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Castles in the Desert

The benefits to ending the rule of a twisted and bloody dictator are endless. Often, the science of archaeology is a beneficiary:

The fall of Gaddafi has opened the way for archaeologists to explore the country’s pre-Islamic heritage, so long ignored under his regime.

Archaeologists from the University of Leicester have used satellites and airplane photography to identify the 2000 year old castle-like remains of the advanced Garamantes-culture in one of the most un-welcoming parts of the Libyan desert.

The team….has identified the mud brick remains of the castle-like complexes, with walls still standing up to four metres high, along with traces of dwellings, cairn cemeteries, associated field systems, wells and sophisticated irrigation systems. Follow-up ground survey earlier this year confirmed the pre-Islamic date and remarkable preservation.

“It is like someone coming to England and suddenly discovering all the medieval castles. These settlements had been unremarked and unrecorded under the Gaddafi regime,” says the project leader David Mattingly FBA, Professor of Roman Archaeology at the University of Leicester.

Interestingly, the climate in this part of the desert is not thought to have changed much since the days of the Garamantes people showing that through thoughtful agricultural practices, advanced cultures can thrive under very rough conditions.

“In fact, they were highly civilised, living in large-scale fortified settlements, predominantly as oasis farmers. It was an organised state with towns and villages, a written language and state of the art technologies. The Garamantes were pioneers in establishing oases and opening up Trans-Saharan trade,” Professor Mattingly said.

It will be fascinating to see what a mixture of the new, remote-sensing technologies and the end of dictatorships will lend to archaeological research.


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