Abstract

An unusually large (∼1 km3) and rapid influx of Nile River sediment in the early 800s (a.d.) resulted in accretion of an extensive strand plain (6 to 15 m thick, 35 km long, and as much as 12 km wide) on the subsiding northeastern Nile Delta margin, Egypt. This event is related to blockage of the Pelusiac branch and breaking through of a new distributary to the west of present-day Port Said, probably representing initiation of the Damietta branch. The sand is of analytically identical age throughout the area and was deposited within less than ∼60 yr, as indicated by 14C and amino acid racemization analyses of Donax shells from a series of cores. Radiocarbon dates, in combination with historical accounts by Al-Jakubi, who found the strand plain already in existence when he visited the area in the late 800s, place this event in the early 800s. Nilometer flood records suggest that the sequence of great floods of 813, 816, and 820 may have been the triggering events. This sudden displacement of sand caused Pelusium, then the principal port and fortified city of the northeastern Nile Delta located at the mouth of the Pelusiac branch, to be cut off from both the Nile and the Mediterranean, and led to its decline and eventual abandonment by the 12th century, when the Crusaders arrived.

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