Archive for the ‘Oasis’ Category

Excavations at Umm Mawagir in Kharga

September 8, 2010

A discovery in Kharga Oasis in the southern Western Desert is expected to shed light on the use of the oasis duirng the First Intermediate and Middle Kingdom periods. The city of Umm Mawagir was occupied throughout these periods but its heyday appears to have been the period between 1650 and 1550 BC when political disruption distrubed the Nile Valley population.  Invasions fo the Delta and southern Egypt confined Phraonic control to an area of Upper Egypt around Luxor.

Together with finds in Dakhleh Oasis the discovery of of Umm Mawagir indicates a much greater level Egyptian influence over the south-western desert at this time than had been previously proposed.

Most importantly the site gives an insight into an important aspect of Egypt’s economy, with particular reference to its trade networks.  John and Deborah Darnell have specialized in investigating the archaeology of  desert roads for more than a decade.  One of their key discoveries was the 100 mile Girga Road which extends from Luxor to Kharga and was clearly a major route, with a number of outposts to provide food and water for people travelling between the two hubs.  The road confirmed that the ancient Egyptians had the ability to provision for this sort of expedition during the Middle Kingdom.

The most important discovery, to date, announced only recently was the bakery that gives Umm Mawagir (which means Mother of Bread Moulds) its name.  As well as nearly half a ton of broken sherds from ceramic baking moulds, two baking ovens were found together with husking and grinding equipment.  Production was clearly on an industrial scale and it si likelty that it was produced to supply the military.

Some ceramics were made of Nubian clays, others on local materials.  Cooking pots associated with teh Medjay, an elite military unit, were discarded at the site and may point to a Medjay presence in Kharga.

Less than half of the 218 acre has has been excavated to date.

See the Yale Alumni Magazine for more on this story, and more about the work of the Darnell with Yale on the Yale Egyptological Institute website.

Western Desert Flora

August 14, 2010

Thanks to Vincent Brown for pointing out this website about the common flora of Egypt’s Western Desert:

Petr Pokorny and Adela Pokorna have put together a terrific resource about the common plants that can be found in the Western Desert and the oases. Here’s an extract from their introduction:

Western Desert is a harsh environment for plant growth. The hot summer (sometimes above 50°C) and the extreme daily temperature fluctuations in winter (from above 30°C in the day to below zero at night) contribute to this. Of course, rainwater is extremely rare item there. Heavier downpour may occur only once in decades. Nevertheless, when it does occur, the rainwater quickly penetrates the permeable sand to a depth beyond the root zone. The seeds of only few plants succeed in germinating under such conditions.

In large tectonic depressions, oases were formed where artesian water reach the surface. Over a long history of human settlement the local biota was severely affected by humans. Inside oases, land was transformed into cultivated fields and orchards. As the result, it is difficult to ascertain what natural vegetation had been there before human interference. After reaching the surface and irrigating agricultural land, the water drains to lowest level of the oasis floor, where it forms pools or lakes. Because of high evaporation, this water becomes highly saline. Wetlands and salt marches that form around pools and lakes are rich in vegetation and, together with cultivated fields and often stabilised sand dunes, are the main features of inhabited land.

In Egypt, about 700 plant species commonly occur. According to the most recent analysis (Boulos 1999 – 2005), the total number of vascular plant species in Egypt is 2075. Substantial part of this diversity is confined to wettest regions – Mediterranean, Sinai Peninsula, and Gebel Elba, a mountain range that supports Acacia woodland. While not counting its northern Mediterranean fringe, Western Desert is the poorest regions in the country in terms of plant diversity.

The photographs are excellent and if you are interested in the flora that you may come across in the Egyptian Desert this is an excellent resource.

Another great resource for both flora and fauna is Andras Zboray’s website, which has some excellent information and lots of photos:

14 tombs discovered in Bahariya oasis

April 15, 2010

14 Graeco-Roman tombs have been found near el-Bawiti in Bahariya Oasis (Western Desert).  The rock cut tombs were found on the construction site of a a youth center.  The discovery was announced on 12th April 2010.

The mummy of a girl or young woman was found.  She measured  97 centimeters in length and was found wearing jewelry which had been covered with painted gypsum, showing her in Roman costume.

As well as the mummies a number of notable objects were discovered including four gypsum face masks, a gold fragment decorated with the four sons of the god Horus, coins, and clay and glass objects.

Authorities believe that the 14 tombs may be indicative of a larger necropolis in the immediate vicinity.

Read more on the Discovery News website (by Rossella Lorenzi).

The Monsters and Critics website has a 5-photograph slideshow, with captions.

Reuters have posted video coverage of the recent discoveries, featuring interviews with key personnel.

Travel restrictions in the Western Desert

March 30, 2010

I stumbled onto a thread on the Sahara Safaris discussion forum this morning which makes for interesting reading.  My Google Alerts picked it up under “Gilf Kebir” but it is more concerned with the desert areas around Bahariya and Farafra, most importantly the White Desert.

I have posted both in the past and more recently about the state of tourism in the Bahariya area, and its impacts on both the desert itself and on the local community. This thread is written by those who are making a living out of running desert safaris from Bahariya and Farafra.  Here’s a summary of what they have been saying.

Apparently next season new rules are to be introduced that will confine foreign tourists to traveling through the desert with licensed tour companies.   The license to operate in the desert will be expensive and must be signed off by the Minister for Tourism.   The thread says that a fine of LE400 will be imposed on any drivers carrying foreign travelers into the deserts.  That’s a hefty 72 US dollars or 48 UKP.  That would be a massive fine for a local driver.

The guys at Sahara Safaris are worried that, if implemented, this will put independent tour operators out of business, killing local enterprise and competition and giving all revenue to the already cash-rich national scale tour operator.  This would leave many oasis dwellers who have invested heavily in four-wheel drive vehicles without income and without any obvious way of paying off their loans.

If this is actually the case, and it remains to be confirmed, this seems to me to be a really dreadful shame.  Egypt has for a long time been encouraging people to seek work outside Cairo.  The development of the New Valley (the crescent of oases from Cairo down to Luxor) was to be the foundation of a new semi rural economic model.  And now that the oasis inhabitants have found a way to make tourism work for them and have used their creativity and enterprise to pull it off, they are having the rug pulled from under them.  And it’s crazy. The people who live in the oases and invest in the local economy will put their wealth back into the local economy by spending and developing their businesses and employing local people.

Obviously nothing is clear cut or straight forward.  Some of the inhabitants of Bahariya miss the peaceful pre-tourism rural days when the streets weren’t buzzing with four-by-fours.  But it’s one thing to fear change and quite another to cut it off with an axe.

The conversation on Sahara Safaris asks the obvious question – why?  Why are these licenses being imposed?  Is it for “security” reasons.  I don’t know the answer but I suspect that it has much to do with criticism about how the White Desert is being managed, the amount of litter that is being left there by tourists and the amount of damage that is being done.   I have often thought that the way to manage tourists in these out of the way places is to impose responsibility on the tour companies.  But I never had a vision of the little guys being put out of business.  I never imagined excluding local people from their own landscape or indeed, their own economy.

And it I’m right about the reasons for imposing the new licenses and excluding local people from taking tours, its both an irony and unfair.  Many of the single-person or family run enterprises are the ones who care for the desert and by running very small tours keep the scale of the tourist problem to a level of managing bites of the elephant.  Bigger tours from Cairo are much less easy to control.

Managing the vandalism, theft, careless damage and littering in the Western Desert is a serious problem and so far no-one has come up with a viable solution. Or if they have, nothing has been implemented.  If this is the implementation of a solution to protect the desert by limiting access only to licensed operators who can offer certain guarantees about managing their tour members then I can see the benefits. And if the cost of the licenses are there to fund desert clean-ups that too I understand (but doubt).  But there is no reason why private oases tour organizers should not be able to offer the same guarantees and be offered a more reasonable fee for the licenses as some recompense for the invasion of their villages and recognition of  their local expertise, creativity and the investment they have already made.

I think that if I was a small tour business working in the oases I would look to my fellow operators and  form something of a collective – a trade association of sorts – with a charter of responsible behaviour and a set of agreements for managing both tourists and the use of the desert. That might be something with which to negotiate.   There is no reason why training on heritage and environmental management and care shouldn’t be arranged by the SCA or the Ministry of Tourism for such a group.

There needs to be a more subtle solution that the one being debated, and it needs to include those who live and work in the oases, not exclude them.  I sincerely hope that matters are not really unfolding as they have been described.

Desert ecotourism – Bahairya and the White Desert

March 20, 2010

Jon Jensen reports on the need to balance tourism with the needs of both environment and community  in an article on the Global Post. about tourism in Egypt’s Bahariya oasis, popular launch pad for visits to the hills around Bahariya and for tours into the remarkable White Desert.   The White Desert is part of Farafra oasis to the south of Bahariya oasis, but Bahariya is much closer to Cairo and has become a center for desert “safaris”.    Jensen says that one third of the 40,000 inhabitants of Bahariya are now employed in tourism.   He adds that 10% of all of Egypt’s tourists head for the deserts.  Desert tourism is becoming increasingly popoular.

An annual clean-up organized in the White Desert by a local tour guide is a terrible reflection on the habits of tourists who leave litter that amounts to tons of waste.

The article says that last year a ticket office was set up and that fixed routes for vehicles were laid down for the protection of the White Desert, but that estimates suggest that only a third of visitors pass through the ticket office and instead use back routes into the area.

This is a perennial problem for the deserts of Egypt.  There are too few measures taken to protect them and some of the tour operators who should know better are adding to the problem.  Local people need the income provided by tourists, but the cost is high to both local communities who are changed forever by the influx, and to the environment which is victimized by the abandonment of rubbish and by the removal of souvenirs – both natural and archaeological.

There are some very attractive photographs accompanying the article.   the one at the top of the page is one of mine from 2002.

Looking for the source of blue pigment

March 18, 2010


In a Washington University in St Louis article Diana Lutz describes how Dr Jennifer Smith has been out in the Dakhleh Oasis (Western Desert) searching for the an uncontaminated sample of the cobalt-bearing mineral that was used to colour the blue pigment used in high quality blue-painted pottery. The pottery is particularly well known from the New Kingdom sites Malqata, Amarna and Deir el Medineh.  Although Smith’s area of expertise is the analysis of climate change on patterns of human occupation, working with the Dakhleh Oasis Project, she was asked to lend a hand on the puzzle of the blue paint by pottery expert Colin Hope who also works for the DOP.

Smith extracted samples from allum mines in Dakhleh, which consist of shafts leading down to galleries where the allum, used for a variety of purposes cold be extracted from veins.   One of the elements was cobalt.  Unfortunately the samples extracted showed low levels of cobalt, although they did contain other elements that were used in the paint.  Smith hypothesises that the cobalt was concentrated on site, but is quite open that her ideas remain speculative at this stage.

There’s a nice photograph of one of the mine shafts and one of the narrow galleries on the above page.

The photograph above is one I took today at the Ashmolean Museum.   It was excavated at Amarna.

The Persian presence at Qasr el-Ghuieta, Egypt

March 17, 2010

I found this paper on the Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies website whilst looking for something else entirely, in case it is of interest to visitors:

The Persian presence at Qasr el-Ghuieta, Egypt
By Eugene Cruz-Uribe
Northern Arizona University

The author puts the temple into its general historical context.  Looking at dating the temple he is able to present a convincing argument that it was built as part of the Darius I presence in Kharga Oasis, using earlier Saite centres to develop trade routes.   Based on comparison with Hibis he suggests that the earliest parts of the temple date to the Saite period.  The Temple of Hibis in Kharga is often described as the only Persian temple in the oases, so this potentially adds a new dimension to discussions about the Persian presence.

The temple is clearly described and the article is accompanied by photographs.

Photo – Burial Goods of Na-Sa

March 8, 2010

Bahariya Oasis has produced a number of Pharaonic period burials.  The burial of Na-Sa II produced a number of gold items, and a photograph of them is shown on the above page.  Items include nail stalls, amulets and some items of jewellry.   I assume that it is from the Valley of the Golden Mummies, because none of the earlier tombs was dedicated to anyone of that name.

Book Review: Mysteries of the Libyan Desert

February 26, 2010

Mysteries of the Libyan Desert
W.J. Harding-King

Originally published in 1925 it is now published as a facsimile edition by Darf Publishers (2003).

The inclusion of the word “mysteries” in the title implies that the contents will be littered with colourful prose highlighting the romance of desert travel, but this is far from the case. Harding-King writes in a modern prose style and although he carries the reader along with him, what he conveys is not a voyage of romance but one of serious enquiry and investigation.

His accounts are rich in detail about both the people he meets and hires, and the places he visits. He begins his travel into the desert from the southern oases – Kharga, Dakhleh and Farafra. The residents are a mixture of fellahin (farmers), bedawin (nomadic Bedouin) and various officials and professionals from the Nile. In these somewhat remote areas the administration was run by officials sent to the oases usually as a punishment for transgressions in Nile-side towns. As a European Hardking-King was something of a curiosity, particularly in Farafra, and received varying degrees of welcome as he sought accommodation, looked for camels for his caravan, and hired for each expedition a desert guide, a translator, a cook, and camel leaders. He introduces the reader to the complex religious beliefs, political ambitions, secrecy and traditions of the Sanussi sect who had zawiya (monasteries) on the edge of the Egyptian dessert in order to make converts of local people. At the time the Sanussi were powerful with national-scale political hopes, and were a force to be reckoned with. They were strongly opposed to European investigations in the desert between Egypt and Libya and caused various problems for Harding-King.

The descriptions of the desert and of the practicalities and risks of travel by camel caravan are excellent. Travel over large distances was often accomplished during the night in order to avoid the heat, and the description of this mesmeric experience alone is exceptional. The journey to map of the desert included numerous surprises involving both the nature of the desert itself and expectations raised by previous visitors.

This is the earliest reference I have seen so far to the “lost oasis” of Zerzura which became such a passionate topic of interest for Egyptian based Europeans between the wars. It was one of the subjects in the many treasure-hunting books beloved of Egyptians at the time. Harding-King was ambivalent about these books. He dismissed their value for locating treasure but was open minded about their potential a guides to old roads and unrecorded oases. The stories, however, of the activities of his men in Farafra digging down into archaeological sites to find the promised treasure, collecting coins and throwing mummies haphazardly to one side are quite simply hair raising!

Life in the oases could clearly be dull over long periods but Harding-King rarely faced tedium. These towns and villages, lying between Egypt and the Sanussi, were frontier places of extortion, sabotage, petty disputes, fanaticism, intrigues, espionage and a never-ending change of key personnel in administrative and professional roles. Harding-King gives several accounts of his own personal experiences of such cases, demonstrating how close to disaster he occasionally came due to the machinations of the Sanussi rather than to the threats and risks imposed by desert travel.

Harding-King’s references to the various characteristics of “natives” may stick in the gullets of some but he is considerably more open-minded by comparison with some of his contemporaries and his occasionally irritable observations are clearly drawn from experience, not blind prejudice.

Harding-King finishes his book with a summary of the results of his expedition, a long chapter on his observations about customs, superstitions and magic (truly riveting stuff), another on natural history (an excellent reference even today) and a set of very useful appendices.

– The geography and winds of the Libyan Deserts
– Insects collected in the Libyan Desert (using Latin nomenclature)
– Rock inscriptions from the Libyan Desert (marks rather than “art”)

100 years later things have of course changed. Harding-King predicted in his preface that cars, “only recently invented”, would eventually become efficient enough to cross the desert, but he regarded this prospect with regret. He called them “prosaic mechanical aids” and observed that “speculation is so full of fascination, that it seems almost a pity that those problems should ever be solved.” Harding-King was headed for Uweinat but never got that far. I’ve been there several times, heading out from Dakhleh as he did, but in vast Toyota Landcruisers armed with GPS and satellite phones. A different world indeed in some ways. But at the same time there is much that hasn’t changed and is still perfectly recognizable in Harding-King’s text. Villages and buildings, cultivated fields and even the people living in the oases are all familiar, and the desert is just as Harding-King described. Many of the customs and traditions remain, and the wildlife that he describes still occupies the desert areas. The archaeological monuments are now protected and the Sanussi have returned to Libya, but so much else remains the same.

There are three good maps, two of which fold out, and there are some good black and white photographs which were taking by Harding-King showing people and places, with explanatory captions.

An index completes the book. Some of the original adverts for other books in the same series are also printed in the book, and some of them are simply mind boggling. It really was an age of exploration but it was also an era where colonialism carried with it some ideas which are simply unacceptable to most modern western minds.

This is a super book, well written, involving and a good resource for both the oases and the desert.

Amheida 2009 report

February 1, 2010
The 2009 field report from Amheida (2009) is now available at the above address.  Amheida is in Dakhleh Oasis (Western Desert). The report is in PDF format, and includes photographs and plans.

Previous reports from the Amheida project are also available at

It is great when excavation projects actually have dedicated websites for those of us who are interested in the area, period or the site. The website is well worth exploring.

The Amheida excavations (and educational programme) are part of the Dakhleh Oasis Project, which has made a  policy of communicating its discoveries – both on the web and in print.   It’s a shame that most projects taking place in Egypt don’t take a leaf out of their book.

SCA response re claim of Lost Army discovery

November 14, 2009

For those of you who would like an official announcement to which to link, the SCA’s official statement regarding the alleged discovery of the Lost Army of Cambyses is now available on Zahi Hawass’s site at .

The statement seems to have confused the discovery of the “lost army” remains (whatever they turn out to be) which were found just south of Siwa with the location of Berenike Panchrysos (not to be confused with Berenice Troglodytica) which in his discussion of Eastern Desert Ware Hans Barnard says has been tentatively identified with Daraheib.  The Castaglioni brothers, who were responsible for the discovery of the alleged lost army site are also assocatied with the discovery of another Egyptian site which was mentioned, most confusingly, in the SCA press release. Some years ago they located a site named Berenike Panchrysos in the Red Sea hills of Nubia (not in Bahrein, south of Siwa). Their findings were published in Castiglioni, A, and Castiglioni, A., Berenice Panchrysos (Deraheib-Allaqi): la “città dell’oro” del Deserto Nubiano Sudanese, Cahiers de Recherches de l’Institut de Papyrologie et d’Égyptologie de Lille 17/2 (1997), 153-162. This Berenike is not to be confused with the better known site on the Egyptian Red Sea coast called Berenike Trodlodytica, which has been investigated under the direction of the University of Delaware and UCLA for many seasons. Photos and a map showing the rough location of Berenike Panchrysos (well worth a look) are available here.

They also published in Egyptian Archaeology in 1994: Castiglioni, Angelo and Castiglioni, Alfredo 1994: Discovering Berneice Panchrysos, Egyptian Archaeology No.4. Egypt Exploration Society.

Previous research did take place in the oasis of Bahrin and this was conducted by Paolo Gallo. He discovered a 30th Dynasty temple dedicated to Nactanebo I (380-361) which dates to a couple of centuries after the death of Cambyses in 522BC. There’s an online report of the discovery on the Middle East Online website:

There was a previous claim that the lost army had been found back in 2000, about which I posted during the week with a link to Archaeology magazine as follows:

The Castaglioni brothers appear to be affiliated with a research centre called the Centro di Ricerche sul Deserto Oriental / CeRDO (Centre for Research in the Eastern Desert) but I couldn’t find a website address for it, or find details of what its purpose actually is. Dario Del Bufalo, who was a member of the team and who also appears on the video talking with some authority about the find, seems to be an expert (if my dodgy Italian is to be believed) on marble and stones of the Roman period.

I’ve read one report that says that the brothers went on a geological expedition to Egypt and that they found the remains more or less in tandem with that project, but rewatching the video about the current claim for the discovery on the army on Discovery News they say that they have been studying a possible route for many years and set out to prove their theory. The video does not claim that they found the main body of the army, but that the army remains to be found and more research is required.

The route from Gilf Kebir to the Great Sand Sea is one that can be accomplished by tourists, with all the permissions for travel in place (I’ve done it myself), so there’s no reason why the team should not have been able to travel this route as tourists albeit with a secondary agenda. This has been done many times before. The fact of the matter is that tourist companies have been using the Lost Army to sell holidays to would-be explorers for years – I’ve seen them and found them rather amusing. See, for example, a story which covers the subject on the Rogue Classicism website (which has some other good comments to make on the subject of the discovery). It is, however, difficult to know how to stop the less responsible people from doing harm to the desert archaeology as tourism in the deserts is on the up, and “desert safaris” are becoming increasingly fashionable.

The Castaglioni brothers brothers are unknown to me and may or may not come into the class of interested amateurs (by which I mean those who have a lot of knowledge but who don’t necessarily have the skills to excavate and interpret what they find). The wisdom of permitting desert investigation by tourists / amateurs has been the topic of much discussion in both Eastern and Western Deserts of Egypt.

Lost Army of Cambyses found in Western Desert?

November 8, 2009

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).

New book: Hibis Temple Project (Kharga oasis)

September 1, 2008

Thanks very much to Eugene Cruz-Uribe for letting me know of his recent publication Hibis Temple Project Vol III, The Graffiti from the Temple Precinct (San Antonio: Van Sicklen, 2008), which deals with the various pictoral and figurative graffiti found in the temple. He says that he includes a substantive chapter on the nature of graffiti in ancient Egypt arguing that rock art and textual graffiti should not be studied separately but together (Chapter 2 of the book).
In 2006 Cruz-Uribe awarded a Fulbright Scholar grant to lecture and research at Egypt’s South Valley University for the 2006-07 academic year, where he was able to explore Egyptian graffiti.

More of Eugene Cruz-Uribes writing on graffiti can be found on the UCL Encyclopedia on the Graffiti (figural) page (Full citation: Cruz-Uribe, Eugene 2008, Graffiti (Figural). In Willeke Wendrich (ed.), UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, Los Angeles.

El-Muzawaka tombs (Dakhleh oasis) restored

March 21, 2008

Nevine El-Aref reports, on the Al Ahram Weekly website, that the El-Muzawaka necropolis in Dakhleh oasis has been restored and will soon be re-opened to the public.   Of the 300 rock-cut tombs only two were painted, those of Petosiris and Sadosiris, and these are distinctive, mixing Egyptian and Roman themes.  These have been the most visited of the tombs and have suffered from humidy leading to damage to the highly coloured paintings.  Closed since 1922 the recent restoration work has been accompanied by a site management plan which includes the building of a small visitor centre.

I was there in 2002 and several of the other rock cut tombs,  of all shapes and sizes, still contained their original occupants – desiccated skeletons denuded of their wrappings, including one of a child.  When I revisted in late 2007 they had been moved.

Siwa – under threat from tourism?

February 18, 2008

An article on Bloomberg by Daniel Williams looks at the threat to Siwa oasis by tourism.  Siwa is a remarkable place and due to the difficulties of actually getting there it has only recently become a focus for tourism.  As well as many Dynastic era sites within the towns and villages (including the temple of the Oracle which Alexander the Great came to consult)  there is a vast prehistoric legacy in the desert areas surrounding the oasis, which has been barely investigated by archaeologists.  Williams focuses on the impact of tourism on the quality of life for the Siwan inhabitants.    Over 15,000 visitors a year now visit Siwa, resulting in souvenir shops, donkey-taxis, motorbikes and vast new construction works.  The author says that, at the time of writing, there are 770 hotel rooms in an oasis barely 70km square.  Ouch. The proposed conversion of a nearby military airport into something suitable for tourism is a real concern.  Siwa is changing for good.

Tourist trash (3 tons of it) in the White Desert

November 5, 2007
This article  by Andrew Stelzer in the Seattle Times made me feel very cold. The White Desert is a remarkable place and I was only talking with a group of people the other day about the benefits or otherwise that tourism would have in terms of its total impact on the oases in the vicinity of the White Desert and on the White Desert itself.
Stelzer was part of a week-long operation to clean up the White Desert.  After arriving from Cairo he and his colleagues settled into the task.  One of his paragraphs is worth quoting in full:
“The next day, a six-hour van ride brought us into a vast sea of sand, seemingly empty except for its curious eruptions of white rock, scattered around like so many Martian toys. A twisted pillar over here, a giant mushroom shape over there. Surely, some speculated, people who come to this place must be environmental types. They wouldn’t be chucking a lot of litter everywhere.
Two days later, we compared notes on some of the junk we’d found buried in the sand. The most unusual was definitely the fishing twine, but also on the list were a couple pairs of pants, one Birkenstock, a set of plastic silverware, a broken watch, a few used condoms and a toothbrush.
My finds: lots of cans and bottles, including some that once contained British pear cider, several packs of cheese from Greenland, a bunch of cigarette cartons (“Cleopatra” being the favored brand in Egypt) and an endless stream of toilet paper.”
Stelzer says that 80,000 people visit the White Desert annually. They come to see the marvellous white limestone shapes that sprout out of the desert floor, and they leave their trash behind to deface it.  Three tons of it.  Three tons!
Three tons of rubbish was far more horrific than I had speculated upon. There have often been critical comments about the way in which Egypt manages her heritage, but here we have a case of the boot being firmly on the other foot, and it dismays me utterly that as visitors any of us should treat this very special place with such disrespect.
And it is being cleaned up by the locals.  Work parties composed of well meaning outsiders is a good gesture, but the real burden falls on those who live in the oasis towns and villages.  It’s a disgrace that tourists should behave in this way.  Although the White Desert is, in theory, a protected zone in Egypt, there are insufficient resources to make this matter although Stelzer says that a tour guide training course significantly improved the management of tourists and their unpleasent habits.  As both a tour guide and a tourist I am truly ashamed of the way in which tourists behave.

Studies of rock art in Dakhleh Oasis

October 3, 2007

Nauka w Polsce

“The creators of rock drawings in Dakhla were shepherds. They lived about 8 – 5,000 years ago” – said Prof. Michał Kobusiewicz from the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology at the Polish Academy of Sciences, who is studying the relicts of human presence in Dakhla Oasis in Egypt. The oasis is located in the middle of the Western Desert. It is known among others due to numerous rock engravings – depicting women, giraffes and elephants. Full of life in ancient times, today the dry valleys of the river (“wadi” in Arabic) are a witness of the past, and are the subject of interest to researchers.

What do we know about the authors of these ancient engravings? Archaeologists have located numerous settlements from the Stone Age located in the area of water sources, which were numerous at the time. “These are concentrations of stone and flint articles, fragments of pottery, quern stones used to grind plant food, bones from farm or hunted animals. Sometimes there are also traces of primitive dwellings in the shape of stone circles, which are the basis of huts or tents covered with skins” – the professor explains.

Prof. Kobusiewicz, besides research on the settlements is also taking part in recording the rock art. One of the wadi, named by archaeologists “Coloured Wadi” is studied by the professor. “The Wadi is over a dozen kilometres long. Rock engravings, largely in groups, though sometimes alone, are located on its sandy slopes. Last season, the picture and photographic documentation was continued and previously found engravings were copied onto foils” – the archaeologist explained.

See the above page for more details and a photograph of one of the rock art scenes. Click on the thumbnail image to see a slightly larger photograph, which shows the painted details with greater clarity.

Rock art in Dakhleh Oasis

February 2, 2007

Serwis Nauka w Polsce has reported on its English language archaeology page that rock art dating to between 8000 and 5000 years ago has been the subject of recent research by Michael Kobusiewicz from the Polish Academy of Sciences, and a veteran of Predynastic studies in Egypt.   He has been studying the prehistoric settlement of Dakhleh oasis andin spite of the difficulties involved in tying in rock art and other archaeological data  has been looking at the rock art as part of the prehistoric landscape.  He places the rock art, tentatively, in the Neolithic, but accepts that there are problems with the dating of these scenes.

There’s a single small photograph on the above page, but it is highly distinctive and well worth a look.

Rock art discoveries in Dakhleh Oasis

September 21, 2005

There is a report on the website (in Spanish) that describes ho investigtations in Dakhleh Oasis have discovered a set of prehistoric images in the rocks in the Al Akhbar style. The scenes apparently show women in long skirts and men holding staffs/poles which are guiding a group of giraffes. What is more, the scientists found the remains of a shark. It is belived that in the Dakhleh oasis, 400km to the west of Luxor, there was a vast lake. The images found from the Neolithic indicate that elephant, buffalo and ostrichs may have lived around the lake.

This is by no means that first discovery of rock art in Dakhleh.  Kharga, Dakhleh and Farafra oases are all well endowed with rock art.  Research in Bahariya is in its early stages at the moment but I haven’t heard of any discoveries coming from there to date.