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Humans have left their mark on the continent of Africa for millennia – which is not a surprise, given that the country holds our ancestral lands. From rock art in southern Africa to pyramids along the River Nile, Africa offers a glimpse to a time before time. Yet, extreme weather events as a result of climate change have been felt hardest there.
Rising sea levels and other climatic challenges now threaten to destroy invaluable cultural landmarks.
Writing in the Azania journal, researchers from the UK, Kenya and the US say that “significant intervention” is needed to save these heritage sites.
The most recent example comes in Sudan, which has been tirelessly working to stop floodwater from the Nile from reaching the UN-designated World Heritage Site at al-Bajrawiya.
Such losses will, Andrew Petersen, Director of Research in Islamic Archaeology at University of Wales Trinity Saint David, told Express.co.uk result in the destruction of culture, knowledge, and our understanding of the world before us.
While Dr Petersen spoke about the dangers of history being purposefully destroyed, his comments stick for the loss of monuments through climate change, as he explained: “The loss of physical history is very dangerous and important.
“The problem when you destroy monuments is that that’s it – they’re completely gone. People’s ideas of their history changed and can then be distorted by the government or regime.
“I see archaeology in a sense being a form of forensic archaeology; it’s all about trying to discover the truth. So, in a sense, it doesn’t matter what you find out. What matters is that you find out what actually happened. Without clues like monuments and artefacts, you’ll never know for certain what actually came before.”
Now, the authors of the Azania report warn that a number of further sites, in addition to Sudan, are under threat from the elements.
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Suakin, in north-eastern Sudan, was once an extremely important port on the Red Sea; its story can be traced back to 3,000 years ago when Egyptain pharaohs turned the strategically located port into a gateway for trade and exploration.
It later became a hub for Muslim pilgrims on their way to Mecca, and played a significant role in the Red Sea’s vast slave trade.
There is ongoing research to monitor how far the coast near the site is eroding, and at what point rising sea levels will pose a serious threat to the cultural hub.
In East Africa, Kenya’s Lamu Old Town faces extinction.
According to Unesco, it is the oldest and best-preserved Swahili settlement in the whole of East Africa, yet, a retreating shoreline has caused the town to lose its natural protection once offered by sand and vegetation.
Professor Joanne Clarke from the UK’s University of East Anglia told the BBC that the construction of the huge Lamu port to the north of the Old Town has resulted in “destroying the mangrove forests that protect the island from flooding”.
She said: “So a lot of what we would call natural heritage is a protection for cultural heritage. And as we destroy natural heritage, we also leave cultural heritage sites exposed.”
In Comoros Island, just off the coast of East Africa, several notable sites, including a medina and a palace, date back hundreds of years.
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The island, however, is considered one of the “most threatened” places by sea level rises in Africa.
The study claimed that a plausible scenario of moderate-to-high global carbon emissions would see “significant parts of the African coastal zone will be inundated by 2100”, according to the study.
It added: “By 2050, Guinea, The Gambia, Nigeria, Togo, Benin, Congo, Tunisia, Tanzania and the Comoros will all be at significant threat of coastal erosion and sea-level rise.”
Ghana, in West Africa, is dotted with fortified trading posts founded between 1482 and 1786, that stretch 500km (310 miles) along the coast.
The castles and forts were built by different traders at various points in Ghana’s history, painting a picture of colonialism’s brutal and tragic passing of hands.
Fortifications that stand today include structures built by Portugal, Spain, Denmark, Sweden, Holland, Germany and the UK.
That infrastructure played a role in the gold trade and, later, in the rise and fall of the slave trade between Africa and the Americas; all of which now face high risk threat from increased storm surges and erosion.
In Namibia, southern Africa, soaring temperatures are creating the perfect conditions for fungi and microbial life on rocks to explode.
This is bad news for the vast rock art at sites such as Twyfelfontein in Namibia’s Kunene region, which has one of the largest concentrations of rock art in Africa; some of which has been dated back to at least 2,000 years.
In North Africa, Mali holds some of the continent’s most iconic stone castles.
The 2,000 or so mud houses of Djenné hail from 250 BC, and thousands of years later became a channel that allowed for the propagation of Islam across West Africa.
Now, increasing temperatures and arid land has resulted in lower yields, lower income, and lower population sizes.
Scientists believe that the area could in the future become completely decertified and lost forever.
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