Photo Of The Day: Whirling Dervishes In Sudan

Whirling dervishes in Khartoum, Sudan
Mark Fischer, Flickr

Dervishes of the whirling variety are most famously associated with Turkey, where they’ve become something of a tourist attraction throughout the country. But the dervish tradition extends far beyond modern-day gawkers and Turkey’s borders. Dervishes are Sufi Muslims who lead an ascetic lifestyle. Whirling dervishes spin rhythmically in order to reach a state of religious or spiritual ecstasy, and are found in many places outside of Turkey. In fact, the whirling dervish ceremony just outside of Khartoum, Sudan, where Flickr user Mark Fischer snapped this photo, is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the capital. If you’d like to see your great shots on Photo of the Day, share them with us in the Gadling Flickr pool.

Egyptian Mummies Weren’t Given Enemas, Study Shows

mummies
Ancient Egyptian mummies have been an object of fascination. The Greek historian Herodotus, who lived in the fifth century B.C., visited Egypt and wrote a description of the mummification process. Since no ancient Egyptian text survives, his account forms the basis of many descriptions in modern books and museum displays.

Now a new study by two Canadian scientists suggests Herodotus may have gotten it wrong.

Yahoo News reports that two of the key points in Herodotus’ account – that the internal organs were dissolved with cedar oil enemas and the heart was always left in place – don’t stand up to scientific scrutiny. Researchers have examined studies of 150 mummies and put seven through CT scans and found little evidence of cedar oil. Also, in three-quarters of the mummies the heart was missing.

Herodotus also said that the brains were removed with a hook pushed through the nose. The study shows brains in about a fifth of mummies.

So why did Herodotus get it wrong? The study’s coauthor Andrew Wade of the University of Western Ontario says mummification was a lucrative business and its secrets closely guarded. In other words, Herodotus was handed a line. Imagine a bunch of mummy makers drinking wine by the Nile after a busy day at the office and laughing about that clueless Greek who showed up asking questions. “Cedar oil enemas? Yeah, save that for the tourists!”

Another possibility is that the mummy makers cut corners. In many animal mummies, used as offerings to the gods, researchers found only partial skeletons or wrappings that contained nothing. Temples made lots of money selling animal mummies to the faithful, and they created fakes to increase profits.

The Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University has a longer account of Herodotus’ writings on mummification here. The study was published in the latest issue of HOMO: The Journal of Comparative Human Biology.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Pyramids Discovered In Egypt And Sudan

pyramids
You’d think archaeologists would have found all the pyramids of Africa by now, but two recent discoveries show there’s a lot more discovering to be done.

A team of archaeologists working in Luxor, Egypt, have just announced they’ve discovered the pyramid of Khay, a powerful vizier of the Pharaoh Ramses II (ruled 1279-1212 B.C.). The pyramid was made of mudbrick and originally stood 49 feet high.

In the seventh and eighth century A.D. it was dismantled and turned into a Coptic Christian hermitage. Hieroglyphic writing on the surviving bricks told the archaeologists to whom the pyramid belonged.

Earlier this month, archaeologists announced they had found the bases of at least 35 broken pyramids at the site of Sedeinga in Sudan. They’re about 2,000 years old and belong to the kingdom of Kush, which lasted from c.1000 B.C. to 350 A.D. before finally being conquered by the Empire of Axum in Ethiopia. For almost a hundred years from 747-656 B.C., the Kushites ruled Egypt as the 25th dynasty.

The Sedeinga pyramids really just pyramid-shaped tombs. The largest measures 22 feet to a side, while the smallest is only 30 inches to a side. Others in Sudan, such as those at Meroë, are much more grandiose. Those at the pyramid field at Nuri, shown here courtesy Vít Hassan, are up to 150 feet tall.

Last year, a satellite survey conducted by Dr. Sarah Parcak of the University of Alabama found 17 suspected pyramids.

So how could these pyramids go missing? Well, most pyramids were much smaller than the famous ones at Giza and Saqqara that we always see pictures of. Shifting sands and erosion helped hide them. In the case of the Sedeinga tombs, later people took stones from them to build other structures.

Even some sizable pyramids have all but disappeared because they were made of inferior materials. Some of the last pyramids of Egypt are barely visible today because of shoddy workmanship or having been made with mudbrick instead of stone.

My Year In Adventure Travel: A Look Back And A Look Forward

adventure travel, Iraq, Iraq tourism, Iraq travel
We’re approaching the end of 2012, so it’s a good time to assess what we’ve done and where we’re headed. There’s a whole year of adventures and opportunities awaiting us in 2013, despite what the New Age crystal clutchers say. The world is not ending and that’s a good thing!

I’ve had some interesting adventure travel this year. My family and I spent a week on the rugged Orkney Islands north of Scotland. We visited Neolithic stone circles, a haunted island, and I had my first (bad) experience driving on the left.

I really clicked with Orkney. The people are wonderful and the scenery is breathtaking. I’m thinking of going back to do a writer’s retreat there sometime if I can afford it. It’s an interesting culture with its own distinct traditions and music and I bet it would provide lots of inspiration.

The big trip for this year was a 17-day tour of Iraq. This was the culmination of a lifelong dream for me and I loved almost every second of it. Nearly getting arrested wasn’t too cool, but I got to visit the world-class National Museum of Iraq, archaeological wonders such as Ur and Babylon, see an Iraqi amusement park, and take a solo stroll through Baghdad.

Of course I wasn’t the only Gadling blogger to have adventures. The ones that made me most jealous are Anna Brones’ trip to Afghanistan and Dave Seminara’s ongoing anecdotes about life in the foreign service.

So what’s coming up in 2013? I’ll be seeing that year in with my wife on a brief getaway in Tangier, but beyond that I have no set plans. I’m probably going to hike the Great Glen Way in Scotland this summer. There are some other possibilities too. Here are the three major contenders:

Sudan. I’ve always been intrigued by this desert nation. Sudan has its own pyramids, medieval Christian sites, and a beautiful desert landscape. An English teacher I know in Khartoum has nothing but good things to say about Sudan’s capital.

Iran. I went to Iran back in 1994 and I’m interested in returning to see how things have changed. One of the sites I didn’t get to see last time was Alamut, the fabled castle of the Assassins. My archaeology contacts have told me that Iran’s government is restoring the castle in the hopes of turning it into a tourist attraction. My wife is interested in coming along on this trip and so we’d get both a male and female view of life inside this strictly Muslim country.

Lebanon. This nation on the Mediterranean is doing better than it has in many years. Lebanon has a wealth of archaeological sties, great nightlife in Beirut, and from what I’ve been told the best cuisine in the Middle East. It’s also right next to Syria, allowing an insight into that country’s bitter civil war.

So which country would you like to read a series about? Take the quiz and tell me!

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[Photo courtesy Rob Hammond]

Central African Ivory Wars Ravage Elephant Population

The demand for ivory has resulted in the slaughter of elephants in AfricaAn ever-increasing demand for ivory on Asia’s black market is creating conflicts across Africa and having a devastating effect on the elephant population there. According to a somber and in depth report published by the New York Times on Monday, the high price of ivory has now made elephant tusks akin to blood diamonds, a natural resource to be plundered at all costs. As a result, elephants are now being killed by the tens of thousands on an annual basis with poaching at its most rampant in over thirty years.

According to the article, ivory is now sold on the illegal underground market for more than $1000 per pound. That kind of cash has lured in organized crime syndicates in China that work with rebel resistance groups throughout Africa who obtain the ivory by hunting down and slaughtering elephants in the wild. The tusks of the animal are then smuggled out of the country and shipped to Asia, where it is used in the creation of ornamental goods. Ivory has long been seen as a symbol of wealth and status in that part of the world and it has grown in demand with a rising middle-class, particularly in China.

It isn’t just outlaws and mob bosses that are caught up in the ivory trade, however. The armies of some African nations are also likely being used in poaching operations as well. The Times says that armies from Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan have all been implicated in the poaching of elephants. The article even implies that Ugandan soldiers have employed the use of military helicopters to hunt down and kill elephants inside the neighboring DRC. Those soldiers are blamed for the slaughter of a herd of 22 elephants that took place in April.And where is all of this ivory going? For the most part it ends up in China. It is estimated that 70% of the ivory finds its way into that country and last year more than 150 Chinese citizens were arrested in Africa on charges of smuggling ivory. Experts feel that if China cracked down on the demand for ivory amongst its growing middle-class, the systematic poaching of elephants would drop off dramatically.

For their part, most of the African nations try to protect their elephant herds as much as possible. Those herds are generally found inside national parks, which are of course protected lands. But those countries don’t have enough manpower, money or other resources to patrol those large sections of wilderness, thus poachers can come and go almost with impunity. When they are caught in the act, however, it often results in a bloody conflict between anti-poaching units and the outlaws, who are often very well armed.

Just how badly has the elephant population been hurt by the ivory trade? No one knows exactly for sure, but in the Congo’s Garamba National Park the creatures once numbered in excess of 20,000. Today it is believed that just 2400 still freely wander that region, which was also once home to the white rhino. Sadly, that species has already been hunted to extinction within the park as poachers harvested rhino horns, which are also in high demand across Asia.

Reading the New York Times piece is both shocking and sad. Having seen elephants in the wilds of Africa with my own eyes I found it impossible to not be struck by the intelligence and nobility of those animals. It is hard to believe that in the 21st century man’s greed could possibly see the last of these creatures roaming free.