Commentary: Desert shaped by people, or people shaped by desert? Reflections of an Egyptologist
The papers in this wide-ranging collection span four continents and vary in their chronological focus from prehistory to the modern age. However, two broad trends run across them all. The first trend is a consistent highlighting of how humans shape desert environments to suit both socio-economic and ideological or spiritual need. For instance, the articles by Moulin, Boza Cuadros, Stone and Alaica and Gonzalez La Rosa all emphasise how humans have transformed the Peruvian and Bolivian desert into a network of transport routes reflective of both commercial necessity and a desire for access to sites of particular religious significance. Likewise, Bird explains in his paper how people in Western Australia have used rock art and stone arrangements to create a sacred desert landscape that not only relates to their beliefs, but also has implications for practical matters of staking claim to territory. Similar processes have been shown to be at work in Namibia by Breunig, while Roberts et al have further backed up these observations by demonstrating how nomadic populations in Qatar have sought to appropriate the desert on both a level of political ideology, and as a physical environment for pastoralism, commerce and conflict. As an Egyptologist, in this commentary I will be adding my thoughts on comparable phenomena in the Egyptian desert.