U.S. helps Egypt preserve antiquities

Egypt’s iconic landmarks — including the pyramids and the statue of the mythological Great Sphinx — have always been a magnet for visitors. U.S.-Egyptian teamwork has helped protect them, along with other historic sites that have been threatened by rising groundwater.

Because the saline content in groundwater can erode the foundations of ancient structures, experts were alarmed in 2006 when standing water appeared in the low-lying areas of the Giza Necropolis, near the Great Sphinx and the newly discovered City of the Pyramid Builders.

So Egyptian authorities joined forces with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to lower the groundwater to a safe level, preventing further damage to Egypt’s cultural treasures.

Sailboat on river, pyramids in distance (© AP Images)
The Giza Pyramids, built between 2589 and 2504 B.C.E., rise in the distance over the Nile River. (© AP Images)

Giza — like other low-lying areas — is vulnerable to groundwater problems, so there may be more incidents putting Egypt’s patrimony at risk.

Over a span of several decades, USAID assistance valued at $100 million has helped Egypt preserve and manage its antiquities. During this time, the government of Egypt has worked with USAID on several large-scale engineering projects to protect archaeological monuments from rising groundwater in Old Cairo, east and west Luxor, and the Temple of Edfu.

Describing Egypt’s ancient landmarks as “wonders,” USAID/Egypt Mission Director Sherry F. Carlin stressed the need for efforts to preserve these sites, which represent “an investment in both the past and the future.”

“I am consistently in awe at these monuments that have survived through the millennia,” she said, “and am pleased that our shared commitment to protecting Egypt’s most important archaeological sites ensures that they are around for future generations to enjoy.”

People standing at end of hallway with carved walls (© AP Images)
Tourists visit the Temple of Edfu, an ancient Egyptian temple dedicated to the falcon god Horus, in the Edfu district of Aswan. (© AP Images)

The U.S. government, through USAID, also supports training programs for Egyptian archaeologists and works closely with Egypt to enhance the country’s cultural-tourism sector.

“Everyone [in Egypt] knows someone who works in the tourism industry or who benefits from tourists — or the foreign currency that tourists bring to Egypt,” Carlin said. “Egyptians not only value the cultural aspects of their heritage, but also understand that this heritage is a renewable resource that, properly managed, can create jobs and income for generations to come.”

USAID is currently working with its Egyptian partners to preserve significant cultural destinations throughout Egypt, including Pharaonic civilization (3100 B.C.E. – 30 B.C.E.) in Esna, Luxor and Memphis, and early Coptic Christian settlements (dating back to the 4th century C.E.) in the Nile Valley in Sohag.