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Digital Subscriptions > Outdoor Swimmer > September 2018 > IN THE VALLEY OF THE KINGS

IN THE VALLEY OF THE KINGS

When Egyptian marathon swimmers ruled the waves in the mid-twentieth century. By Elaine K Howley

SWIMMING HISTORY

Sometime prior to 6,000 BCE, maybe even as early as 13,000 BCE, red ochre images began appearing on the walls of a cave at Gilf Kebir, a sandstone plateau 400 miles west of the Nile River near the Egyptian-Libyan border. The images – which were made famous by Hungarian explorer László Almásy, who stumbled upon them in 1932 while searching for the lost city of Zerzura – seemed to depict something extraordinary for the location: people swimming.

Moored as the cave was in the middle of an arid plain, these images posed a significant mystery. Why would a desert-bound people have depicted swimming in their cave art? How could they possibly know what swimming was, and if they didn’t have direct experience of swimming, what did the cave drawings mean? Plus, how old are they? The dry, wind-swept conditions have both preserved and eroded the drawings, making them difficult to date accurately.

Almásy, whose adventures served as inspiration for Michael Ondaatje’s historical novel “The English Patient” and the movie that followed, postulated, a bit ahead of his time, that the drawings illustrated a concept the world is only now beginning to understand: climate change. Almásy suggested that when the drawings had been made thousands of years before, that part of the Saharan desert was actually a lush oasis, dotted with pools and lakes, and residents likely knew the wonders of swimming quite well.

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About Outdoor Swimmer

A growing number of endurance athletes are swimming for good rather than glory. Perhaps the most prominent of these is Lewis Pugh, UN Patron of the Oceans. We were privileged to join him on a leg of his Long Swim of the length of the English Channel, which he is undertaking to raise awareness of the plastic in our oceans. Elsewhere in the magazine we bust some more technique myths, visit the Galapagos Islands and the Peak District, test the latest outdoor gear for swimming adventures and meet the writers of best-selling book The Salt Path.