Archive for the ‘Eastern Desert’ Category

Unified law on dealing with desert lands

August 8, 2010

The Egypt State Information Service has released a statement about the management of its deserts.  To be honest, even after reading it several times I am not much the wiser about what it is setting out to achieve, but I assume that it is a project that sets out to balance the needs of industry (mining and hunting for oil, for example), tourism (desert safaris and the problems and benefits associated), development of the deserts as the long planned “new valley” and, one sincerely hopes, heritage management.

Dr. Ahmed Nazif Prime Minister assigned eleven ministries including agriculture and land reclamation, tourism, trade and industry, housing and finance the mission of sorting out laws on dealing with the desert lands owned by the State and to propose a unified law on the use of desert land, in implementation of President Mubarak assignments for making the best use of those lands.

The assignments included the incorporation of similar laws and define the contradicting ones to avoid in the unified law.

The Prime Minister gave the end of this year as a deadline to have the unified law on desert lands according to the proposed funds.

Journal: Sahara, July 2010

July 13, 2010


Contents of volume 21 (published July 2010), 240 pages, 459 black and white illustrations, 46 colour plates. Abstracts are available for the Papers.


Steven E. Sidebotham and Iwona Zych
Berenike: Archaeological fieldwork at a Ptolemaic-Roman port on the Red Sea coast of Egypt 2008-2010

Malika Hachid, Jean-Loïc Le Quellec, Safia Agsous, Ali Amara, Lucile Beck, Frédérique Duquesnoy, Michel Grenet, Abdelkader Heddouche, Evelyne Kaltnecker, Norbert Mercier, Souhila Merzoug, Anita Quiles, Hocine Sahnoun, Hélène Valladas, Daniel Vigears, avec la collaboration de C. Gauthier et Frank Bassinot
Premiers résultats du projet algéro-français de datation directe et indirecte des images rupestres dans la Tasili-n-Ajjer

Savino di Lernia, Marina Gallinaro and Andrea Zerboni
UNESCO World Heritage Site vandalised. Report on damages to Acacus rock art (SW Libya)

Mohssine El Graoui, Youssef Bokbot, Högne Jungner et Susan Searight-Martinet
Datation radiocarbone sur des ossements mis au jour dans un tumulus à l’Adrar n’Zerzem, Oued Eç-çayad, région de Taghjijt (Sud marocain)

Alec Campbell and David Coulson
Big Hippo Site, Oued Afar, Algeria

Victoria Waldock
The Taleschout Hippos: An enigmatic site in the Messak Settafet, southwest Libya

Giancarlo Negro and Massimo Cammelli
The flint quarries of Wadi El Sheikh (Eastern Desert of Egypt)

Azhari Mustafa Sadig
Neolithic Settlement Patterns and Cultural Sequence of Nubia (Northern Sudan)

Alain Rodrigue
Le domaine rupestre de Taghjijt (Maroc)


Documenti rupestri / Documents of rock art / Documents rupestres

Aldo Boccazzi, Donatella Calati e Adriana Scarpa Falce
Tcherughé, un sito rappresentativo dell’arte rupestre pastorale del Tibesti orientale

Gianna Giannelli e Fabio Maestrucci
Cacciatori di elefanti: il riparo di Ihetsen (Tassili-n-Ajjer settentrionale, Algeria)

Bernard Fouilleux, Moussa Machar et Sarmi Machar
Quelques images inédites de la Tassili-n-Ajjer. Traits culturels de la population “Tête Ronde” : défenses de phacochères et bovidés masqués.

Bernard Fouilleux
Un animal énigmatique chez les «Têtes Rondes» (Tassili-n-Ajjer,Algérie)

Flavio Cambieri and Maria Emilia Peroschi
Report on new rock art sites in the area of Jebel Uweinat, Eastern Sahara

Victoria Waldock, Mohamed Ali Suliman and Pier Paolo Rossi
Horse, Hartebeest or Hybrid? A puzzling engraving in the Acacus

András Zboray and Mark Borda
Some recent results of the survey of Jebel Uweinat

Mark Borda
Observations concerning new rock art sites at Gebel Arkenu and comparisons with Uweinat

Documenti preistorici /Prehistoric documents /Documents préhistoriques

Jean-Pierre Duhard et Tamara Glazyrina
Statuette humaine en pierre dure provenant d’El Khatt (Mauritanie)

Alessandro Menardi Noguera, Paolo Carmignoto, Nicoletta Contavalli and Ettore Grugni
The stone lines of Upper Wadi Mashi (Gilf Kebir, Egypt)

Monumenti preislamici / Pre-Islamic Monuments / Monuments préislamiques

Maria Emilia Peroschi and Flavio Cambieri
Noteworthy stone structures and monoliths recently found in Wadi Abd el-Malik (Gilf Kebir, Egypt)

Mark Milburn
Three sojourns in the West Sahara

Scritture / Writings / Écritures

Werner Pichler
The Latino-Canarian rock inscriptions – a short review of the latest history of research and interpretation

Dibattiti / Debates / Débats

Tony Judd
“Lancer” petroglyphs at Egyptian temples and in the Eastern Desert

Jean-Loïc Le Quellec
Fac quod dico, non quod facio

Ahmed Achrati
Womanhood without the Bull: Venus of Laussel, Inanna, and the Lady of Tin Tilizaghen

Friedrich Berger
A Paradise off Rules? – A different view

Online: Bir Abu Safa, Eastern Desert

June 13, 2010

New York University

A Water Temple at Bir Abu Safa (Eastern Desert)
By Steve E. Sidebotham, Gabriel T. Mikhail, James A. Harrell and Roger S. Bagnall.

I found this, as usual, whilst looking for something else. This paper about a very unusual rock-carved temple in the southern Eastern Desert (very broadly on a level with Aswan, in a wadi linking to the Red Sea coast).

Colloquium Notes: The Signs of Which Times?

June 9, 2010

Colloquium notes: The Signs of Which Times?

The Signs of Which Times? Chronological and Palaeoenvironmental Issues in the Rock Art of Northern Africa
Palais des Academies, Rue Ducale, Brussels
3rd, 4th and 5th June 2010
Colloquium introduction by Dirk Huyge and Francis Van Noten
Colloquium programme
Colloquium abstracts

Apologies that these notes haven’t been posted sooner but I wanted to add some links for those who weren’t familiar with the speakers or subjects. Unfortunately I haven’t added as many links as I would have liked but I wanted to post these notes in a timely manner.


The Signs of Which Times was organized by Dirk Huyge and Francis Van Noten under the auspices of the Royal Academy of Overseas Sciences. Its scope, the rock art of the entire Saharan region, attracted a mixture of some of the most illustrious names in rock art research together with those who have just completed or are just completing their research at post-graduate level.

As its name implies, the colloquium was intended to address the issues of chronology and environment in rock art studies. It is perhaps worth stating my own reasons for attending the colloquium. Although rock art is not one of my primary interests I would very much like to use it as a dataset integrated with other archaeological datasets because rock art is present in several of my research regions, an ambition which is fairly impossible at the moment (due to lack of absolute dates with which it can be tied into other archaeological data). I am also seriously interested in how research into localized manifestations of climate change, in the form of geographically discrete environmental conditions, would open up an understanding of when and how people would have been able to move through and use the Saharan landscape.

Around one third of the papers were in French, as were the following discussions. As speakers were allocated 15 minutes rather than the usual 20 minutes many decided to ensure delivery of all the information by speaking very quickly – I was fine when this was done in English but struggled hopelessly with machine-gun French, because my French is terribly rusty. Fortunately most of the other delegates were either bi-lingual or impressively multi-lingual so I was in a small and somewhat irrelevant minority. Moral of the story: if you want to engage in North African rock art studies either as a serious research topic or as a serious hobby you really need to speak French, which is probably the lingua franca of rock art in North Africa. This is absolutely not a complaint. It is, however, very important to take note of the obvious caveat that my following review is a somewhat lopsided one. I am making generalizations about a colloquium in which there were some lectures where I only had a superficial understanding of the main points of the presentation.

If anyone who attended wants to make any corrections please feel free!

Much of the research presented was preliminary, and as a formal Proceedings of the colloquium is planned I have not given any detailed summaries of the papers presented. The following is an overview of some of the themes and trends revealed by the colloquium. I will give details of the Proceedings and when its publication is planned when I know more myself.

Conference Overview

Each paper was allocated 15 minutes, and at the end of each session there was a half hour discussion period which was well used.

The colloquium was opened by Paul Bahn who discussed the history of rock art studies in north Africa, and raised the problem of modern vandalism to rock art sites. Although there are some big names in north African rock art they tend to be known mainly amongst other north African archaeologists. Paul Bahn is something of a poster boy for rock art so his opening address was a good way of reinforcing the profile of Saharan rock art research.

If I could go back in time and add a wish list item to the introductory lectures, I think that I would have found it of considerable use to have had a summary of the current state of rock art research in North Africa, as a logical follow-on to Paul Bahn’s lecture. There have been many suggested and detailed chronologies for rock art sequences in the Sahara and it would have been good to have had these in the back of the mind for contextual purposes. It has to be said, of course, that everyone else at the colloquium was probably already fully aware of these!

There were, as at all conferences, strong papers, weaker papers and four no-shows including Savino di Lernia, Selima Ikram, Ahmed Skounti and John Darnell (Darnell’s and Skounti ‘s PowerPoint’s were presented by others who were also presenting their own research). I was particularly sad that Di Lernia was absent because his paper had the potential of uniting some of the more disparate data, and I have read so many of his papers that it would have been good to hear him in person.

The main approaches in the papers presented focused on the creation of relative chronological sequences of rock art, of which there were six methods discussed: superimposition, animal types, (e.g. savanna or domesticated), human activities (e.g. hunting or herding), patination/varnish, stylistic composition and weathering. Nearby archaeological remains were also referenced. The value of micro-erosion techniques was discussed but was largely rejected as a valid method. In other words, many of the presentations were concerned with identifying reliable ways of putting different rock art scenes in relative sequences using one or more techniques. The resulting sequences are relative, meaning that they suggest which styles are older than others but cannot fit them into a calendrical (absolute) sequence. It is the inability of rock art research to date rock art which isolates it so thoroughly from other datasets and keeps it at a stage which is almost equivalent to the culture-history approach of the 1950s and 1960s where, in the absence of scientific dating methods, archaeology was dedicated to the building and, where possible, the cross-referencing of relative sequences. When radiocarbon dating was invented, and calibrated using tree ring data, it became clear many sequences were too short or too long, and were often placed in the wrong periods as a result for the belief that ideas diffused from more advanced cultures. It may well be found that rock art chronologies will experience similar revisions in the future. Unfortunately, most of the rock art regions being discussed at the colloquium were too far apart from each other for conversations about cross-referencing of sequences to be possible.

Susan Searight’s short presentation highlighted many of the problems with relative dating techniques, but there were many promising approaches presented over the three days. Examples of presentations looking at local relative sequences include Maria Guagnin’s use of patination and palaeolake data in Libya, Andras Zboray‘s use of superimposition and weathering in the southwest Western Desert of Egypt, Joachim Soler i Subils’s presentation about new work in the western Sahara (click here for an earlier paper), Per Storemyr‘s use of varnish to assess geometric rock art in the region of the First Nile Cataract, Lauren Lippiello and Maria Gatto’s use of style, patination, palaeoclimate and superimposition at Khor Abu Subeira South (Aswan) and Francis Lankester’s use of stylistic comparisons with Nile iconography to develop a chronolgy of boat engravings in the Eastern Desert of Egypt. As a result of many of these presentations it seems clear that the value of varnish/patina as a way of dating rock art is highly variable and completely dependent upon localized conditions. Where used it is clear that a very sound research design is required. Dirk Huyge, Heiko Riemer and Karin Kindermann all made use of surrounding archaeological data (pottery and lithics) to attempt to refine dates for nearby rock art. The strongest proposals were those where a number of different types of method were available to the researcher.

As well as relative sequences the potential value of scientific applications to the dating problem were discussed. Dirk Huyge presented the results of luminescence (OSL) and radiocarbon dating on rock art at Qurta. Qurta has lovely naturalistic rock art sometimes picked out in bas relief – you can read about it and see some of the images here and here. The main technique used, luminescence dating, measures the time when light last reached a deposit. The technique was used on the sediments sealing engraved rock art which had been concealed by hill-slope deposits. The dates from the layers beneath the upper deposits span a period which gives a terminus ante quem (time before which) for the rock art. Although the dates span a wide period for each of the sealed layers tested they area all squarely located in the Pleistocene (late Palaeolithic) and possibly at least 15,000 years old. The results seem to be confirmed by radiocarbon dates taken on microfaunal remains from another engraving at the same levels from which the OSL (Optically Stimulated Luminescence) dates were taken. They confirm again the Pleistocene age of the rock art. The circumstantial arguments that the team advanced in their Antiquity article are therefore now supplemented with real proof. These dates are also consistent with the surrounding archaeology which has produced no artefacts more recent than the Palaeolithic, and the art itself which shows animals which were more consistent with Pleistocene rather than Holocene conditions. There were no challenges to either the techniques employed or the dates themselves, in spite of the presence of the team’s OSL specialist who was on hand to answer any questions. Susan Searight says that scientific dating is soon to be tested on a rock art panel in Morocco. Sadly, Joachim Soler i Subils reported that radiocarbon tests in the western Sahara were unsuccessful.

One of the key strengths of the colloquium, which was the sheer vastness of its geographical scope, was also a minor difficulty common to most gatherings of this type. The work being carried out across the Sahara has very different histories. Some areas have been studied for many decades, whilst others are in the very earliest stages of exploration. Some areas have, as Susan Searight put it, good archaeological data with no rock art whilst others have good rock art data with very little archaeological excavation in the vicinity. Some sites were in the western Sahara, some in Libya, others in Egypt, all of which have very different climatic, geological and geomorphological influences at play. An excellent summary of eastern Saharan climatic and environmental conditions by Stefan Kroepelin was unmatched by anything equivalent for central and western regions. There were only two lectures which attempted to define similarities and differences over broad areas of the Sahara to address the idea of possible linkages amongst groups who could have moved over 100s of kilometres. Most of the research presented was, as you would expect, very localized. This was inevitable but it also highlighted how fragmented the state of knowledge about the use of the Sahara by the rock art painters actually is.

Much of the colloquium was devoted to presenting new field work findings, and these papers were truly fascinating. I was particularly struck by the uphill struggle facing the Universitat de Girona team in the western Sahara. Not only is their rock art quite unlike that of any other project’s, but the lithic assemblages retrieved in the vicinity don’t fit into any existing scheme. This really is life on the starting blocks. At the other end of the scale the work in the Gilf Kebir has been going on for decades but new discoveries have now been made by the ACACIA group in the vicinity of the Wadi Sura, and by Andras Zboray throughout that area and are being slotted into the bigger existing framework of knowledge about the region.

The colloquium was less useful on the subject of delivering new information about the past environment. Most of the speakers were using palaeoenvironment as a way to assist with dating. There were few examples where the environment was the main subject against which the rock art was set. As mentioned above, Stefan Kroepelin’s excellent presentation on eastern Saharan climate and environment was an exception, providing a good overview of the environmental conditions based partly on a palaeolake sequence from Wadi Bakht in the Gilf Kebir (south west Egypt), and promising new and very detailed results from lake cores from Ounianga (Chad) in the future. I was hoping that the colloquium would attract other climate specialists working with archaeologists so that the latest palaeoenvironmental research from other areas of the Sahara could be discussed, but these were lacking which was a real shame. Di Lernia has done a considerable amount of work trying to tie in archaeology with environmental change so it was a particular regret that he failed to attend. Andrea Zerboni’s presentation of research taking place in the Tadrat Acacus and Messak Settafet (Libyan central Sahara) explained how geological and environmental data are being used together to improve an understanding of Holocene climate change and how these are being used for dating. I would have been interested to hear much more about the lake data. Hopefully more information about this piece of work will be revealed in the Proceedings.

Apart from Tilman Lenssen-Erz‘s paper looking at art production as epistemic regulation in a sociological system in Ennedi using costly signalling theory, Stan Hendrickx’s discussion of Early Dynastic iconography and John Darnell’s suggested sequence of development from art through iconography to hieroglyphs there was little attempt to interpret any of the rock art discussed. This is completely in keeping with the scope of the colloquium which did not have interpretation in its brief.

One of the horror stories revealed by a number of presentations at the colloquium, highlighted by Paul Bahn in the opening lecture and later reinforced dramatically by other members of the colloquium, was the amount of deliberate damage to rock art sites that has been inflicted. This raised the important issue of the conflicting interests of conservation and risk management whilst allowing the public to have access to the sites. The examples presented by Paul Bahn of rock art which has been painted out by someone as revenge for being fired by a tour company, and by Stan Hendrickx of the deliberate destruction of the Naq el Hamdulab royal scene made people gasp out loud. Fortunately photographs taken by Egyptian archaeologist Labib Habachi (whose biography I am currently reading) and stored in Chicago House in Luxor have recorded the Naq el Hamdula scenes. This highlights how important it is to record rock art before either accidental or deliberate damage occurs.

In the light of this it was particularly good that several presentations looked at ways in which rock art is being recorded for posterity using a number of different techniques. For example, Frank Forster’s presentation of the work being carried out at the Mestekawi-Foggini cave (which the ACACIA team refer to as Wadi Sura II) uses 3D laser scanning, digital photogrammetry, and non-destructive investigation of pigments as part of a series of techniques used to record the cave. At Hierakonpolis the threat of quarrying, graffiti and vandalism has made recording existing rock art important, and Fred Hardtke presented his work in this field, using a portable set up involving a camera on an extendable pole linked to a laptop to enable out -of-reach rock art to be photographed.

I was immensely impressed with the way in which different teams are willing to work together. This was particularly highlighted when discussions on the south-western area of the Western Desert of Egypt came up (four of the papers). Heiko Riemer and Andras Zboray referred to each other’s work, and Andras Zboray and Stefan Kroepelin operated an accomplished double-act when answering questions about the environmental context of Zboray’s proposed chronology. The enthusiasm, mutual respect and humour which came over during these discussions made the bad old days of academic one-upmanship seem offensively sterile by comparison. It was also good to get a sense of team members working together. In Algerian rock art research three members of the CNRPAH team delivered a paper together and two Dirk Huyge’s Qurta team were on hand to ask questions about luminescence dating and fauna. Although the cost of traveling to foreign venues is naturally prohibitive these two cases illustrated the value of having multiple team members on hand to contribute to papers and discussions. The half hour coffee breaks and the hour and a half lunch breaks gave everyone the opportunity to mingle and to discuss both their own research interests and those of others. British politicians could learn so much from this 🙂


Every researcher, in contributing localized sequences right across the Sahara, provided more pieces of a vast puzzle.

Only when the chronological and environmental sequences are aligned will researchers begin to see trends across the Sahara in chronological terms. And only when more detailed palaeoenvironmental studies are carried out will the prehistoric occupation of the Sahara be understood in terms of its natural context. It probably remains for innovations in scientific dating techniques to develop reliable methods for tying in rock art with the much greater corpus of archaeological data which can be tied into a calendrical rather than relative sequence.

The colloquium was a great opportunity for multiple research teams and individual researchers to come together and discuss both specific problems and general ideas and issues. The formal discussion periods and the informal breaks offered great opportunities for these discussions to flourish, and my impression was that this was of immense value to those attending.

I learned an enormous amount and look forward to the publication of the Proceedings. Speedy publication will depend on the ability of contributors to submit their papers in a timely manner, but hopefully there will be an update about a planned publication date before too long.

My thanks

My thanks to Dirk Huyge, Francis Van Noten and the Royal Academy of Overseas Sciences for the colloquium as a whole.

The moderators of each session should be congratulated for keeping everyone to their allotted 15 minute slots (a nightmare job done with subtlety, skill and humour).

Particular thanks to all of the contributors for keeping the audience so thoroughly engaged with each topic, and for having worked so hard to present their research so concisely.

Gilf Kebir

This is slightly off topic, but it was mentioned at the colloquium that Karin Kinderman (she of Djara cave for those of you who follow prehistoric archaeology in Egypt) is now heading up a Gilf Kebir National Park project. It was the first official news I had heard that the Gilf was going to become a national park and I have absolutely no other information on the subject. I will try to find out more, so watch this space.

For those of you have visited the Mestekawi-Foggini cave and wondered how far the paintings go beneath the level of the sand (as I have done many times!) the answer, following excavations, is 1.2m below the surface. Unfortunately a small trial excavation and a core sunk into the sand down to 3.5m revealed no archaeological remains.


The venue was ideal in many ways. The Palais des Academies itself was being renovated but signs directed delegates to the building next door where a room had been filled with chairs and where a large projector screen and a podium had been set up. The weather in Brussels was seethingly hot, and although the room became rather sticky towards the end of the final sessions, it never became unbearable and it easily fitted the number of delegates available – around 100 of us, I would guess. A vast and airy hall was used to serve hot and cold drinks and wonderful lunches. The entire event went without either technical or organizational hitches. As the weather was stunningly good and the building was next to the pretty Parc de Bruxelles complete with wooded areas, open grass and fountains, it was great to be able to stretch the legs and soak up the sun on breaks.

Travel Notes

It was a distinct bonus that the colloquium was on the route of the Eurostar. The Eurostar lacks frills and, during school Half Term in the UK, was full of families changing at Lille to go to Disneyland and Paris. But it knocked the socks off chewing one’s fingernails over volcanoes and strikes and messing around with getting to an airport, hanging around prior to and following check in, and removing half one’s clothing at the security checks – all for a ridiculously short flight. The train from St Pancras (easily accessible by tube and bus from anywhere in London) took 2 hours and whilst seriously lacking anything remotely resembling finesse it was completely fuss-free. NB – if you travel by Eurostar from St Pancras get your money before you go through passport control because there is no Bureau de Change in the departure lounge. We took a taxi when we arrived in Bruxelles Midi but with hindsight we could have taken the tube because it was only four stops from our hotel, the inexpensive but excellent Hotel Chambord at Porte De Namur, which was a five minute walk from the colloquium venue.

Two examples of ostrich with head, neck, legs and tail but no body,
something which was discussed at the colloquium. One of the
suggestions was that the body had been defined with
material other than paint – for example with feathers
fixed into the space. There’s no way of testing this at
the moment but it is a fascinating thought. Click to see
the bigger image (Mestekawi-Foggini / Wadi Sura II cave).

More useful links

ACACIA Arid Climate Adaptation and Cultural Innovation in Africa
Bradshaw Foundation
Carlo Bergmann’s Discoveries
Climate Research Unit
Fezzan Rock Art Project
IFRAO Rock Art Glossary
International Federation of Rock Art Organizations (IFRAO)
International Newsletter on Rock Art
Libyan Desert Rock Art
Nekhen News (Hierakonpolis)
Rock inscriptions at El Hosh, Egypt
Sahara Journal
Stonewatch World-Wide Rock Art
Tassili n’Ajjer
Theban Desert Road Project
UNE -Dating Rock Art

[The photographs used in this post are mine,
apart from the satellite photograph.
All rock art photos are from western Gilf Kebir]

Eastern Desert dung

April 26, 2010

The Journal of Arid Environments has an upcoming article in its July 2010 edition about the important Sodmein Cave and Tree Shelter sits in Egypt’s Eastern Desert.  The Abstract of the article indicates that the article is an overview of the article for ovicaprids from the two sites – the earliest evidence for domesticated sheep and goat in Egypt.

The article is:  Sites with Holocene dung deposits in the Eastern Desert of Egypt: Visited by herders? by V. Linseele, E. Marinova, W. Van Neer,   and P.M. Vermeersch.

It is available for purchase at the above address.

Photographs of Wadi Hammamat by Su Bayfield

April 24, 2010

Su Bayfield has posted a number of photographs of inscriptions and views of the Wadi Hammamat on Flickr.

The Wadi Hammamat is a fabulous canvas of inscriptions from the prehistoric period onwards. From the prehistoric period there are images of hunting and herding. Later images, thought from similar ties to Naqada pottery to be Predynastic, include elaborate boats and figures. Pharaonic inscriptions include commemorative texts by the overseers of quarrying work and by those traveling along the route from the Nile to the Red Sea. In modern times Bedouin still leave tribal marks. The engravings stand out so well because a dark patina overlies a much lighter rock. When the patina is pierced the lighter rock stands out clearly against the dark brown surface.

Su’s photos capture a bit of everything – as well as the rock carvings (including one of my favourites, showing Thoth in his baboon form) and demotic and Greek inscriptions, she has shown the abandoned sarcophagus which had been carved in situ. Anyone who has been bored to the point of madness by my Western Desert photos, all golds and oranges, will be struck by the steely grey of the high desert of the Red Sea Hills.

There are two modern survey works dealing with the Eastern Desert petroglyphs, both out of print, and a very recent publication by Tony Judd – Rock Art of the Eastern Desert of Egypt Content, Comparisons, Dating and Significance (British Archaeological Reports International Series – BARI S2008). The book is based on Tony’s PhD.

Su’s Egyptian Monuments site is a great resource it is always good to see her adding more photographs of Egypt, wherever she stores them.

Armchair guide to Coptic religion

March 3, 2010

Egypt has begun to restore historic Coptic buildings in urban, rural and desert.  The completion of restoration work at the 1,600-year-old St Anthony’s Monastery, the world’s oldest Christian monastery (located in the Eastern Desert) was unveiled in early February this year by Zahi Hawass.  The 9-year project cost $14.5 million.  During the restoration the oldest known Coptic monk’s cell was discovered under St. Anthony’s Church,  dating to 400 AD.  The announcement of the restoration followed Egypt’s worst incident of sectarian violence in over 10 years when a shooting on a church on Orthodox Christmas Eve killed seven people.  Egypt has been criticized about its handling of the tensions between the Muslim majority and the Christian minority.  The restoration of the Coptic heritage is seen as one of the ways in which Egypt can perhaps address some of the grievances of the Egyptian Copts.

In the light of the recent articles about Coptic heritage management, I thought that it might be useful to provide a swift summary of Coptic history.  This is a ridiculous simplification of the history of the Coptic religion, but as I add articles about the occupation of desert areas by monastic Copts from the Graeco-Roman period onwards I thought it might be useful for some readers who aren’t familiar with the Coptic religion to have a bit of background, even one as sweeping with this!

The word Copt is an English word taken from the Arabic Qibt or Qypt, which simply means Egyptian.  The Egyptian Church was a part of mainstream Christianity until theological differences divided it from the Byzantine authorities.  The visit of the Holy Family is seen as a key event in the development of belief, because the 3 years  and 11 months that they spent in Egypt conferred on the country the status of Holy Land, and a number of points along the Nile are now places of pilgrimage. However, St Mark the Evangelist is usually given formal credit for establishing the Coptic Church during the 1st Century AD.  It is thought that St Mark was probably martyred during one of the phases of Roman persecution – one tradition says that he was killed by worshippers of Serapis.

The Coptic religion appears to have originated in Alexandria but it is unclear when it spread beyond Alexandria.  There is evidence that it reached the Faiyum depression by the 2nd Century, in the form of the Rylands Papyrus 457 (New Testament fragment) and it seems clear that it took off in the Nile at least by the beginning of the 4th Century.

After St Mark the first well known name in Coptic history is St Demetrius, Bishop of Alexandria 189-232.  Coptic religion spread under his influence with 3 bishoprics in the Nile Valley, and 20 under his successor Heracles.  A number of key figures formalized the Coptic religion within Christianity, and Alexandria became second only to Rome in terms of theological thinking and influence.  In 180 the School of Alexandria was established –  a community of teacher sand scholars that attracted a number of thinkers who later became famous.  Dionysious of Alexandria was one of these and was partially responsible for calculating the date of Easter.

During the 3rd century the rise of Christianity was seen as a threat by the Roman Empire and a series of persecutions began, with the worse early persecutions taking place under Septimus Severus in 202 and Decius and Valerian following him.  One response to threats in the third century by persecuted Christian individuals was to retreat into the desert lands to adopt one of two lifestyles – Hermitic or anchronitic.  Both established communal worship in settlements.  Fluctuations in their fate followed, with edicts for and against them.  The Edict of Milan issued by Constantine I in 313 ushered in a new era, permitting Christians to worship.

The best known of the early Coptic anchorites was St Anthony withdrew from society not to escape persecution but to lead a religious life consistent with his beliefs who became the first of the Desert Fathers.  He was impelled to return to a state of purity and to become closer to nature, denying possessions and acquisitive behaviour.  His period of withdrawal from solitude c.305 to teach and guide his disciples formed the foundations of anchoritic monasticism.  Young monks lived in a secluded but self contained monastery with an older role model to guide them.  Unlike St Antony, St Paul did withdraw to the Eastern Desert in response to the Decian persecutions but took up the life of solitary contemplation when he did so.

There were two forms of monasticism – Anchortic and Cenobitic.  Anchoritic monasteries all worked to a formula.  Each had an senior person to guide others, each had a church (later more than one), and as they were self-sufficient they required workshops, refectories, a well and walls and fortifications.  Fortifications were required to prevent, or at lest deter, the desert-living bedouin who regarded all other desert occupants and travellers as fair game.  In the 320s and 330s other monasteries were established in the Wadi Natrun and Nitria, which became famous.  Some were established near urban areas to enable monks to sell produce. Some were located in former Pharaonic settlements.  They were successful enough to survive the Arab conquest.

Cenobitic monasticism was established by Pachonius who was a pagan from Esna who converted to Christianity whilst in the army, which he joined in 312. He began as an anchorite but then established a community at Tabennisi which focused on routine, rules, communal activities, and sought to balance hard work with prayer and solitude with communal work. There was great emphasis on helping the needy. 9 monasteries were established for men and 2 for women (one of which was run by his sister).  It was very successful, with 1000s of monks by the year 400, but it was not to survive the Arab conquest.

Theological issues began to ruffle feathers in all camps in the early 4th century.  In the fourth century the Bishop of Alexandria, Alexander and the theologian Arius disagreed over the nature of Jesus Christ.  Alexander though that Christ was both human and divine (Christ as Logos) with the two co-existant whereas Arius thought that Christ was created by God but not equal with him, and that the view held by Alexander meant that there was more than one god.  The argument didn’t go away even after a council ruling against Arius.

After his death, Alexander’s deputy Athanasius became bishop and took up the cause, preaching that God was fully one with Christ (cosubstantial).  This was opposed by Asian bishops who saw the two natures of Christ as separated.  The Nicene Orthodoxy which he supported was rubber stamped by a council in 381, which further stated that the Holy Trinity was formed of a single entity, but three persons.  Patriarch Cyril and the Patriarch of Constantinople Nastarius disputed the nature of Mary.  Nestarius refused to refer to Mary as the Mother of God on the grounds that this caused confusion about the divine nature of Christ.  Cyril supported the term because he felt that Christ’s human nature could not be separated from his divinity. Eventually the Council of Chalcedon ruled that there were two sides to Christ, a fact that was denied by some of the Egyptian Copts who were termed Monophysites. No absolute resolution was ever reached, and Copts were again persecuted but this time by other Christian factions.

Christianity became the Eastern Roman Empire state religion in 391. The tables were turned for the pagans in 391 when Theodosius I outlawed paganism.  Unfortunately, the Christians behaved much as the pagans had before them.  The temple of Serapis in Alexandria was destroyed, pagans were persecuted and lynched and the Jews were expelled in 412.  Patriarch Cyril became very powerful.  The Church was organized into episcopates which were in turn divided into dioceses and parishes, with the bishops in charge recruited from wealthy families.  Recruitment from monasteries more or less established celibacy for bishops by stealth.

The Arab invasion was not resisted by Copts because the Islamic invaders gave Copts the freedom to practise their religion.  There were mixed fortunes under Islam for the Copts, with periods of stability and persecution. One of the more subtle persecutions involved a tax called the djazaa which was obligatory only for non-muslims, and on which the state budget depended. During times of drought, many Copts were forced to convert to Islam

The language of the Copts was demotic. It is written using mostly the Greek alphabet and is still used in their Church liturgy.  It is probably best known amongst those interested in Ancient Egypt as being present on the Rosetta stone.  By the 15th century, due to persecution and restrictions, it had ceased to be used as a spoken language.

St Anthony's

Colloquium: Chronological and Palaeo- environmental Issues in the Rock Art of Northern Africa

March 1, 2010

The Royal Academy for Overseas Sciences is pleased to invite you to the International Colloquium

The Signs of Which Times? Chronological and Palaeoenvironmental Issues in the Rock Art of Northern Africa
3rd, 4th and 5th June, 2010
Paleis der Academiën — Palais des Académies
Hertogsstraat 1 — rue Ducale 1
1000 Brussels

No website address at the moment

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Welcome Address
Bettie VANHOUDT, President of the Royal Academy for Overseas
Sciences (10 min.)

Francis VAN NOTEN, Member of the Royal Academy for Overseas
Sciences (10 min.)

State-of-The-Art Lectures

Paul G. BAHN (Hull, England) – North Africa’s Place in Rock Art Research (20 min.)

Stefan KRÖPELIN (University of Cologne, Germany) – North-African palaeoclimatology and palaeoenvironment


15.30 Joaquim SOLER I SUBILS (Universitat de Girona, Spain) – The Age and the Natural Context of the Western Saharan Rock-Art

Christian DUPUY (Université Tous Ages, France) – Les trois époques de réalisation des gravures rupestres de l’Adrar des Iforas (Mali)

Renate HECKENDORF (Germany) – Dating South-Moroccan Rock Art: Problems and Possibilities

Abdelkhalek LEMJIDI (Institut National des Sciences de l’Archéologie et du Patrimoine, Maroc) & El Mahfoud ASMHRI (Institut Royal de la Culture Amazighe, Maroc) – Les contraintes de classifications chronologiques de l’art rupestre marocain

16.30 Discussion
17.00 End

Friday, June 4, 2010

9.00 Susan SEARIGHT-MARTINET (England) – Holocene Rock Art in Morocco: Hard Facts and Hopeful Hypotheses

Ahmed SKOUNTI (Institut National des Sciences de l’Archéologie et du Patrmoine,Morocco), Daniela ZAMPETTI (Università di Roma “La Sapienza”, Italy); Naïma OULMAKKI (Institut National des Sciences de l’Archéologie et du Patrimoine, Maroc), Rosanna PONTI (CRETA, Italy), Alessandra BRAVIN (CRETA, Italy), Kamal TAJEDINNE, Marrakech University, Morocco), El Mustapha NAMI (Ministry of Culture, Morocco) & Franca PERSIA (National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Environment, Italy) – Rock Art and Archaeology of Ifran-n-Taska, Eastern Jbel Bani, Morocco: First Results of a Moroccan-Italian Research Programme

Abdeslam MIKDAD (Institut National des Sciences de l’Archéologie et du Patrimoine, Maroc) Quelques aspects de l’art pariétal et mobilier préhistorique de la région du Rif oriental (Maroc)

Barbara BARICH (Università di Roma “La Sapienza”, Italy) – The Perceived Environment: Some Clues from Rock-Art Works

10.00 Discussion

Savino DI LERNIA (Italian-Libyan Archaeological Mission in the Acacus and Messak, Università di Roma “La Sapienza”, Italy) – Chronology, Archaeology and Rock Art in the Sahara. An Endless Challenge

Yves GAUTHIER (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, France) – L’apport des monuments funéraires à la question des datations et de la chronologie de l’art rupestre du Sahara central

Malika HACHID (Projet franco-algérien de Datations directes de l’Art rupestre saharien, Algérie) & Jean-Loïc LE QUELLEC (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, France) – Un projet de datation directe et indirecte des images rupestres du Tassili des Ajjer, de l’Ahaggar et de l’Atlas saharien (Algérie)

Tillman LENSSEN-ERZ (Institute of Prehistoric Archaeology, University of Cologne, Germany) – Adaptation or Aesthetic Alleviation? Pastoralist Responses to Saharan Aridification

12.00 Discussion
12.30 LUNCH

14.00 Jan RAYMAEKERS & Francis VAN NOTEN (Belgium) – A Stone Stela from the Ténéré

Maria GUAGNIN (University of Edinburgh, England) – From Savanna to Desert. Animal Engravings and the Changing Prehistoric Environment of the Wadi al-Hayat, Libyan Sahara

Axel & Anne-Michelle VAN ALBADA (Arzens, France) – Eléments intéressant la chronologie relative des gravures rupestres du Plateau du Messak au Fezzan (Libye)

Daniella ZAMPETTI (Università di Roma “La Sapienza”, Italy) – Chronological and Environmental Data on Some North-African Rock Art Contexts

15.00 Discussion

16.00 Andrea ZERBONI (Università degli Studi di Milano and C.N.R.- I.D.P.A. & Italian-Libyan Archaeological Mission in the Acacus and Messak, Italy) – Rock Art from the Tadrart Acacus and Messak Settafet (Central Sahara, Libya): Geoarchaeological, Palaeoenvironmental, and Chronological Issues

Frank FÖRSTER & Rudolph KUPER (University of Cologne, Germany) – Dating the Rock art of the Wadi Sura II Shelter, Gilf Kebir (SWEgypt): Problems and Perspectives

Heiko RIEMER (University of Cologne, Germany) – Rock Art and Habitation Sites in their Landscape. Archaeological Survey at Wadi Sura, Gilf Kebir (SW Egypt)

Andras ZBORAY (Hungary) – A Proposed Absolute Chronology for the Rock Art of the Central Libyan Desert

16.30 Discussion
17.00 End

Saturday, June 5, 2010

9.00 Salima IKRAM (Department of Egyptology, American University in Cairo, Egypt) – Real or Ideal: Rock Art as a Reflection of the Environment of Egypt’s Western Desert

Erich CLAßEN (Bavarian State Department for Monuments and Sites, Germany), Andreas PASTOORS (Neanderthal Museum Foundation, Germany), Karin KINDERMANN (Gilf Kebir National Park, Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency, Nature Conservation Sector, Egypt) & Heiko RIEMER (University of Cologne, Germany) – Chronological and Palaeoenvironmental Aspects of Djara’s Rock Art (Egypt)

Dirk HUYGE (Royal Museums of Art and History, Belgium) – The Late Pleistocene Rock Art of Qurta in an African Chronological Perspective

Dimitri VANDENBERGHE (Department of Geology and Soil Science, Ghent University, Belgium), Morgan DE DAPPER (Department of Geography, Ghent University, Belgium), Dirk HUYGE (Royal Museums of Art and History, Belgium), Florias MEES (Royal Museum for Central Africa, Belgium), Gilles VELGHE (Department of Geology and Soil Science, Ghent University, Belgium) & Jan KUČERA (Nuclear Physics Institute, Czech Republic) – A Minimum Age for the Qurta Rock Art (Upper Egypt) through Luminescence Dating of its Sediment-Cover

Per STOREMYR (Conservation Science Consulting, Switzerland) – Attempts at Relative Dating of the Geometric Rock Art by the First Nile Cataract

10.15 Discussion

11.15 Maria Carmela GATTO & Lauren LIPPIELLO (Yale University, USA) – Intra-Site Chronology and Palaeoenvironmental Reconstruction at Khor Abu Subeira South (Aswan, Egypt)

Stan HENDRICKX (Provinciale Hogeschool Limburg, Belgium), John C. DARNELL, Maria Carmela GATTO & Merel EYCKERMAN (Yale University, USA) – Rock Art and Early Dynastic Iconography at Naq’ el-Hamdulab (Aswan, Egypt)

John C. DARNELL (Yale University, USA) – From Rock Art to Rock Inscriptions in Upper Egypt

Fred HARDTKE (Macquarie University, Australia) – Rock Art around Settlements: the Boats and Fauna at Hierakonpolis, Egypt

Francis LANKESTER (University of Durham, United Kingdom) – Dating the Petroglyphs of the Egyptian Central Eastern Desert

12.30 Discussion
13.00 Conclusion

Dirk HUYGE, Member of the Royal Academy for Overseas Sciences (15 min.)


Restoration: St Anthony’s Monastery

February 11, 2010
Yahoo! News

Egypt’s antiquities chief on Thursday unveiled the completion of an 8-year, $14.5 million restoration of the world’s oldest Christian monastery, touting it as a sign of Christian-Muslim coexistence.

The announcement at the 1,600-year-old St. Anthony’s Monastery came a month after Egypt’s worst incident of sectarian violence in over a decade, when a shooting on a church on Orthodox Christmas Eve killed seven people.

The attack raised heavy criticism of the Egyptian government abroad and at home, by critics who say it has not done enough to address tensions between the country’s Muslim majority and its Christian population, estimated at 10 percent of the 79 million population.

The government insists the shooting was a purely criminal act with no sectarian motives, and officials persistently deny the existence of significant Muslim-Christian frictions.

Top archaeologist Zahi Hawass took the opportunity to reiterate that stance as he showed journalists the work at St. Anthony’s, an ancient compound at the foot of the desert mountains near Egypt’s Red Sea coast.

African Press Agency

The Secretary General of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities, Zahi Hawas revealed on Thursday the discovery of the oldest Coptic antique under St. Anthony’s Church, ( a cell for monks ) dating back to 400 AD with paintings in the ancient Coptic language, at the oldest monastery in the world.

The discovery was made at the completion of a comprehensive restoration and rehabilitation of St. Anthony’s Monastery, situated in Zafarana, about 100 kilometres south-east of Cairo, near Egypt’s Red Sea coast. The renovation lasted nine years and cost 80 million Egyptian pounds ($14.5 million).

Experts say the restoration and discovery of the cells for the monks sheds important light on the early years of monasticism and bolsters the country’s long monastic tradition.

They added that it unveils a missing part of the history of Christianity in Egypt since there is nothing written about the beginning of the monastery.

Inside, we restored all of the icons and paintings, as well as the architecture of the church. The most impressive thing, though, was that underneath this church, we discovered the oldest Coptic cell in the world. It dates to the 4th century AD, and the areas where the monks would stand and sit are still visible. Our restoration experts constructed a plexiglass floor over this cell, which allows visitors to view this old cell while still preserving the 6th century structure above.

Another building that was very well restored is the dining hall, which contains a long dining table made of limestone, with space for about 60 people to sit around it and eat. There is also a space for a person to sit and recite religious texts. The restoration work here kept the feel of the past, and I could imagine it was like the dining of the Middle Ages.

The Monastery of Saint Anthony also has a fortress that dates to the reign of the Roman emperor Justinian, in the 4th century AD. This area was used to protect the monastery from the attacks it suffered through its long history. The monastery also has a well that provides over 100 cubic meters of water, a water wheel, a grinding area, and a garden.

The landscape of this monastery is beautiful, and many scholars come to study the architecture of this place. During our restoration, we removed several buildings that did not fit with the original design of the monastery and restored over 110 cells.

New Book: Rock Art of the Eastern Desert of Egypt

January 13, 2010

BAR International Series, Archaeopress

I am delighted to report that Tony Judd’s book “Rock Art of the Eastern Desert of Egypt” has been released by BAR. Based on work completed for PhD this is a comprehensive overview of the Eastern Desert’s engravings. Please note that the summary from the Archaeopress website seems to confuse this book with one focused on North America (I have informed Tony of the confusion). Instead, here’s a short extract from the Abstract from the book itself:

Data that have recently become available on the petroglyhs of the Eastern Desert of Egypt are collated and analysed in detail. Images of wild animals, domestic animals, anthropoids and boats, together with geometric pattersns, are classified and assessed by statistical means to rech conclusions about the preferences of the artsits in terms of subject matter, style, context and geographical distribution.

New Book: The Red Land (Eastern Desert)

December 26, 2008

A new book about the Eastern Desert.

The Red Land. The Illustrated Archaeology of Egypt’s Eastern Desert
Steven E. Sidebotham, Martin Hense, Hendrikje M. Nouwens
448 pp. Hardbound
6.75″ x 9.5″
The American University in Cairo Press, 2008
ISBN 978 977 416 094 3

Bir Umm Fawakhir Project, January 1992

February 7, 2007

The short report entitled Bir umm Fawakhir Project, January 1992 originally appeared in The Oriental Institute News and Notes, No. 136, Winter 1992, and is now available on the Oriental Institute Website.  The author is Terry G. Wilfong.

The project consisted of a twelve day preliminary survey of a Byzantine settlement site in the Eastern Desert, sponsored by the Oriental Institute and directed by Carol Meyer.

Bir Umm Fawakhir was a remarkably extensive settlement on the site of a Graeco-Roman goldmine  located on a route mid way between Luxor and the Red Sea along the Wadi Hammamat.

The site was quite well known prior to the survey but had never been properly investigated.

There are some excellent diagrams on the site.

Since 1992 a lot more work has taken place to clarify the nature and extent of the site.  If you’re interested in the site I aggregated much of the data available in late 2006 at the following address:

An oasis of art in the Egyptian Desert

September 30, 2006

This article on the University of Illinois website describes how Douglas Brewer visited the Egyptian Desert and found not 100s but 1000s of rock art sites.  In fact, Winkler in the 1800s had already done the research by camel that confirmed that fact – and if he hadn’t then the Mike and Maggie Morrow’s Desert RATS (Rock Art Topographical Survey) and David Rohl’s ISIS certainly did.  The presence of boat engravings has been known since Winkler’s days and probably before but these are raised in this article as if the puzzle of boats in the desert is something new.

Brewer was struck by the similarity between the rock art of the Eastern Desert and images which appear in the Nile on pottery and in tombs and in this piece he questions whether there were two separate groups operating in the two environments or whether there were closer ties.

On a complete aside, there’s a lovely story about the excavation of an annoying “speed bump” at the end of the article.

Sahara Journal, June 2006

June 12, 2006

The contents page of Sahara Journal, Volume 17 (published June 2006) includes a number of articles relevant to Northeast African rock art studies. The abstracts are available on the site, but the full articles are available only in print.  Have a look at the above page for all the articles, but I’ve isolated the Egyptian ones here.

John A. Seeger, Steven E. Sidebotham, James A. Harrell and Michel Pons
A brief Archaeological Survey of the Aqiq region (Red Sea Coast), Sudan

Ashten R. Warfe
Reconsidering the argument for an early Holocene pottery tradition in Dakhleh Oasis, central Western Desert, Egypt

James A. Harrell and Mohamed I. Madbouly
An ancient quarry for siliceous sandstone at Wadi Abu Aggag (Egypt)

Tony Judd
Problem petroglyphs of the Eastern Desert of Egypt: Are they wild asses?

András Zboray
A shelter with paintings of the «Uweinat roundhead» style in upper Karkur Talh (Jebel Uweinat)

Book Review: Rock Art Topographical Survey

March 24, 2004

The book Desert Rats: The Rock Art Topographical Survey in Egypt’s Eastern Desert is a catalogue of rock art engravings found in Egypt’s central part of the Eastern Desert edited by Mike and Maggie Morrow with a Foreward by Toby Wilkinson.

Ancient Egypt Magazine posted a short review of the book in March 2004.   The review thinks positively of the book, drawing particular attention to the individual comments made by the surveyors about particular sites.

Book Review: Gifts of the Desert

August 19, 2003

Ancient Egypt Magazine has reviewed Gifts of the Desert, a volume of papers looking at the archaeology of both Eastern and Western Deserts edited by Renee Friedman.  Renee Friedman is probably best known as the site director of the important Predynastic site Hierakonpolis.  The papers in the book clarify and expand upon a series of papers given at a colloquium in London’s British Museum.

The review is positive but warns readers that the book makes assumptions about levels of knowledge that not all readers may have.  On the other hand, the review suggests, the papers are written in a digestible way and offer an insight into a world which is only just beginning to unfold.

UNESCO status report on Eastern Desert wadis

June 12, 2003

UNESCO have an online report in their Tentative Lists section about the significance and status of three of the wadis of Egypt’s Eastern Desert at:

The wadis in question are Wadi Qena Eastern Desert, Red Sea Governorate, Wadi Gemal Eastern Desert, Red Sea Governorate and Wadi Allaqi Eastern Desert, Aswan Governorate.  The presence of archaeological remains from a number of different periods are highlighted in the report, and preservation of the natural environment of the wadis will assist with the preservation of any archaeology that survives.

Book Review: Genesis of the Pharaohs

June 6, 2003

Ancient Egypt Magazine has published a short review of Toby Wilkinson’s Genesis of the Pharaohs, a book which looks amongst other things at the relationship between inhabitants of the Nile Valley and those using the Eastern Desert during the development of power centres in the Predynastic period.  The book has been criticized by many academics but Ancient Egypt Magazine gives it a very positive review.

To put the above review into some sort of context, Wilkinson made several trips into the Eastern Desert  to look at rock engravings, but the book has been critised in the past due to the relatively lax academic standards that it has used to discuss such a popular topic.   A notable review was David Wengrow’s negative response to the book which was published in the journal Antiquity and is freely available on their website. It is perhaps possible to defend it on the grounds that it was written for a popular audience rather than an academic one, but it still difficult to accept some of the logical inconsistencies and the generalizations occasionally made on the basis of unique or rare artefacts.