The Lost Grand Canyon of Egypt: Another Monument to an Ancient Earth

The Grand Canyon is one of the best-know geological formations on earth.  Today I want to introduce you to another canyon you have probably never heard of.   I call this canyon the lost grand canyon of Egypt.  Through a series of four posts I will introduce you to this amazing canyon and demonstrate that it rivals the Grand Canyon, not only in size but as a monument to the great age of this amazing planet we call earth.

We will see that straightforward, simple reading of the physical evidence of earth’s geology and geography when combined with the descriptions in scriptures produces a clear picture of the history of Egypt that is incompatible with a young earth interpretation of history.

A lost grand canyon?

Black Canyon of the Gunnison River in Colorado. Image credit: Molas at English Wikipedia - Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by Leoboudv using CommonsHelper.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison River in Colorado. This canyon is carved into hard granite rock.   Image credit: Molas at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by Leoboudv using CommonsHelper.

There are many canyons carved into rock that capture our imagination drawing us to gaze into their spectacular depths.  For example the Yellowstone river has carved out a magnificent canyon in Yellowstone National Park and the Black Canyon of the Gunnison River in Colorado has sheer walls that drop from rim to canyon floor more than 2000 feet in places.

Canyons make us feel insignificant because of their immensity much like peering into space on a dark night far from the lights of the city. They also force most who look at them to ponder their creation.  No canyon captures these feelings more than the Grand Canyon in Arizona.   That canyon has been visited by hundreds of millions and its origins have been explored in many books.  You can read all about this amazing canyon and what it can teach us about geological history of the Earth in a new book that I authored several chapters for here:  The Grand Canyon: Magnificent Witness to Earth’s History.

Today, however, I want to introduce you to another canyon that equals if not exceeds the size of the Grand Canyon and I believe has a compelling story to tell.  This amazing canyon can be found in northeastern Africa running through the countries of Egypt and Sudan.

Wait a minute, you say. I’ve never heard of this huge canyon!  Egypt is a just a desert with river running through it.  True enough but there is a canyon equivalent to the size of the Grand Canyon in Egypt.

Where is this huge canyon?  No one travels to the Nile Valley to marvel at the great majestic canyon.  All that is seen today is a wide flat valley running north for hundreds of miles. This lost canyon lies below the Nile River.  We could call it a fossil canyon because the remains of the canyon are preserved under thousands of feet of sediments.

A recent book on the Grand Canyon in Arizona with chapters contributed by myself. Click for link to Amazon.

A recent book on the Grand Canyon in Arizona with chapters contributed by myself. Click for link to Amazon.

The discovery of the Nile Valley canyon

The story of this canyon begins in the 1960s as the Aswan Dam in southern Egypt was in the initial design stages.  To prepare for the massive dam engineers wanted to know where the bedrock is below the river that they could establish the foundation for the dam.  They drilled into the Nile River valley and discovered to their surprise that rather than hitting bedrock quickly as they expected they had to drill down more 800 feet in some places before hitting bedrock.  By doing multiple cores across the river valley they were able to establish a cross-section of what was a massive canyon buried below the Nile River.

Cross section of the Nile Valley at the Aswan Dam. Figure from:

Cross section of the Nile Valley at the Aswan Dam. Figure from: Chumakov, I. S. (1973), Pliocene and Pleistocene deposits of the Nile valley in Nubia and upper Egypt, Initial Rep. Deep Sea Drill. Proj., 13, 1242-1243.

This led to additional geological surveys up and down the Nile Valley.  Those surveys demonstrated that the entire Nile Valley is underlain by a deep canyon which is carved mostly into hard granite bedrock.   Toward the mouth of the Nile River north of Cairo the valley reaches depths similar to that of the Grand Canyon in Arizona. As one travels south – or upstream on the Nile – the canyon becomes less entrenched. At the Aswan Dam, 630 miles south of the mouth of the Nile, the canyon was 800 feet deep and further south in Sudan it is even more shallow.

Today the Nile Valley is defined by rocky ridges that represent the original canyon edges.  Had you stood on the top of these flat-topped layers of rock and looked into Nile Valley long ago it could have looked like the Grand Canyon does today though maybe it would have been more like a very wide version of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison since more of the canyon would be carved into granite than sedimentary rock than the Grand Canyon.

How big was this ancient canyon?

If you were extract all of the sedimentary rock that has filled in this canyon – some 200 trillion cubic meters!* –  you would be left with a canyon stretching more than 1000 miles from Nile’s exit to the Mediterranean Sea all the way to the southern border of Sudan.  For hundreds of miles in Egypt the width and depth of the canyon would have been similar to that of the Grand Canyon.  In total this canyon would have been a longer version of the Grand Canyon.

There is no doubt that the Nile Valley canyon existed but how was it created and when?

Canyons are formed by the erosive force of water eating away at rock.  But for erosion into rock to continue the eroded rock has to find a place to be deposited.  If you did not know about this canyon before you will likely find the existence of this canyon perplexing?  After all, how could a canyon be formed 6000 feet below Cairo when Cairo is only 244 feet above sea level?   How could a steep-walled canyon be eroded in granite below sea level?  Even at the Aswan Dam 630 miles south of the canyon outlet the canyon reaches more than 600 feet below sea level.

Many questions are raised by the existence of this buried canyon in Egypt.  How could such a canyon from below sea level?  How old is this Grand Canyon of the Nile Valley? How can this canyon and its formation be understood in Biblical chronology?  Can the Nile Valley canyon be explained by Noah’s Flood?  All of these are question we will address in a series of posts.

We will turn to the first question of how the canyon could form below sea level in the next installment of this series:  The Lost Grand Canyon of Egypt: Origins of the Nile Valley Canyon.

* Calculation of total sediments in Nile Valley canyon:   Rushdi Said, “The Geological evolution of the River Nile,” in Fred Wendorf and Anthony E. Marks, Editors “Problems in Prehistory: North Africa and the Levant,” (Dallas: Southern Methodist University, 1975), pp 7-44, p. 15.

One "gooseneck" at Goosenecks of the San Juan Sate Park in Utah. Mid-afternoon late July 2013

Cover image:  One “gooseneck” at Goosenecks of the San Juan Sate Park in Utah. Mid-afternoon late July 2013.  Image:  Joel Duff

 

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