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.

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.

Zarzora on Facebook

March 4, 2010

I have a complete loathing for Facebook and all the other versions of the same concept but every now and again one stumbles across a site that has something useful to share.  Not often, but sometimes.  This one has the usual self-indulgent one-liners on it here and there but it is mainly dedicated to photos, articles and videos about Gilf Kebir. Zarzora Expeditions are a travel company, so all the features on their Facebook pages are designed to promote their product, but that’s no reason not to enjoy some lovely photos, the occasional video and links to some good articles (from Al Ahram Weekly, The Indpendent, Heritage Key and others) about the Gilf Kebir and neighbouring areas.

Western Sahara Project

March 4, 2010

This is about as far from Egypt as its possible to get in Saharan terms – but it’s a great project and anything Sahara-related has to be good!

Dear all

This is just to let you know that we are looking for volunteers for the next season of fieldwork in Western Sahara. Please circulate this message to anyone who might be interested.

We will certainly be running a 3-week season of reconnaissance survey work from around 5-27 November 2010. We are also hoping to run a season of excavations from approximately 1 October – 13 November 2010, subject to the availability of external funding.

We are looking for volunteers for both of these components. If the excavations go ahead we will be seeking two sets of volunteers for this element, to participate in two consecutive 3-week excavation modules.

More information is available on the recently updated volunteers page of the project website at: http://www.nickbrooks.org/WS/WSahara-volunteers.htm.

Note you can now also follow the project on Twitter (http://twitter.com/WSaharaProject).

You might also want to read about the project at Past Horizons (http://en.calameo.com/read/0000627296b9a5eb2153b) or (more academic) in Antiquity journal (http://antiquity.ac.uk/ant/083/ant0830918.htm).

Best wishes

Dr Nick Brooks

Visiting Research Fellow
Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research
School of Environmental Sciences
University of East Anglia
Norwich NR4 7TJ

Director, Western Sahara Project:
Tel:  +44 7919 402 918

Email: nick.brooks@uea.ac.uk
Website: http://www.nickbrooks.org/
Tyndall website: http://www.tyndall.ac.uk
Blog: http://nickbrooks.wordpress.com

Western Sahara Project Website:
Follow the Western Sahara Project on Twitter:

Armchair guide to Coptic religion

March 3, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

St Anthony's

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

March 1, 2010

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

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

No website address at the moment

Thursday, June 3, 2010

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

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

State-of-The-Art Lectures

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

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


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

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

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

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

16.30 Discussion
17.00 End

Friday, June 4, 2010

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

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

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

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

10.00 Discussion

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

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

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

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

12.00 Discussion
12.30 LUNCH

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

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

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

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

15.00 Discussion

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

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

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

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

16.30 Discussion
17.00 End

Saturday, June 5, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

10.15 Discussion

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

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

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

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

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

12.30 Discussion
13.00 Conclusion

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


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.

Litter in the desert around Cairo

February 19, 2010
Recently a friend sent me some photographs that she took herself, showing heavy littering at the Saqqara and Abu Sir archaeological sites, one of which is attached in this post. She lives and works in the area at the moment and finds this unacceptable – in her own words “it is terribly frustrating to be told that they are building a wall to keep ‘people like me’ out of the desert that I love and actively try to care for”. She goes on:

A couple of weeks previously a group of us were out in the desert when a tractor pulling a trailer pulled away from one of the Czech sites. As soon as it was out of the line of sight of the diggings, the Egyptian workers began tossing trash from it into the desert. We shouted at them to stop and pick it up and they did so. The big question around here is that if the wall is protecting the antiquities from the local robbers, who is going to protect the desert from the SCA?

It is always so frustrating and sad to see how the Egyptian desert is so often neglected and even abused by both tourists and local inhabitants. It is even worse when the damage is caused by those working in an official capacity and whose role is supposed to be the protection of heritage!

Restoration: St Anthony’s Monastery

February 11, 2010
Yahoo! News

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

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

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

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

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

African Press Agency

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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 http://www.amheida.org/.

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.

New Book: Rock Art of the Eastern Desert of Egypt

January 13, 2010

BAR International Series, Archaeopress

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

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