Tracing an ancient trail which leads into remote areas of the Libyan Desert causes soaring project expenditures, even if such search is carried out by camel. I am deeply indebted to the participants of this winter’s exploration, Mark Borda, Hardy Böckli, Christian Kny and Christian Philipp, who not only shared interest in my work, but also enthusiastically committed themselves in tracking down the south-western leg of the “Kufra Trail”. Moreover, the four men accepted the bulk of the expedition expenses, half of which were carried by Mark Borda. The extraordinary success of this season’s Libyan Desert survey would not have been made possible without this funding.
The objectives of this winter’s expeditions were
to perform archaeological tests
in the Sudan
(roasting colocynth pips in a Clayton) and
to attempt tracing an ancient
road previously classified as a “forerunner of the Tariq Abu Ballas (TAB)” (see Results of Winter 2005/6 - Expeditions, chapter
D.) further to the south-west.
I.) Experiments in The Sudan
My experiments in the Sudan have brought to light that roasting Handal pips with the help of a Clayton ring works well without using a drop of water. Claytons, therefore, can be viewed as appliances that convert a poisonous substance into edible matter.
II.) Discovery of the Kufra Trail (KT), another 6th Dynasty road connecting the Gilf Kebir Plateau with Dakhla Oasis
This road, which I had endeavoured to track down since 1999, departs from the TAB at a former water hole about 25 km southwest of Mery. Approx. 100 km further on, before descending into the El Burg plain, the trail passes by another (dry) well and, in sight of the continuous landmass of the Gilf Kebir, skirts a further watering place situated in a narrow valley, which is blocked by a dune.
The trail is marked by more than 150 road signs (alamat). Although over time, it has faded away in most parts, it still exhibits here and there, faint grooves left by donkeys as well as a number of resting places (Muhattahs).
Pottery is scarce on the KT. What has been observed at the Muhattahs, may date to the 6th dynasty, substantiating the notion that the road had been frequented in Old Kingdom times simultaneously with the TAB, the latter, however, aiming at regions much more to the south.
Several pot marks on Claytons lying bare on the desert floor, seem to represent strongly stylised cattle heads or horns indicating, namely, that the KT had been established and used in connection with cattle drove activities. Cattle bones & a cattle pass ascending an intersected plateau support such a perception.
Unlike the TAB the KT does not aim in a straight line towards its destination, but aligns itself harmoniously with the landscape. Particularly in the neighbourhood of wells and passes angular deviations from the direct course of about 20 degrees to both sides are not uncommon. To that extent (likewise, because of the absence of ancient water dump installations serving as emergency supply for men and animals similar to those on the TAB), the KT communicates the impression of a “non-government road”, which, obviously, came into being in the wake of a lasting Egyptian involvement in Dakhla after the transformation of the oasis from a 4th dynasty “base camp” used for exploring & exploiting the mineral potential of the environs to a (6th dynasty) centre of commerce. The find of a small piece of ivory lying in a stone circle of one of the muhattahs obviously supports such a conclusion.
While the TAB seems to have promoted and stabilized trade relations between Dakhla Oasis and the southern Gilf Kebir/Uweinat/Ennedi on behalf of the pharaonic oasis government, the KT appears to have been established by the cattle-herders themselves. The scarcity and meagreness of artefacts, which were spotted on the latter road, suggest that travellers on the KT were obliged to head to water holes and wells for their survival. Most certainly, these watering places would have yielded the precious liquid only after episodes of (periodic & area-wide) torrential rainfalls. Would, therefore, such evidence alone not call for a modification of the prevailing climatic model?
III.) Discovery of the “Lost Ochre Quarries of Kings Cheops and Djedefre”
Contrary to Giancarlo Negro’s et al. assertion, the 4th dynasty ochre quarries are located in Biar Jaqub proper and not at the foot of the Abu Ballas Scarp (about 170 km to the southwest of Djedefre´s Water mountain). So far, three quarries have been detected. One of the sites displays Sheikh Muftah pottery and fragments of a Clayton within a stone circle camp, whilst another, amongst other items, presents two donkey petroglyphs, sherds of water jars and a Clayton. Obviously, the finds seem to suggest the presence of members of the Sheikh Muftah populace, who had been recruited for mining and grinding of pigments by the 4th dynasty expeditions.
IV.) Discovery of late Neolithic rock art substantiating that early hieroglyphic writing, at least in parts, originated in the Libyan Desert
The petroglyph consist of images of giraffes, of an antelope, of waterlines, and of a human body endowed with pronounced (very long) finger nails as well as other figures. They were found in two days marching distance from Biar Jaqub, beyond the realm of pharaonic influence and fit well into the mosaic of predynastic rock art sites documenting the formative stage of hieroglyphic writing during the “giraffe-era”.
V.) In the course of a one month solo-expedition a 4th dynasty trail heading from Biar Jaqub to the west was discovered.