Larry A. Pavlish
The archaeological site of Mendes (fig. la) is, at the same time, one of the most threatened and perhaps the best-preserved site in the Nile Delta (Stanley and Warne 1993). This situation is the consequence of a catastrophic hydrological event that took place about two thousand years ago, when the Mendesian Branch of the Nile either suddenly moved away from the site, or the site's harbour and other water access routes silted up and became unnavigable. The disappearance of these channels effectively removed Mendes from the mainstream of Egyptian commerce. Mendes and its environs remained relatively isolated until the establishment of 20th century land reclamation projects that released much of Egypt from its dependency on inundation-based agriculture. With the construction of the Aswan High Dam in the mid 1960's, the area around Mendes become prime, flood-free, agricultural land (prior to the High Dam, informants report that the annual flood waters came within several kilometres of Tel el Rub'a). The resulting rise in agricultural production, however, in addition to a fast growing population and increased salinization of the soil, may have disastrous long-term consequences. Given current land-use practices, the steady rise in food requirements from increasingly less productive lands for a population that is increasing at a rate of 1x106 per 9 months may result in the eventual collapse of the Delta agricultural system and its socio-political base (Stanley and Warne 1993). This modern situation is comparable to the succession of ancient ecological disasters that progressed slowly up the Tigris and Euphrates and brought an end to Sumer, Old Babylonia and Assyria (Russell 1972). Today, the solution to this dilemma is obtained most easily by acquiring new land, and archaeological sites in the Delta, like Mendes, are prime candidates for expropriation. Many sites in the Delta have already gone under the plough. Consequently, the research being carried out at Delta sites is, in a real sense, a kind of rescue-research archaeology.