Archive for the ‘Western Desert’ 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:

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.

Restrictions and new rules on travel to Gilf Kebir

August 5, 2010

Horizons Unlimited

There is a discussion on the above forum at the moment about travel restrictions and additional regulations for travel to the Gilf Kebir area. I know some of those participating in the conversation, and it looks as though the restrictions may be applied, so if you’re planning a trip to the area it may be worth investigating further.

Egypt’s new desert battle – landmines in the Western Desert

August 3, 2010

You Tube – Al Jazeera (Ayman Moyheldin)

I’ve posted about this before on my Egyptian Deserts blog, linking to several other stories. This is the area where the battle of el-Alamein was fought.

Video. 3.33 minutes.

An estimated 16 million landmines and unexploded munitions from World War II continue to maim thousands of local herders in the northern town of el-Alamein in Egypt.

The landmines pose not only a humanitarian hazard, but remain a huge obstacle to the economic development of Egypt’s coast which is believed to be rich in oil and gas reserves and potentially lucrative tourism destinations.

The Egyptian government says that de-mining the el-Alamein battlefields alone could cost $20 billon.

Al Jazeera’s Ayman Moyheldin reports.

Gebel Kamil Crater analysed

July 18, 2010

Ogle Earth

With photos.

Researchers scouring Google Earth for impact craters have discovered a new one in Egypt, National Geographic reports. Dubbed the Kamil Crater, it is small but very special, because it really is new, in geological terms — just a few thousand years old. So new, in fact, that the elements have not yet been able to erode the ejecta rays. On site, the researchers have been able to collect thousands of space rocks.

These findings were published just yesterday in the journal Science. The full text article requires a subscription, but the supporting online material does not. This material includes satellite images of the crater that contain coordinate information.

See above page for Google Earth photos and links to the Science article and the supporting material.

National Geographic

With photo.

A small impact crater discovered in the Egyptian desert could change estimates for impact hazards to our planet, according to a new study.

One of the best preserved craters yet found on Earth, the Kamil crater was initially discovered in February during a survey of satellite images on Google Earth. Researchers think the crater formed within the past couple thousand years.

The Italian-Egyptian team that found the crater in pictures recently visited and studied the 147-foot-wide (45-meter-wide), 52-foot-deep (16-meter-deep) hole. The team also collected thousands of pieces of the space rock that littered the surrounding desert.

Based on their calculations, the team thinks that a 4.2-foot-wide (1.3-meter-wide) solid iron meteor weighing 2,267 to 4,535 pounds (5,000 to 10,000 kilograms) smashed into the desert—nearly intact—at speeds exceeding 2.1 miles (3.5 kilometers) a second.

There are no hard numbers for how many meteors this size might currently be on a collision course with Earth, but scientists think the potential threats could be in the tens of thousands.

Current impact models state that iron meteors around this size and mass should break into smaller chunks before impact. (Related: “Comet ‘Shower’ Killed Ice Age Mammals?”)

Instead, the existence of the newfound crater implies that up to 35 percent of these iron giants may actually survive whole—and thus have greater destructive power.

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

The race to acquire meteorites

July 7, 2010

New Scientist (Laura Margottini)

THE bottle had gone and Mario Di Martino had a sick feeling that their secret was out. It was early 2010: he and his team were staring down into the Kamil crater in the Egyptian desert, miles from the nearest settlement.

Just a year before, Di Martino of the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics in Turin, Italy, and colleagues had written their names on paper, placed it inside an empty bottle and thrown it into the crater. The reason? They were the first team to visit the site of a huge meteorite impact 5000 years ago. Few craters on Earth are so perfectly preserved. “We realised we were in front of a true rarity,” recalls Di Martino. The team’s analysis of the fragments they collected will appear in the 13 August issue of Science (see “Lunar crater here on Earth”).

Though the meteorites were still there, ominously the bottle had disappeared. “Unequivocally, somebody had entered the site,” says Di Martino. A few months later, samples of the Gebel Kamil meteorite – its official name – began to turn up at a market in France and online. The team was dismayed: the fragments disappearing into private hands meant vital information, such as the size of the meteorite that carved the crater, would be lost forever.

It is not the first time science has lost out to the burgeoning global trade in meteorites, which stretches from the bustling souks of Morocco to eBay. Meteorite researchers are racing private buyers to buy up these rare space rocks, and even helping dealers to identify fragments in exchange for samples. Yet participating in the trade helps to fuel it, and a small proportion of the meteorites for sale may have been snatched illegally from their country of origin. Should scientists collaborate with space rock vendors?

The global trade in meteorites has escalated in the last 20 years, largely because amateur hunters in North Africa have cottoned on to the fact that the rocks are there for the taking, because they are clearly visible on the bare desert surface (see map).

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]

New rock art research at Gilf Kebir

May 26, 2010


Archaeologists are studying prehistoric rock drawings discovered in a remote cave in 2002, including dancing figures and strange headless beasts, as they seek new clues about the rise of Egyptian civilisation.

Amateur explorers stumbled across the cave, which includes 5,000 images painted or engraved into stone, in the vast, empty desert near Egypt’s southwest border with Libya and Sudan.

Rudolph Kuper, a German archaeologist, said the detail depicted in the “Cave of the Beasts” indicate the site is at least 8,000 years old, likely the work of hunter-gatherers whose descendants may have been among the early settlers of the then-swampy and inhospitable Nile Valley.

The cave is 10 km (6 miles) from the “Cave of the Swimmers” romanticised in the film the “English Patient”, but with far more, and better preserved, images.

By studying the sandstone cave and other nearby sites, the archaeologists are trying to build a timeline to compare the culture and technologies of the peoples who inhabited the area.

Heritage Key (Sean Williams)

Prehistoric cave painters in the Sahara Desert gave rise to ancient Egyptian civilisation, according to a German archaeological team. The paintings in a caves in Gilf Kebir, a vast sandstone plateau near the Egyptian-Libyan border, may be over 400 miles from the River Nile. But the team claims it was once a thriving community which later spread east to create Egypt’s famous cities and landmarks.

The plateau, a Martian landscape the size of Switzerland, is home to two famous caves, the ‘Cave of the Swimmers’ and the ‘Cave of the Beasts’ – Watch our amazing video of the caves and their paintings here. The former was discovered by Hungarian explorer László Almásy and immortalised in the novel and Academy Award-winning movie The English Patient. But it is the latter which the team believe could unlock the secrets of how ancient Egypt began.

Rudolf Kuper, of Köln’s Heinrich Barth Institute, believes the Cave of the Beasts’ detail dates it back around 8,000 years. He claims its artists’ descendents would eventually emigrate to the Nile Valley to create pharaonic Egypt. “It is the most amazing cave … in North Africa and Egypt,” German expert Karin Kindermann tells AP. “You take a piece of the puzzle and see where it could fit. This is an important piece.”

New Book: Swimmers in the Sand

April 22, 2010

From Miroslav Bárta

Swimmers in the Sand. On the Neolithic Origins of Ancient Egyptian Mythology and Symbolism

ISBN 978-80-87025-26-0, 112 pages
Publisher: Dryada: Prague
Publication date: April 2010
Author: Miroslav Bárta, photographs Martin Frouz

I couldn’t find this on any of the usual online retailers but perhaps it is not available just yet. I for one am interested in getting hold of this title so if anyone finds it available online please let me know.

The origins of ancient Egyptian civilisation have been attracting the attention of archaeologist ever since the beginnings of Egyptology more than 200 years ago. This book presents a new and original interpretation of the rock art in Egyptian Western Desert which is of a key importance for our understanding of the roots of ancient Egyptian civilisation. Indeed, her very origins can be most likely dated to the 6th millennium B.C. In this time and the centuries to follow the paintings in the Cave of the Swimmers known from a blockbuster English Patient and in the Cave of Beasts discovered only few years ago were created. These caves are located in a distant and hardly accessible part of Egypt, on the border of Egypt, Libya and Sudan.

The rock-art preserved in these caves features several unique motifs that will become cornerstone of ancient Egyptian iconography and mythology. Among them may be named the motif of the sky goddess and the earth god, prototypic representation of an ancient chieftain in the much later pharaonic guise or the concept of cave creatures protecting the entrance to the Netherworld.

During the Fifth and Fourth millennia B.C. the vast areas of Western Desert suffered from a major depredation of climate that most likely caused a gradual evacuation of the region and instigated appearance of permanent settlements in the Nile valley which led to genesis of ancient Egyptian culture. The present study aims to present a theory according to which at least some parts of the discussed rock art in the Western Desert was created by an ancient mind that later on contributed to the intellectual emergence of ancient Egyptian civilisation in the Nile valley.

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.

The True Story of Desert Explorer Laszlo Almasy

April 4, 2010

Spiegel Online (By Matthias Schulz. Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan)

Thanks Kat! I have a real fascination with the exploration activities of the Zerzura Club and the work of the Long Range Desert Group which followed. Almasy was a member of the informal Zerzura Club, a mainly British group searching, as a rather ambitious pass-time, for the so-called Lost City of Zerzura in the area of the Gilf Kebir. They never found a lost city but they did learn the lie of the land at the borders of Libya, much of which Pat Clayton mapped. During the Second World War the Hungarian Almasy served the Axis forces under Romel, and was responsible for smuggling Axis spies into Egypt using the knowledge of the Gilf area that he had learned in the pre-war period. Similarly, Ralph Bagnold used his own experiences to set up the Long Range Desert Group and patrol the Libyan borders. The film The English Patient used some of Almasy’s experiences (and his name) but the film was fictional. If anyone is interested in reading more about Almasy there’s a good book about him by John Bierman which I reviewed on the blog.

During World War II, desert explorer Laszlo Almasy smuggled Nazi agents through the Sahara on an epic journey behind enemy lines. Now the true story of the man depicted in “The English Patient,” is coming to light.

As a boy, the son of a Hungarian nobleman would often stare off into the distance from his birthplace, a castle in the Burgenland region of present-day Austria. He always longed for the unattainable.

At 14, the boy built himself a glider to fly up to the sky, but it crashed.

Then, in the 1930s, Laszlo Almasy set out to find the lost oasis of Zarzura. The mythical place is mentioned in Arabian treasure books and in the collection of stories known as “One Thousand and One Nights,” where it is referred to as “City of Brass.”

The pioneer explored 2 million square kilometers (772,000 square miles) of the Sahara. He surveyed the land, drew maps and set foot in places in that sea of sand “that no human eye had seen.” In the remote Wadi Sura, he even stumbled upon painted dugouts from the Stone Age — a sensational find.

But he never found Zarzura.

There is no question that Almasy was a man who followed his desires. But who was this adventurer, flight instructor and Nazi agent, who the Bedouins reverently called Abu Ramla, or Father of the Sand?

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.

New Book: Gilf Kebir National Park

March 29, 2010

American University in Cairo Press

The first and only guidebook to the Gilf and Uweinat.

Gilf Kebir National Park
Egypt Pocket Guide
Alberto Siliotti
Feb 2010

In the far southwestern corner of Egypt lies one of the most fascinating and least known regions of the Sahara Desert, declared a National Park by the Egyptian government in 2007 for its great archaeological and natural-historical heritage. The Gilf Kebir, a broad massif twice the size of Corsica, and Gebel Uweinat, a 2,000-meter inselberg, were discovered only in the 1920s, and explored in the decades following, but today an increasing number of visitors are able to reach this unique area on long desert expeditions and experience for themselves the special geology and ecology of the place and the extraordinary rock paintings from Neolithic times. Now, in lucid text and colorful photographs, drawings, maps, and satellite images, Alberto Siliotti guides the intrepid visitor to the features of the National park, with notes on what to take on such a long desert trip and what not to leave behind.

Alberto Siliotti is a scientific journalist who specializes in Egyptology. He has written several books including The Discovery of Ancient Egypt (AUC Press, 1998), The Illustrated Guide to the Pyramids of Egypt (AUC Press, 2003), and the popular series of Egypt Pocket Guides.

Landmines in Western Desert still a threat

March 22, 2010

The landmines that were laid during World War II within and on the fringes of Egypt’s Western Desert continue to be a threat.  In the areas around the Gilf Kebir and Uweinat some of these mine fields are marked on the 1940s maps.  Tour guides are familiar with the areas that must be avoided;  smugglers use the mine fields as routes through the desert where they know they will not be disturbed.

But in an article on the BBN News website Christian Fraser says that the problem is far more serious in the north of the desert where Axis and Allied forces fought for control of Egypt.  The desert at Alamein, one of the major battle sites of the fight for territory, is still littered with unexploded landmines, bombs, mortars and other munitions which are still causing serious and sometimes dreadful  injuries to the bedouin groups who still use this land for their herds and for planting olive groves.

The mine fields and other areas of danger have never been mapped due to the movement of sand masses, which change the landscape from week to week.

No country has taken responsibility, but a group has been formed to represent the 660 individuals recorded with injuries caused by abandoned munitions and they are approaching the countries involved in an attempt to gain financial compensation.  The report says that as  Egypt has not signed the Ottowa Convention they do not receive assistance from the UK.  The efforts of the UK, one of the countries that has been approached for compensation, are directed towards those countries that have signed the Convention.

The matter was raised in an article on The Telegraph in 2002 by Neil Tweedie.  The area concerned is estimated to cover some 2,900 square kilometres.  The article says that according to the Egyptian authorities, “there are some 20 million pieces of unexploded ordnance in a 40-mile belt of land south of El Alamein, of which five million are landmines”.   Reports on the numbers injured and killed by this ordnance are confused but reach into the  several thousands.  The Egyptian armed forces have been tasked with the job of clearing unexplained ordnance and other remains from the war.  The United Nations Mines Action Service visited in 2000 and praised the work already completed but pointed out the inevitability of further injuries.  The Telegraph article says that although Britain gave 600,000 UKP towards the problem of clearing the Alamein area in 1996, it prefers to manage all its contributions through the nations Mines Action service.

In an article for The Scotsman in December 2009 Rob Crilly reported that Egypt is investing 150 million UKP in a clean up programme along the coastline. The main motivation, according to the article, is the value of the land in which the battle took place – real estate which could be used for the development of tourism, and there is the potential for exploiting natural resources under the land.

Either way the bedouin will probably lose out – either becaue of unexploded ordnance or because the land is claimed for profitable development projects.

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.)


Mosaic of the Mestekawi-Foggini Cave

February 27, 2010

Giancarlo Negro recently sent a link to a mosaic of the rock art in the Mestekawi-Foggini cave in the western Gilf Kebir on the Zerzura Club website.  To get the best out of these images you need to click on them and give them time to load.   You can then click again to zoom in on specific parts of the cave paintings.  The site is entirely in Italian.

The Zerzura Club has been set up to follow in the footsteps of explorers who between the First and Second World Wars were stationed in Egypt and set about finding the fabled city of Zerzura, which was supposed to be out in the Western Desert and was said to be filled with beauties and riches to which a visitor could help themself should they be lucky enough to find it.  The best known members of the Club Zerzura, which was born in Wadi Halfa, were Ralph Bagnold, Patrick Clayton and Laszlo Almasy.

Updated publication: Rock Art of the Libyan Desert

February 27, 2010
FJ Expeditions
Andras Zboray

The Second Expanded Edition of the DVD “Rock Art of the Libyan Desert” is now available. The new edition contains over nearly 300 new rock art sites, all new discoveries in the 2005-2009 period, with approximately 12000 photos (about 4000 newly added ones).

The Second Edition had been substantially expanded with the discoveries made by the author, Andras Zboray, and others in the period 2005 to 2009. several new sites were added, and many sites have been updated with new photographs. Some of the new finds added considerably to our knowledge of the various styles and cultures, requiring some reworking of the corresponding sections.

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.