Lost Army of Cambyses found in Western Desert?

Rossella Lorenzi has written up a recent discovery in the Western Desert  on the Discovery News website, accompanied by a video and a slideshow.

For those of you who don’t know the story, here’s a very rough synopsis. Cambyses was the son of King Cyrus the Great (or Cyrus II), founder of the Persian Empire and the Achaemenid dynasty When he took the throne on the death of Cyrus Cambyses extended the Empire into Egypt (the Late Period) and attempted to invade Kush but was driven back. Herodotus tells the story of his anger at the refusal of the Oracle of Amun at Siwa oasis to legitimize his claims to rule in Egypt. In 525BC his response to this snub was to send an army of 50,000 soldiers across the desert from Luxor to attack the temple and its priests. But the army never arrived and the story says that during the throes of a massive sand storm they were lost to the desert sands.

The researchers concluded that the traditional view of the army’s route was probably in error and that the army went from Luxor via Kharga out to the Gilf Kebir before heading north through the Great Sand Sea. Their working hypothesis was that where the sand storm hit it would have dispersed the army who would have sought shelter. In areas of shelter they found a set of archaeological remains which matched what they were looking for. They also followed up reports by modern Bedouin of exposed bones found at a specific location, revealed by the wind and they found the remains of hundreds of bleached bones and skulls. The find includes pieces of weaponry, jewellry, a horse bit, and other items dated to the Achaemenid period. Thermoluminescence dating applied to pottery has also confirmed a date consistent with the rule of Cambyses. Geological investigations have found dried water sources which indicate that water would have been available to support the soldiers on the march north from Gilf Kebir.

Oddly there’s no output from Hawass on the subject so far, or none that I have been able to locate so far. There’s a line in the report that says that the team “communicated their finding to the Geological Survey of Egypt and gave the recovered objects to the Egyptian authorities” but heard nothing back. As work carried out in Egypt has to be done under strict rules with permissions in place, and the SCA usually report new discoveries before the mission responsible for the discovery do so this all seems rather peculiar.

The report also says that the Bedouin sold off parts of the find to American tourists, including a sword.

It’s not the first time that the lost army has been searched for or that its possible discovery has been reported. Laszlo Almasy looked for it and failed to locate it, and in 2000 a team from Helwan University believed that they might have found it, represented by well preserved fabrics and pieces of metal weaponry (see for example Archaeology Magazine report).

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