to respond to the call in a way which could not be construed a support for the dam project. A third position entailed varying degrees of support for rescue activities connected to the dam projects in answer to the NCAM call.

From an archaeological point of view, the proposed dam site areas include the third cataract area which is well documented in a recently published survey , but even here there is a need for further research. The 5th cataract area (Shereiq dam) has hardly been investigated so far and the need for research is acute. Archaeology in the endangered areas has become a very sensitive issue and requires careful handling of the situations and consultation with the affected communities.

In a first meeting at Uppsala, at the 22nd of May hosted by the Nordic Africa an overview of the archaeological aspects was provided including links provided by the anthropologist H. Hafsaas. The sharing of water resources in a broader Nile basin context and the need for energy for development was stressed by T. Ostigård. Given the sensitivity of these issues it is evident that more discussion is needed and this might include use of alternative energy sources as well as other strategies for mitigating existing and potential conflicts. Is there a role for rescue archaeology in this situation?

Different strategies will be discussed at an interdisciplinary meeting, on a broader Scandinavian scale, in November 2012. 



Committee for Preserving the Middle Nile and the American Committee for Nubian Heritage):

Antiquity's Project Gallery:

 African Archaeological Review:

Journal of Social Archaeology:

 Article about Sudan's oil and Ethiopia's water:

The online petition Stop the dams in Sudan:




On 22 November 2012 there was one-day workshop about archeology and the planned dam projects on the Middle Nile in Sudan.The workshop is co-organized by the Department for Archaeology and Ancient History, the Forum for Africa Studies and the Nordic Africa Institute. For more information.

Dams as lifesavers?

Click here to read a related interview with researcher Terje Oestigaard at NAI about dams in Africa.


Workshop on Dams in Sudan