Up to present more than 30 Clayton, 20 pottery and approximately 180 rock art locations, have been discovered (either by myself or by friends whom I took along on my camel hikes) in Biar Jaqub. Compared with the much fewer finds in the “open desert”, these figures not only indicate a high rate of (ancient) human activity in Biar Jaqub but also, are suggestive for seasonal (if not permanent) settlement in this palaeoasis during late Neolithic and pharaonic times (up to, perhaps, the Ptolemaic period); a Zerzoora, the existence of which Wilkinson already reported in 1835 (see report on winter 2003/4 – expeditions, summary and “Wilkinson’s zweites Zerzura” on this website).
It is beyond my means to present all these locations (some of which may have been connected with ancient Egyptian mining or prospecting activities) in this paper. Such an endeavour would easily fill a book.
What I have proposed (as allowed by my limited financial means) and what has been substantiated and published since the first pages of this web-site, leads one to believe that Biar Jaqub was not always an inhospitable area but, indeed, an ecological “niche” possessing economic potentials which, over long periods of time, attracted humans. In this paper new discoveries and insights are presented, which will help to reconstruct the Biar Jaqub environment and the role of humans in exploiting it.
1. Biar Jaqub – a palaeoasis
1.1 Remarks concerning the discovery
I discovered Djedefre´s Water Mountain (DWM) in the early morning of 12/9/2000. Apart from the cartouches of kings Cheops and Djedefre found at this site, other engravings in the rock face, consisting of an arrangement of water mountain symbols, irrigated fields and trenches, also caught my eye. Much to the disapproval of K. P. Kuhlmann (Egyptologist) whom I brought to evaluate the site in February 2001, I had interpreted these latter compositions as a map, and an ancient land register. A few days later, inspired by the cartographic depiction I sat out with three camels in search for the places shown on the drawing. It was not long until four “water mountain outposts” were found. (The designation “outpost” was chosen in order to emphasize its possible function as a subsidiary settlement of DWM and to keynote its discovery according to an ancient delineation.) Encumbered by a heat-wave, the camels and I had to return to Dakhla oasis soon after. The following winter I tracked down the six remaining water mountain outposts, just the number shown on the DWM map.
The majority of the water mountain outposts is situated between 6 – 9 kilometres southwest of DWM in a depression dotted with hills. I named the area Biar Jaqub. To get there a stretch of elevated land, almost void of artefacts, has to be traversed. When reaching the brink of the lowland (as a wanderer and not as an individual involved in “high speed 4WD archaeology”) the immediate impression is that of an oasis. Such a notion is supported by numerous archaeological remains as soon as one enters the refuge.
The very existence of Biar Jaqub was called to our attention in 1835 by Wilkinson. In his “Topography of Thebes and General View of Egypt” he mentions this palaeoasis, writing: ”...Zerzoora is only two or three days due west from Dakhleh, beyond which is another wadee; then a second abounding in cattle; then Gebabo and Tazerbo; and beyond these is Wadee Rebeena; Gebabo is inhabited by two tribes of blacks, the Simertayn and Ergezayn”. Since this book was written nobody had bothered to check Wilkinson’s report.
1.2 Intrigue and enmities
My manuscript concerning the Biar Jaqub discovery was ready for print in one of the monthly GEO (Germany) magazines of 2001. Due to the intervention of Kuhlmann (German Institute of Archaeology Cairo), Kuper and Kröpelin (Heinrich Barth Institute at Cologne University) the publication was cancelled. While on expedition in Egypt’s Western Desert, these former colleagues who, on account of the DWM find, had turned from friends to foes, insisted on a meeting with P.-M. Gaede, GEO´s editor in chief. During this meeting they made false accusations against me, the sole purpose being to appropriate my discoveries and to publish them instead under their own names (in particular, Kuper & Kröpelin as well as their associates at Cologne University). Since then, these three individuals in association with others, have succeeded in exercising a, more or less, complete ban on my publication efforts, elevating their unjust cause with statements (Kröpelin) such as: “If you look at the history of African exploration, sometimes those men would fight almost to the death. It looks as if this tradition continues with Carlo.” (Young, E.: Pharaohs from the stone age. New Scientist, 13 January 2007, p. 34) As if wrongdoings of the past would, automatically, justify unfair practises of today.
Recently, Kuper and his associates have published a 240 page volume entitled “Atlas of cultural and environmental change in arid Africa”, in which, with regard to my discoveries and their explanation, my name is all but once omitted. (Bubenzer, O.; Bolten, A.; Darius, F. (eds): Atlas of cultural and environmental change in arid Africa. Cologne 2007) Furthermore, with the exception of the Abu Ballas Trail (TAB), all my finds have been renamed. In conjunction with this poor style, and despite Kröpelin´s statement: notwithstanding “.. our bad relationship these days, I would go along with 80 per cent of what he (Carlo Bergmann) is claiming” (Young, E.: op. cit. p.38), none of the results published on this website since its start have been cited.
Four years ago, Kuper went to see Dr. Zahi Hawass, head of the Egyptian Antiquities Service, and (amongst other things) accused me of (illegally) publishing scientific papers as an amateur. Is this the (fake) reason why he and some members of his team, who shun open debate in favour of weaving a net of lies behind the scenes, notoriously sideline my publications? In addition, Kuper, who is the godfather of my son, continues to defame me personally with immense vigour in order to cut me off from expert advice and to get me expelled from Egypt and her desert. All this hints to a strategy of total ostracism and to a policy, which aims to reduce me, the unwelcome explorer, to silence. Once the jealous man and his aides have accomplished their mission, perhaps my discoveries & findings will sail, as they partly already do now, under false colours. Only then will Kuper, who due to his fondness of “high speed 4WD archaeology” has never found a single potsherd (belonging to the historic period) after 15 years of research in Egypt’s Western Desert, will have gained his ends.
The discoveries in question are: DWM (renamed Chufu), Biar Jaqub (renamed Chufu SW), Gerhard Rohlfs stalactite cavern (Rediscovery of the site; discovery of Neolithic rock art in the cave and of abundant settlement remains in its surroundings. Renamed Djara) and Cheese-cover Hill (renamed El Kharafish 02/5). In case of Cheese-cover Hill Heiko Riemer, one of Kuper´s subordinates, has created the impression that he himself has found the site; a sad example of stealing a discovery. (see Results of winter 2005/6-expeditions, postscript of 9/4/2006, chapter E: Note concerning the treatment of a discovery made in March 1998)
In a written statement of 11/2/2001 Kuper had originally affirmed that the sites which I discovered, would bear the names which I had assigned to them. (picture 1) Why then, so soon after, has this resentment filled, semi blind field researcher not lived up to his own affirmations? Such foul behaviour (probably rooted in an unfulfilled dream of making a sensational discovery himself), leads one to suppose that he is attempting to keep me, the “hobby explorer” irrelevant, so as to steel the fame for himself.
picture 1: Kuper´s handwritten affirmation of 11/2/2001 bearing his signature:
“The sites discovered by Carlo Bergmann bear the names assigned by him.”
Recently, Kuper and Kröpelin have expressed the opinion that “…a new picture of Ancient Egypt’s relation with the vast western regions…” (Kröpelin, S.; Kuper, R.: More corridors to Africa. Cahiers de recherches de l´Institut de Papyrologie et d´Egyptologie de Lille (Cripel) 26 (2006-2007) p. 219) has emerged because of three specific discoveries:
a.) The Abu Ballas Trail
b.) Djedefre´s Water mountain
c.) Clayton rings
“Two of which are due to the eagerness of the amateur explorer Carlo Bergmann.” (ibidem, p. 220)
It has taken quite a while for the two civil servant archaeologists to find the most disparaging term possible to describe the profession which I have been practising for the past 27 years. “Amateurs” are obviously needed to open new fields of research for Egyptology by introducing previously overlooked evidence, fresh ideas and concepts to those who are comfortably established in their offices. Regarding the Clayton rings, Kröpelin and Kuper again neglect my discoveries in their article. Not daring to cite my findings as published in results of winter 2005/6 expeditions – a solution to the Clayton ring problem as well as in results of winter 2006/7 expeditions, and, without mentioning my name nor referring to my conclusions, they present as their own findings the (modified) implications on past climates that, for instance, resulted from my “Clayton experiments”. (ibidem, pp. 220, 225. See also my search for Wilkinson’s “another wadee” and for the rain fed well or spring possibly situated there, in: “Wilkinson’s zweites Zerzura” and in Report on winter 2003/4 expeditions.) Not to speak of the fact that, to some extent, they arrived at their conclusions via H. Riemer´s fraud (whom they cite) in connection with my Cheese-cover Hill discovery.
It is a shame that academics from the scientific institute which bears the name of Heinrich Barth (the famous linguist and Africa explorer who, despite his extraordinary achievements, had been a victim of mobbing, denunciation and neglect until his death) have not learned any lesson from the past. Not only do they systematically violate the standards of common academic courtesy by failing to mention my discoveries as the source of their information and statements, but also they have resurrected other devious ways and means that were utilized in 19th century Germany to sideline and suppress Barth´s outstanding accomplishments.
Back again to the “Atlas of cultural and environmental change in arid Africa”. Although the authors of the “Atlas”, to whom I have entrusted my discoveries for archaeological evaluation, have (with the exception of K. P. Kuhlmann and F. Förster) strictly ignored my internet publications, preferring instead to confine themselves to the pillage and cannibalisation of my finds & writings (See for example H. Riemer who, instead of citing my observations published in March 2001 in my “Letzter Beduine”, pp. 421, 424, 431 and 436, now manages to present the alignment of the Abu Ballas Trail (230 – 240 degrees) as his own finding. (Riemer, H.: The archaeology of a desert road – the navigation system of the Abu Ballas Trail, in: Atlas of cultural and environmental change in arid Africa. op. cit. pp. 234, 135 ) Amazingly, this is done although, in addition to my March 2001 publication, I had personally handed out to Kuper et al. more than 950 waypoints belonging to the ancient trail.) they nevertheless have unintentionally confirmed what I stated earlier in
a.) my “Letzter Beduine”
b.) the very GEO-manuscript, which Kuper, Kuhlmann and Kröpelin managed to kick out of the publication process (a text written in German, which was put on this website at its start)
c.) later publications on my website.
Namely, concerning Biar Jaqub: what a sensitive observer roaming the palaeoasis will notice with bare eyes, is now backed up by research utilizing technical means such as remote satellite sensing. Such techniques are of course not accessible to me. The following paragraphs of this chapter will be dealing with Kuper´s findings and those of his associates. Consequently and despite of Kuhlmann´s assumption, it will emerge that Biar Jaqub was more than a “…Zerzoora which, after sporadic torrents, blossomed for a while and, following the evaporation of the water, disappeared again from the map.” (Kuhlmann, K. P. Der Wasserberg des Djedefre (Chufu 01/1) – Ein Lagerplatz mit Expeditionsinschriften der 4. Dynastie im Raum der Oase Dachla“ MDAIK 2005, p. 270, my translation) Instead, Wilkinson’s 2nd Zerzoora had been occupied for hundreds, if not thousands of years (see also paragraph 2.24 of this report) until, most probably, in Ptolemaic times, the region dried out. Apart from occasional revisits and temporary occupation the area was deserted from that time onward.
1.3 Extension of DWM- and Biar Jaqub catchment areas
1.31 My findings
In “Wilkinson´s 2nd Zerzoora“ (German version) published in 2001 on this website, I had estimated the DWM catchment area being some 10s of square kilometres in size („Der Wasserberg des Djedefre liegt im kaum wahrnehmbaren, tiefsten Punkt einer von Nord nach Süd streichenden Fläche, welche unmerkliches Gefälle aufweist... Nach Norden hin erstreckt sich das zum Djedefre gehörende, potentielle Einzugsgebiet auf einige 10qkm.“), while the section of Biar Jaqub which features water mountain symbols, was found measuring approx. 17 square kilometres. („Das von der Karawane abgeschrittene Oasengebiet misst von Nord nach Süd maximal 4½ km und von Südwest nach Nordost 3,7 km.... Das macht 16,65 qkm.“) Later, due to further discoveries, the Biar Jaqub catchment area increased to more than 40 square kilometres. (“This water mountain-site and an area containing a number of stone circles, found in a wide shallow hollow south of “Khufu Hills”… enlarge the size of Biar Jaqub to more than 40 square kilometres.” See Results of winter 2004/5 expeditions, chapter A)
1.32 Bolten and Bubenzer´s re-examination
In the “Atlas of Cultural and Environmental Change” Bolten and Bubenzer have published the results of their water availability studies concerning some areas of Egypt’s Western Desert, among them DWM and Biar Jaqub. (Bolten, A.; Bubenzer, O.: Watershed analysis in the Western Desert of Egypt. in Atlas, op. cit. pp. 22-23) Using high-resolution ASTAR-DEM data and hydro-modelling software (a Watershed Modelling System and a geographical information system) they define the catchment areas of the two locations (renaming them Chufu NE and Chufu SW) as “Palaeodrainage systems with intermediate or terminal pan” and “low permeability” on the assumption that topographic conditions have not changed since the Late Pleistocene. Thus, according to their suppositions, the DWM catchment comprises 16 square kilometres (min. altitude in the catchment 229m.a.s.l.; max. altitude 345m.a.s.l), while the Biar Jaqub catchment embraces an area of 54 square kilometres (min. altitude 239m.a.s.l.; max. altitude 345m.a.s.l.), values which “... also existed during the Holocene humid period.” (ibidem)
According to Bolten and Bubenzer´s map DWM was chosen as a “start of calculation” point for the modelling, while another point was picked out at the proposed south-eastern end of Biar Jaqub (equivalent to a geographical position slightly south-southeast of DWM). If this is so, the limited precision of Bolton and Bubenzer´s model is demonstrated by the fact that neither the lowland at which Mu´askar el-Saghir – the Small Camp (MSA) is situated, nor Shallow Wadi (the two sites are treated in chapters 2.23, 2.241 and 2.242) lie within the boundaries of these catchments.
Nevertheless, the re-examination, in the whole, confirms the results of my surveys performed by camel a few years ago. It also substantiates the existence of geologically & geomorphologically favoured localities in the region “…with a considerable potential water surplus…” (ibidem) during the time of kings Cheops and Djedefre´s mefat (pigment quarrying) expeditions. Exactly at such places are DWM and most of the “water mountain outposts” of Biar Jaqub situated. Furthermore, my proposal that Biar Jaqub had flourished as palaeoasis in ancient times appears verified as, among other things, the palaeohydrological, geological and geomorphological prerequisites for such a “desert garden” were, once more, identified. So my deductions based on observations made with my bare eyes during my wanderings, yield results which up until now, seem to match those achieved by remote sensing via satellite.
Bolten and Bubenzer are affiliated to Kuper´s Cologne University based team of prehistorians. Although I had passed on to this troupe the details of my discoveries at DWM and Biar Jaqub and had informed several of its members via e-mail of the results of my research and despite the fact that they made use of my discoveries and the ideas based thereon as published in my website, not a single reference is made in their study to the said publications. This is most unprofessional.
1.4 Paleoclimatic setting
Examining the somewhat confusing evidence concerning the Western Desert’s palaeoclimate, fragmentary data which are put forth in the “Atlas of Cultural and Environmental Change” by different authors, one will find it difficult to reconcile their diverging opinions.
While Förster, dealing with the Abu Ballas Trail (TAB) which, according to him, was utilised during the periods of 2,200 - 2,000 BC and 1,790 - 1,070 BC, expresses the idea that “…the climatic and environmental setting (of the past) did not differ much from today (, so that) a crossing of this part of the Libyan Desert by donkey caravan would hardly have been possible” without supply depots (Förster, F.: The Abu Ballas Trail: a Pharaonic donkey-caravan route in the Libyan Desert (SW-Egypt). in: Atlas of cultural and environmental change. op. cit. p. 130. My discovery of the Kufra Trail disproves such an assumption; see chapter C published in a separate file.), Darius & Nussbaum declare that “… El Kharafish (Cheese-cover Hill) and “Khufu” (DWM and Biar Jaqub), indeed indicate the extreme northern advance of the summer rain regime during the Holocene” (Darius, F.; Nussbaum, S.: In search of the bloom – plants as witnesses to the humid past. in: Atlas of cultural and environmental change. op. cit., p. 80) which, for example, in the “… period of 3,000 – 2,200 BC…” (ibidem) facilitated temporary occupation of the two locations.
The latitude of Cheese-cover Hill (situated on the limestone plateau to the north-east of DWM) lies roughly 110 kilometres north of the TAB, the latter passing by DWM & Biar Jaqub about 60 km to the south. Its general direction (up to Wadi el Akhdar/Gilf Kebir) is approx. 235 degrees. (see my “Letzter Beduine”, p. 436) This is a south-westerly bearing. If the southward shift of the monsoonal summer rains, that had continued since 7,000 BC, had reached a stage in 2,200 BC, that still allowed settlement in the surroundings of DWM, common sense implies that the desert to the south of this 4th dyn. mining camp would have received rain longer than the aforementioned “time limit” seems to suggest. Is it, therefore, not most likely that the water jar dumps on the ancient trail which more or less headed straight towards areas of increased monsoonal rain, were filled by utilizing summer precipitation as well as by tapping water sources “off the road” (lateral water supply) and storing the precious liquid at the TAB muhattahs for travels in the dry seasons? (see Results of winter 2005/6 – expeditions, chapter E)
Complicating the climatic riddle even further, Bubenzer postulates that, at “… about 4.300 cal. BC some grave changes seem to have taken place in our (the Jebel Uweinat, Gilf Kebir) research area. As we know so far, the precipitation regime changed from summer to winter rain at that time… Because of increased aridity and the lack of accessible ground water resources, the use of the Gilf Kebir (for pastoralists?) ended at about 2,700 cal. BC.” (Linstätter, J.: Rocky islands within oceans of sand – archaeology of the Gebel Uweinat/Gilf Kebir region, eastern Sahara. in: Atlas of cultural and environmental change. op. cit. p. 36)
Four opposing arguments challenge Bubenzer´s view.
a.) As proven by remote satellite sensing (see NRL Monterey Satellite Photos http://www.nrlmry.navy.mil/sat-bin/display10) even nowadays (for example in summer 2004) Gebel Uweinat is occasionally affected by summer monsoon rains. (Furthermore, on 8/29/2005 heavy rain fall was noticed by Alessandro Menardi Noguera. pers. comm.) Thus, either the postulated change of the precipitation regime has reversed again some time after 4.300 cal. BC or the region had been (and is) affected by both summer and winter rain. (see also Darius´ and Nussbaum´s assumptions about the back and forth shifting of the monsoonal precipitation regime during the Holocene in: Darius, F.; Nussbaum, op. cit., p. 81, fig. 7)
b.) The most south-westerly of the TAB water jar dumps was established at Muhattah Rashid. The location is situated at the eastern foot of the Gilf Kebir. Although, further to the southwest, the ancient trail is well marked, the camps of the donkey drivers are void of water jars (except at Kuper´s Wadi el-Akhdar 80/55 – site, where a single sherd belonging to a storage jar of the late Old Kingdom/First Intermediate Period was found in 1980 but wrongly, not identified as an artefact belonging to the historic period. See Förster, F.: With donkeys, jars and water bags into the Libyan Desert: the Abu Ballas Trail in the Late Old Kingdom/First Intermediate Period. http://www.the britishmuseum.ac.uk/research/publications/bmsaes/issue_7/foerster.aspx, p. 7) Such scarcity (if not lack) of water storage facilities strongly indicates that, beginning from the eastern foot of the Gilf Kebir, there had been enough rainfall to feed (temporal) ponds and wells and, in addition, to procure sufficient vegetation for the subsistence of the pharaonic caravans, at least up to the end of Förster´s second epoch, that is 1,070 BC.
c.) According to the prevailing model, the drying up of the Eastern Sahara took place first in its central part (which covers the core of Egypt’s Western Desert). From there aridification spread southward. For that reason it is astonishing that Kuper and his team did not run into occupation sites at the Gilf Kebir dating to later than 2,700 cal. BC. However, the authors of the “Atlas of cultural and environmental change” offer no details of how to cope with the contradiction according to which, Cheese-cover Hill, DWM & Biar Jaqub, located at approx. 2 degrees of latitude north of the Gilf Kebir (and at lower altitude than the remote plateau) were used as settlements up to 2,200 BC while human activity in the Gilf is thought to have already ceased by around 2,700 BC.
In fact, younger sites do exist, for instance the location rich of blue coloured pottery & charcoal situated in the central section of the Gilf Kebir. Perhaps nobody has told Kuper about such places. So he and his team have neither the chance for fraud nor the possibility to comment in their publications.
Furthermore Uta + Fiedrich Berger and Tarek El-Mahdy found “…occasionally isolated ceramic sherds…on the floor of the wadis in Gilf Kebir… Three of them were thermoluminiscence dated.” (Berger, U.; Berger, F.; El-Mahdy, T.: Report on a journey to the northern part of Gilf Kebir, SW Egypt, February/March 2001. Cahiers de Láars. No. 8, August 2003, p. 22) While two sherds revealed an age of 3,000 +/- 400 and 5,000 +/- 750 years, respectively, a “…third sherd, possibly from the decorated rim of a vessel (see complement at the end of this text, picture 56), is surprisingly young with 1,500 +/- 300 years.” (ibidem) If Berger et al., in the course of a four weeks 4WD tour, had discovered ceramic relics “almost anywhere in the valleys of the Gilf Kebir” (F. Berger, pers. com.) what then, could be expected as the yield of a systematic archaeological reconnaissance? Although TL-dating is considered to be a quite inaccurate method, Berger’s et al. discoveries support the notion that the Gilf Kebir region, in parts, had been seasonally (if not continuously) occupied from Neolithic times up to the Islamic period.
d.) Last but not least, Linstätter´s findings are utterly inconsistent with Count Almay’s investigations, according to which, cattle and camel herders from the Tibesti mountains as well as from Kufra, had frequented the Northern Gilf Kebir after monsoonal rain until the 1930´s. The nomads used to stay in Wadi Abd el Malik for months. (Almasy, L. E.: Schwimmer in der Wüste. München 1999, pp. 179-185, 187-190, 211, 213-221, 225)
To sum up, the proposals concerning the precipitation regimes of the past, as contained in the “Atlas of Cultural and Environmental Change”, have to be deemed contradictory. At best they contribute only vague hints towards an accurate reconstruction & understanding of the past climate of the vanished world that today is the desert. In particular, the authors present no evidence for the arbitrarily defined time limit of 2,200 BC. Most likely, this artificial boundary has been drawn up for the sole reason of making the findings of Kuper´s team to look consistent. Thus, 2,200 BC bears no relevance for a review of the question as to whether or not sufficient sporadic precipitation facilitated long distance desert travel as well as, here and there, human occupation in places which are thought to have been deserted since times immemorial. Furthermore, the assumption of a linear decline in the amount of winter rain from ca. 150mm/year in 4,300 cal BC to ca. 2mm/year today for Gebel Uweinat and the region of the Gilf Kebir as illustrated by Linstaetter´s “precipitation-column” (Linstaetter, J.: op. cit., p. 36, fig. 2) is without proof. It is a nice diagram, but a chart of superficial character which, most certainly, does not reflect correct fluctuations for the precipitation patterns covering the period in question, nor the correct amounts of rain per annum in antiquity. In contrast, due to the existence of some plant species which thrive under summer rain conditions, Darius and Nussbaum define the modern margin of monsoonal precipitation as passing through the centre of the Gilf Kebir. (Darius, F.; Nussbaum, S.: op. cit., p. 81, fig. 7) If this is true for today, then it is even more correct for the pharaonic era when donkey caravans traversed the area between Dakhla oasis and the Gilf Kebir and when the climate that existed at that time propelled moisture and summer rain much further north.
1.5 Palaeobotanical findings
Darius and Nussbaum partly reconstructed the former environment at DWM on the basis of ancient plant remains unearthed in an archaeological context. For the period of 3,000 to 2,200 BC they found floral vestiges which reveal a diverse vegetation cover, the species composition consisting of “…Capparaceae species, Accacia nilotica, Boscia cf. senegalensis, and Caloptropis procera.” (Darius, F.; Nussbaum, S.: op. cit., p. 80) Capparacae (Caper plant family), in particular the treelike species of this taxon, “… belong to generea such as Boscia, Cadaba, Capparis or Maerua. All these species are floristically associated with the Sahelian biome and thrive under summer rain conditions…. The plant remains bear witness to the monsoonal precipitation regime in that region..” (ibidem, p. 81) Such a species composition underlines “…the similarity to ecological conditions which exist at the Upper Wadi Howar nowadays. Yet… (, at DWM, a) grass layer is absent within the ancient species..” (ibidem, p. 80) assemblage.
In Results of expedition 2004/5 I have acquainted the reader with the wells of Obak, Eastern Sudan, which lie in a formerly (before the drought) well developed floodplain thicket with shrub, acacias (occasional colocynths and Caloptropis procera also to be found) and other species well adapted to water-logging conditions. Because of similarities in the vegetation cover and due to a resemblance of hydrological and geomorphological features, Obak may well be considered as a “reference oasis” to Biar Jaqub. Owing to abundant stocks of domestic animals, the grass cover of Obak is devoured as soon as it springs up after rain, a cause which forces live stock owners to look for grazing grounds elsewhere. Would such overgrazing have been the reason that, at DWM, no remains of a grass layer were found in an archaeological context?
So far, DWM is the only site which has been thoroughly examined by archaeologists. Therefore it is too early to draw final conclusions. However, the 30 plus Clayton sites discovered in the area to date, strongly suggest that DWM and Biar Jaqub proper, have to be envisaged as an ecological “niche” which provided food and feed for those, who once had settled there. Using the whole landscape as an economic source, it is most likely that the inhabitants of Wilkinson’s 2nd Zerzoora not only consumed roasted Colocynth pips as a staple diet, but also collected edible grasses. Most probably, traces of the latter will be found at Water Mountain Outpost No. 2, a site strikingly rich of organic remains. If, due to overgrazing, grass seeds have to be conceived as a scarce resource in Biar Jaqub, its substitution by colocynth pips for human consumption may be viewed as a convenient subsistence strategy, given that this alternative food source was near at hand.
Apart from ancient plant remains there is pictorial evidence that even palm trees were thriving in Biar Jaqub. As reported in Results of winter 2003/4 - expeditions, I found a petroglyph consisting of human figures with raised arms, quadrupeds, footprints of giraffes and a flower like depiction. (picture 2) Such floral motives (rosettes, florettes) have been interpreted as schematised palms seen from above (In the case of the early dynastic rosette found by Saad the trunk is shown in profile. Saad, Z. Y.: The excavations at Helwan. Norman 1969, p. 59) Due to stylistic features this piece of rock art may well date to the Naqada II period (3.600-3.200 BC). If the engraving represents a feature from the actual environment at the time and not a symbolic or ritualistic object (From predynastic times onward rosettes appeared to be designations of the ruler himself. See Cialowicz, K. M.: La composition, le sens et la symbolique des scenes zoomorphes predynastiques en relief. Les manches de couteaux. in: Freidmann, R.; Adams, B. (eds): The followers of Horus. Oxford 1992, p. 255. This aspect will be discussed in chapter E published in a separate file), then the rosette would most certainly portray a doum-palm (Hyphaene thebaica; picture 3) as its seven(?) petals convey the idea of regular branched trunks, a feature which is unique among palm trees. To my knowledge, the nearest location to Biar Jaqub where doum-palms are growing is at Bulaq/Kharga oasis.
picture 2: rosette next to human figures with raised arms picture 3: doum-palms at Dunqul
picture 4: There are other species of palms, such as the one shown here, which would comply with
the rosette petroglyph, however, it is unlikely that such palms ever flourished in Biar Jaqub
As reported earlier, gazelle droppings below a rock picture at Water Mountain Outpost No. 2 had been noticed not long since. Recently, these organic remains were C14-dated to 1,680 – 1,462 calBC (Two sigma range; probability 95,4 %). The droppings were seen at close quarters to a camel bone of recent age as well as to the site’s ancient hearths and organic settlement remains spreading out across the elevated surface of the outpost’s rock shelter facing north. As long as gazelles were resting there during the midday heat, people definitely were absent. However, the presence of the animals as indicated by their droppings is a further indication which helps to picture Biar Jaqub as a habitat that, in the middle of the 2nd millennium BC, might not only have attracted desert adapted mammals, but also humans to the area. Grazing, at the least, must have existed. Whether or not the outpost’s settlement remains do belong to approx. the same period as the droppings, has to be substantiated by archaeological excavations.
Please note that quite sizable remains of trees discovered on a small playa approx. 10 kilometres northwest of DWM yielded C-14 dates of 1,604 – 1,524 calBC, 1,729 – 1,621 calBC respectively. (see Results of winter 2005/6 – expedition, chapter 4.d) The first date correlates quite well with the date for the gazelle droppings indicating a (fragmented) carpet of vegetation which, during Middle Kingdom times, stretched for some 20 kilometres from the surroundings of Outpost No. 2 to the north.
2. Discovery of the “Lost Ochre Quarries of Kings Cheops and Djedefre
2.1 Preliminary remarks
At Djedefre´s water mountain (DWM) a 4th dynasty inscription records an expedition ordered by pharaoh Cheops (Khufu), in which 400 men were sent out from Memphis to collect “mefat” in the desert. “The nature of ´mefat´ remains uncertain, though Egyptologists have speculated that it was a mineral or vegetable pigment used to paint Khufu´s pyramid.” (Young, E.: op. cit., p.381)
DWM (and Biar Jaqub) are situated only a few kilometres south of the “Miocene-Nubian boundary” (term used by Moon, F. W.: Notes on the geology of Hassanein Bey´s expedition, Sollum-Darfur, 1923. in: Hassanein Bey, A.: The Lost Oases. Cairo, New York 2006, p. 305), where limestone strata (extending to the north) are laid down upon or against “Nubian” sandstones, the latter, partially, stretching well into the Sudan. (For detailed geological & geomorphologic information see: Pachur, H.-J.; Altmann, N.: Die Ostsahara im Spätquartär. Berlin, Heidelberg 2006) Wherever such sandstones occur, they “…add beauty to the landscape in unbelievable brilliancy and variety of colouring.” (Moon, F. W.: op. cit, p. 304) The minerals that impart colour to the sandstone are found in the cements (these may be either calcareous, siliceous, or ferruginous) that bind the more or less finely rounded grains of pure quartz together, “…the depth of colour depending upon the amount and composition of iron oxides present in it, and when this material is weathered, washed out, and accumulated into pockets it becomes when finely ground suitably adapted for the manufacture of paints.” (ibidem, p. 305) “Although greens and blues are sometimes observed, red is the dominant colour, all shades of pink, terracotta, maroon and brick-red are blended together, and umbers and ochres are sometimes present.” (ibidem, p. 304) Such varieties have caught my eye at numerous places throughout the Western Desert of Egypt south of the Miocene-Nubian boundary.
DWM is located about 60 km north of the Abu Ballas Trail (TAB) and 60 km south-west of Dakhla oasis. Assuming that ”mefat” has been correctly translated as (mineral) “pigments”: would it then make sense, that such substances were mined by the ancients far away from the site where the 4th dynasty inscriptions proclaiming this activity had been carved into the rock? For instance at the western-most foothills of the Abu Ballas Scarp, about 170 km south-west of DWM? Giancarlo Negro, Vicenzo de Michele and Benito Piacenza do believe so (see: The Lost Ochre Quarries of King Cheops and Djedefre in the Great Sand Sea (Western Desert of Egypt) SAHARA 16(2005) pp. 121-127). A complement to their article published 2/16/2007 affirms the authors´ assertions, presenting additional geological data and reasoning (as well as specifying the “ochre quarry’s” extension as an area measuring three by two kilometres!). However, again, G. Negro et al. fail to produce archaeological evidence for their assumptions, instead, expressing hope that whilst their “… preliminary research did not bring to light the presence of ancient settlements (this) does not bar the possibility of finding them in the future, possibly in less obvious and beat spots.” (http://www.saharajournal.com/pages/press.html: Further remarks on the ochre quarries in the Western Desert, Egypt.) For such archaeological remains myself and others have searched in vain. The disappointing outcome of these various searches tempts one to dismiss G.Negro´s et al. ideas as unrealistic. (for details see Results of winter 2005/6 – expeditions, chapter C)
Kuhlmann recently conveyed that he(?) has found a quarry in the vicinity of DWM. “From a hill exposing strata of red clay marls, rock material had been effectively quarried, the hoeing marks still being visible.” (Kuhlmann, K. P.: Der „Wasserberg des Djedefre“ (Chufu 01/1). MDAIK 61, 2005, p. 265; my translation) Unfortunately, the Egyptologist fails to offer visual evidence for this important observation. If, however, the site is ancient and close-by DWM, a separate camp for the 4th dynasty miners would not have been needed.
Where then, are the “Lost Ochre Quarries of Kings Cheops and Djedefre”? At this point I would like to present my findings backed up by photographs, thus enabling the reader to form an opinion of his own on the matter.
2.2 Three Ochre Quarries in Biar Jaqub
2.21 Mu´askar el Schemali (MS) – the Northern Camp
In late afternoon of 11/22/2005, while heading for the Kufra Trail, I discovered a Clayton Camp (for a definition see results of winter 2005/6 – expeditions, chapter 4. a) situated at the foot of two flat topped hillocks, both marked by very old alamat. (ibidem, chapter C) The site, which I named Mu´askar el Schemali (MS; the northern camp), is situated at the western edge of a valley running north to south. En route to DWM the valley’s ground slightly rises. A watershed is reached after 1.2 km. From there the terrain gently slopes down to DWM, which is reached after another 1.8 km. Thus, MS and MSA (see chapter 2.23) are more or less equidistant from DWM. On the evening of the discovery dim light prevented photography. So, on 10/23/2006, Mark Borda, Christian Philipp and myself paid another visit to the site.
As far as evidence goes, MS has served as a mining camp for collecting pebbles of red ochre (that is: earth with ferrous minerals; see: D´Amicone, E.: The art of vessel production. Museo Egizio. Turin 2001, p. 20) It consists of a homely stone-semicircle attached to a low rock face in the lee of the eastern hillock. (picture 5) Erected on elevated ground, the camp overlooks the north-south valley, which is, at this point, about 200 metres wide. Mark found the wadi floor covered with numerous stone implements and fragments of petrified bones (picture 6) both, most probably, dating to Neolithic times.
picture 5: stone semi circle attached to a low rock face
picture 6:stone implements and fragments of petrified bones
A bit further to the east, almost at the foot of a tall hill (which exposes a 5 m high base of reddish-brown playa) bordering the wadi, my comrade discovered pebbles of red-brown ochre. (picture 7) When moistening one of them, an intense red tincture came forth. It was of exactly the same colouration as seen on decorated water mountain symbols as well as on a DWM image of a pharaoh smiting an enemy. Evidently, the pebbles can be used directly for sketches and drawings on walls and rock faces. (for details see Lee, L.; Qirke, S.: Painting materials. in: Nicholson, P. T.; Shaw, I. (eds.): Ancient Egyptian minerals and technology. Cambridge 2000, pp. 104-109) This fact alone gives reason to believe that 4th dynasty expeditions did not necessarily have to resort to laborious quarrying activities in order to acquire red pigments. Instead, Pepi and Ij-Meri, the two commanders of the Cheops expeditions, most probably had sent out a few conscripts to collect the pebbles in the vicinity of MS and to transport the raw material to the DWM headquarters.
Those who frequented MS, left vivid traces of their presence. First, two petroglyphs of donkeys carved into the north-eastern face of the hillock strike the eye (picture 8), exhibiting, perhaps, the beasts of burden used for carrying the pebbles to DWM.
picture 7: pebbles of red ochre picture 8: image of one of the two donkeys
Second, on the hillock’s terrace, up beyond the stone semi-circle (and almost four metres above the ground), badly weathered geometric motifs possibly representing gaming boards, nets or traps (pictures 9 + 10), and an irregular cluster of sharpening marks are to be seen. (picture 11) Unlike the donkey petroglyphs the grid-pattern engravings “…were obviously not intended to be eye-catchers for a larger public, but belong to what may be called the more private space” (Jesse, F.: Rock art in Lower Wadi Howar, northwest Sudan. Sahara 16, 2005, p.34) Third, in the stone semi-circle proper a Clayton “lid” and a fragment thereof (picture 12) as well as a few potsherds are lying bare on the sand. The latter abound in quantity on the slope below the semi-circle and further down, at the foot of the hillock. (pictures 13 - 15) While some of the sherds belong to the Sheikh Muftah culture others, most certainly, have to be dated to Old Kingdom times. Judging from what is peeping out of the sand, the number of Old Kingdom potsherds would suffice to piece together one or two water jars. They, as well as the donkey motifs, indicate a strong connection with the archaeological finds at DWM.
pictures 9 + 10: enigmatic graffiti possibly representing gaming boards, nets or traps
picture 11: clusters of sharpening marks picture12: Clayton “lid” and a fragment thereof
picture 13: pot sherds strewn at the hillock’s base picture 14: cluster of pot sherds
picture 15: profile of a potsherd picture 16: bifacially retouched blade
While photographing the artefacts Christian found a bifacially retouched blade. (picture 16) I had discovered similar ones in large numbers on the Limestone Plateau north of Dakhla, at the Gerhard Rohlf´s dripstone cave and at numerous other sites. The ones at the dripstone cave have been dated to 6,400 – 6,100 cal BC (Djara A) and to 5,800 – 5,300 cal BC (Djara B; see Kindermann, K.; Bubenzer, O.: Djara – humans and their environment on the Egyptian limestone plateau around 8,000 years ago. in: Atlas of cultural and environmental change in arid Africa. op. cit., p. 26) Earlier, in the vicinity of MS, I had noticed simple stone tools made out of coloured rock, a variety common in the eastern outskirts of Gilf Kebir region. (pictures 17 + 18) Furthermore, a few transversal arrow heads known to be ubiquitous in the same environs, struck my eye. The latter two observations support the notion that Biar Jaqub had been used by prehistoric desert dwellers as a station on their wanderings between the Gilf Kebir and Dakhla oasis. (see Riemer, H.: Mapping the movement of pastro-foragers: the spread of Desert Glass and other objects in the eastern Sahara during the Holocene “humid phase”. in: Atlas of cultural and environmental change in arid Africa. op. cit., pp. 30-33)
pictures 17 + 18: Biar Jaqub; yellow and red coloured stone tools
The occurrence of artefacts from different eras and civilizations at MS calls for a profound archaeological survey. Only then will a thorough understanding of the site’s history, chronology of (seasonal?) habitation and function come to light. For the time being MS may be pictured as a camp site, which seems to fit well into an ancient regime of collecting pigments by sending recruits (accompanied by donkeys) into the surroundings of DWM. Void of water mountain symbols, MS may not have possessed a well. Instead, water needed for quenching the conscript’s thirst was stored in a few jars. Being only three kilometres distant from DWM it is self evident that, a small band of workmen stationed temporarily at MS was in no need of a big store of water. That the camp’s environs were rich in pebbles containing red pigments is attested to by picture 19. Seemingly, cropping up during a process of de-sedimentation, pebbles of red ochre cluster at the geologic contact zone of the playa with the eroded sandstone, the decrease of playa measuring (probably since Old Kingdom times) about five metres.
picture 19: pebble field of red ochre
2.22 Mu´askar Tel el Safri (MTS) - Ochre quarry & mining camp at Yellow Hill
Picture 20: Amur, Arabella, Ashan and myself at Yellow Hill (photographed by Christian Kny)
Continuing our way southward, we soon (in the afternoon of 10/24/2006) descended into lowland strewn with stone implements. I asked my fellow wanderers to deploy and to investigate the terrain. While Mark headed for a prominent Yellow Hill, Christian and I checked elevations close-by our course. Shortly after, I came across a tall mount. Its western slope is scattered with rocks of polychromatic sandstone exposing, mainly, a rich reddish brown (see picture 21) and a violet coloration. Along the hill’s south-eastern and eastern foot I discovered a cluster of six stone circles. (Mu´askar Tel el Safri - MTS; picture 22); in addition, two badly eroded stone constructions had been erected a bit further up the hillside.
picture 21: fragment of reddish brown sandstone picture 22: Mu´askar Tel el Safri, cluster of stone-circles
What was this cluster of simple shelters used for? The biggest one (possessing an “entrance” on its southern side) measured four by two metres. While climbing the hill and writing a memo concerning the find, Christian, (whom I had called in) excited and keen of making observations of his own, noticed a potsherd (the bottom of a Sheikh Muftah pot; see picture 23) at the base of (the large stone circle’s) western “jamb”. The artefact was almost completely covered by sand. Directly beneath it a fragment of a Clayton “lid” (picture 24) and a small piece of petrified bone occurred.
picture 23: Sheikh Muftah pot sherd picture 24: fragment of a Clayton “lid”
Usually stone circles found in the desert are void of artefacts. However, MTS is one of those rare cases, where relics are indeed present. This allows one to make a few “at a glance” suggestions about the thousands of years old remains and to consider some implications:
(Please note that MTS is a “Biar Jaqub site” and that (compared with the “open desert” which surrounds “Wilkinson’s 2nd Zerzoora”) this palaeoasis is well supplied with stone circle settlements that, in quite a few cases, expose a manifold of artefacts. (See, for example, pictures 25 + 26 & my Report on winter 2003/4 - expeditions & Results of winter 2005/5 – expeditions, chapter A))
picture 25: Biar Jaqub – stone circle settlement on hilltop
Picture 26: close-up exposing a grinding plate
a.) At the lee side of Yellow Hill (picture 20) Mark ran into a cliff consisting of soft & porous yellow sandstones disconnected, here and there, by thin red coloured streaks of the same material. (pictures 27 + 28; photographed with Fuji Provia 100. For comparison of colour see Christian Kny´s digital photograph above – picture 20) According to my comrade’s judgement, half of the hill had been carried off, the smaller part by forces of erosion, the larger part by human activities; in that way, creating, from summit to ground, an enormous rock face.
pictures 27 + 28: soft sandstone of yellow colour disconnected by red streaks
Although no quarrying marks were visible, Mark found a few conspicuous straight scratches and some delicate carving(?) lines on a sandstone slab at the base of the hill as well as a faint image of a quadruped. In addition, about 30 metres south of the cliff, a simple stack of stones of unknown function had been piled on top of an elbow-high rock outcrop. Both finds attest to the presence of humans at the site. Were these individuals involved in mining activities? Mark believes the site is suggestive of a quarry. Here are his observations and the reasoning in favour of such a supposition:
“My reason for believing Yellow Hill may have been a quarry are:
1.) Its shape – It appears that a large portion of the hill’s original mass is missing. Yellow Hill is not part of a continuous ridge but is one of a large number of separate cone shaped hillocks rising from a plain. There is much uniformity of structure and appearance between these hills which are more or less all of the same height, perhaps between 35 to 40 metres and also the same shape, each invariably having medium sloping sides all around and flat tops. In sharp contrast to the other hills, Yellow Hill presents a profile of a vertically bisected cone resulting in a sheer cliff face from near the top right down to the bottom.
2.) Its surface properties at the cliff face – Practically the whole of this surface appears to have been split piece by piece i.e., the mass of rock that was once apparently attached to the hill, seems to have separated in chunks along numerous sheared plains facing different directions. None of the surrounding hills exhibit anything comparable in terms of such a large area that is so comprehensively cleaved. Also, in contrast to Yellow Hill, the surfaces of the other outcrops of yellow and red sandstone that occur in patches on other hills are smooth and rounded and not flat and angular as seen at Yellow Hill.
3.) The quantity and colour of its sandstone – The hill appears to be composed in very large proportion, of a richly coloured yellow sandstone, perhaps ideal for making pigments used in painting, dying etc. None of the surrounding hills contain this material in anything like the high concentration seen at Yellow Hill and none offer such ease of extraction.
4.) The difficulty to explain how these features could have resulted from natural forces – Like most hills, conical hills are inherently stable and it is unlikely that the suspected missing portion of hill collapsed due to earthquake activity. Even if there is a fault line running under Yellow Hill, this would perhaps cause one side of the hill to slide against the other or cause a split but neither side of the hill would collapse and disappear. Anyway, even if the apparent missing section of hill did somehow manage to fall down, where is the collapsed material? Nor does it seem possible, due perhaps to having a different mineral composition, that the missing portion of hill, being softer, crumbled and disintegrated away through sand, wind, rain, etc. erosion, leaving the harder portion we see today behind. Sedimentary layers of rock are laid down horizontally, so it would seem implausible that a weaker vertical band of rock could ever have existed perpendicular to stronger horizontal layers. Anyway, such types of erosion would probably not have resulted in the surface appearance we see at the cliff face of Yellow Hill today.
5.) Proximity to DWM – Yellow Hill is only a days journey from a camp (DWM) that was apparently set up in pharaonic times specifically to prospect for pigments.
6.) Certitude of human presence – The rock slab incised with straight lines, the carved quadruped and the pile of stones; all these lie on, or very close to Yellow Hill and testify to human activity there. The perfect straightness and fineness of the incisions on the slab are perhaps also indicative of a metal tool and of a period of execution not preceding the pharaonic.
So in conclusion, we have a hill that appears to have a substantial part of its original bulk missing and an almost perfectly vertical cliff face created by the agency of numerous separate splits, with no easy geological explanation as to how these features might have occurred. The hill is uniquely and largely composed of a rich yellow sandstone which is easy to extract, even without metal tools and which seems ideal for pigment and therefore highly attractive to humans. The hill is also close to a camp, possibly set up for the express purpose of prospecting for pigments in pharaonic times and there is ample and clear evidence of human presence and activity at the site. For these reasons, I consider Yellow Hill to be a promising candidate for a pharaonic and possibly also a prehistoric ochre quarry.”
b.) MTS is almost equidistantly placed between Yellow Hill (3/4 kilometres) and another prominent flat topped hillock of ruby coloured sand stone (crowned with an alam; one kilometre) to the south. There is also another deposit of red sand stone to be seen to the north of Yellow Hill. Being a good day’s journey away from DWM, such constellation would have called for setting up a semi-permanent camp for the miners in the wind shade of the nearest intact hill, which by chance, is just the locality, where I had found MTS.
c.) Nevertheless, occasionally interrupting their work, miners would have squatted at Yellow Hill and at other pigment deposits for breaks. If not vanished over time, a scrupulous search might reveal such places of rest. A first attempt (on 12/17/2006) yielded a positive result, as Christian Kny and myself found a Clayton in the open plain less than a kilometre north-northwest of Yellow Hill. (pictures 29 + 30) The way the Clayton site was chosen, requires to picture its surroundings (at the time of the Clayton’s use) as covered with a carpet of (however sparse) vegetation.
picture 29: Clayton at a rock outcrop picture 30: Clayton at a rock outcrop (close up)
d.) There is, so far, no archaeological evidence for Yellow Hill proper of ever having been a quarry, because the nature of its sediments did not require the use of chisels, hoes or any other ancient mining tools. Obviously, the soft sandstone could be collected from the base of the yellow cliff or knocked off from it with a simple rock. It is, therefore, most unlikely that (despite the presence of stone-masons in the 4th dynasty expeditions, see Kuhlmann, K. P.: op.cit. p. 251) working marks originating from quarrying would occur here or elsewhere in Biar Jaqub.
e.) However, the joint occurrence of a fragment of a Sheikh Muftah vessel and of a Clayton “lid” within a stone circle at MTS corresponds well with the message of Bebi´s and Iij-Meri´s inscription at DWM, according to which, 400 conscripts were forced(?) to produce (e.g.: to collect and to grind) “mefat”. Therefore, it seems plausible to assume that MTS (as well as MS) were sites, where members of the Sheikh Muftah civilization, inducted into service by officers of the 4th dynasty mining expeditions, had camped for the sole reason of fabricating pigments for embellishing the pyramids of Cheops and of Djedefre.
f.) If anybody in ancient times would have travelled to Yellow Hill or to any other ochre site situated more than a stone’s throw away from DWM, he would not necessarily have needed road signs for navigation. There are, however, a number of alamat, which might have been erected for just that purpose. A further survey is required to substantiate such speculation.
g.) Throughout Biar Jaqub one will find geological & geomorphologic conditions similar to those at Yellow Hill or MS, parts of which Giancarlo Negro et al., at their alleged Cheop´s & Djedefre´s Ochre Quarry sites – COQ (see results of winter 2005/6 – expeditions, chapter C), have interpreted as remains of “…intense exploitation of… (ochre) mineral… (which) definitely (had) involved the work of several tens of men, perhaps hundreds, for a remarkable period of time…” (G. Negro et al., op. cit., p. 122) Thanks to the discovery of MTS and MS a more realistic scenario concerning the amount of people quarrying a specific site, is now evolving. By all accounts, the 4th dynasty pigment collecting gangs were much smaller than G. Negro et al. assume. It also has to be acknowledged that, during the period of an expedition, these humble bands were spread over a considerable part of Biar Jaqub.
h.) In the vicinity of COQ neither tools nor pot-sherds nor inscriptions were found. Likewise, there were no clusters of stone circles indicating a 4th dynasty (or any other old) mining camp. All these features have been located at close quarters to pigment deposits in Biar Jaqub. Why then should the followers of Cheops and Djedefre have travelled 170 km further to the south-west? It is quixotic to assume that Bepi and Ijj-Meri had led their men into a fearful void just because some desert enthusiasts of present times have run into an ochre deposit far off the reach of the pharaonic civilization.
2.23 Mu´askar el-Saghir – the Small Camp (MSA)
- Foundations of a house & dry stone walls - a mining camp? -
On our way to DWM we passed by a place consisting of a house foundation and of remains of dry stone walls (Mu´askar el-Saghir (MSA) - the small camp); relics, which I had discovered on 12/26/2002 while on a midday solo-walk. (Participants of the Dec. 2002 camel trip were Janine El-Saghir and Chalil Ranem Abd el Hamid.) Later that day, I had come across a hillock situated about a kilometre south of MSA, to which a stone semi circle had been attached. (picture 31) The site is adorned with a handful of petroglyphs (a pair of sandals, a quadruped and four human figures; see picture 32). From here, half way back to MSA, I had noticed a red coloured pot sherd (produced on a potter’s wheel) of old age lying bare on the sand, at the foot of a flat topped sandstone outcrop. On its slope another sherd, about 1 centimetre thick and of black colour (exposing a compact grey filler), was observed. Both the hillock and the rock outcrop are situated in a shallow dip (covered by sand which is underlayed by playa) stretching south of MSA; minor accumulations of red coloured sandstone being visible around.
picture 31: Stone semi-circle attached to the northern face of a hillock, view to the east across the shallow dip
picture 32: Steatopygeous human figures
While marching at slow pace towards DWM (Mark and Christian were way behind investigating an ammonite; the distance between their she-camel and my two castrates, Amur and Ashan, growing steadily until Arabella, missing her comrades, turned wild.) these finds welled up in my memory and called for a halt so as to, once more, reflect on their meaning and purpose.
The house foundation (picture 33) measuring three by two metres and nestled comfortably in the slipstream of five flat topped hillocks, had been erected on high ground overlooking the low lying area. Mark Borda found grinding stones within 2 metres distance of the structure. Most likely, a few pot sherds will come to light when excavating the site. The “house” is rectangular, not circular shaped thus, it exemplifies a rare exception to the prevailing rule in Biar Jaqub; a representation of a circular “house” to be seen a couple hundred metres to the west. (picture35)
At about 25 - 50 metres distance from the “house” and at the lofty height of four metres above it, remains of dry stone walls abound at the north and west faces of two of the hillocks. (pictures 33 + 34) Void of pottery, it is not clear whether these structures indicate shelters or former water jar dumps.
picture 33: house structure and remains of dry stone walls at the western face of a hillock, view to the north
picture 34: remains of a dry stone wall (4 metres long) at the northern face of the adjacent hillock
picture 35: stone circle erected on a swell
What was the site’s function? The abodes are located less than 3.5 km from DWM. They hardly could have been used as a station (Muhattah) on the Tariq Khufu (see report on winter 2003/4 - expeditions). Instead, MSA conveys the prima facie impression of a subsidiary settlement, which may have derived its existence from the mere presence of DWM. If it had been used as a 4th dynasty mining camp, one may picture the few individuals frequenting the site as collectors of pebbles of red ochre which, obviously, seem to have concentrated at the boundary line between playa and eroded sandstone which runs along the fringes of the large shallow dip south of the camp. To confirm such an impression, geological and archaeological examinations appear to be necessary.
From the store of more than 30 Clayton- , 20 pottery sites and approx. 180 rock art locations which, up to present, have been discovered in Biar Jaqub, two localities situated at the fringes of Biar Jaqub have been looted in recent times. Therefore, in the hope of preserving a record of them for posterity, I have selected for this article, four of these sites which, according to my judgement, are in extreme danger of being vandalised.
2.241 Muhattah Sa-Wadjet (MSW)
The site was discovered on 10/27/2003 and a report about it published (without presenting photographs) in Results of winter 2003/2004 – expeditions.
In October 2003, due to a failure of my GPS I needed to search for a water dump established some time before our camel trip. I had left Marlies Kriegler, a young student of meteorology and the camels behind in the shade of a tall hill. After a couple hours´ walk I spotted our jerry cans. On the way back to Marlies I came across MSW; a locality which, at the time of discovery, was untouched except for a clear 4WD track a few hundred metres north of the site. This track seemed to have been frequented by 4WD´s in recent times and had then, already given me cause for anxiety concerning the future integrity of the site. Sure enough, when a friend of mine and I arrived at MSW on one of my subsequent camel trips, the place although, evidently not looted, looked disturbed. Somebody had re-arranged the Abu Ballas-type(?) pot sherds discovered there previously. A few old footprints of several individuals heading to a 4WD-track still be seen.
For the information & convenience of readers a slightly altered excerpt from Results of Winter 2003/2004 – Expeditions concerning the discovery is placed here: “On returning from the southern vicinities of Biar Jaqub to DWM we came across a flat pale-grey hillock topped with 3 stone circles. It’s northern rock face is decorated with a few severely eroded petroglyphs, a few pieces of Sheikh Muftah pottery lying below at the foot of the rock-art. On all but it’s western flank simple stone constructions had been erected for storage (Khasin) and shelter. … Some well preserved pieces of pottery of the Abu Ballas-type in one of the Khasins belonging to not more than one jar clearly indicated that the site had been used … during the end of the Old Kingdom. Surprisingly, there are drilled holes in a few of the potsherds. Therefore, the jar could not have been used as a water container. Most probably its function was for food-storage. I christened the site after the name found at DWM “Muhattah Sa-Wadjet” (MSW)…Was the site selected accidentally or was it chosen on purpose? … Were was the road? The terrain is sand covered. Finally we found a line of Alamat that led us north to DWM. Would there be a further leg of trail leading from MSW deeper into the south?”
In addition to the above observations, it has to be mentioned that in a crevice, one foot away from the stone semi circle shown in picture 36, faint engravings remiscent of an inscription(?) were detected. Furthermore, at the south-eastern foot of the hill, a considerably large pile of stones catches the eye. (at the left base of the hillock; see picture 36) Is it a grave? Pictures 37 + 38 present the above mentioned potsherds of the Abu Ballas type(?), characteristic streaks caused by manufacture on the potter’s wheel can be seen. Picture 39 reveals a very small & empty Khasin below MSW´s western rock face, and picture 40 indicates that not only small fragments of Claytons, but also sherds of other provenances as well as stone tools are to be found on MSW´s northern slope. (all photographs taken on the second visit after the artefacts had been disturbed)
picture 36: MSW - eastern side. General view picture 37:MSW - south-eastern side. Close up of stone semi circle
containing pottery of the Abu Ballas type
picture 38: MSW - close up of the Abu Ballas type pot sherds picture 39: MSW - western side. Small Khasin
picture 40: MSW – potsherds scattered on the northern slope
Because of the quality and abundance of the archaeological remains, the site definitely qualifies as a Clayton Camp. (for a definition see Results of winter 2005/6-expeditions, chapter 4. a) Stone circles on top of the hillock, stone semi circles along its flanks, a grave(?), ample pot sherds, stone implements and –flakes. All attest to its seasonal if not permanent habitation.
Of special interest are reworked pottery sherds. (see picture 38) According to observations made at MSW the following conclusions may be drawn:
a.) At MSW, terracotta ware seems to have been a means to protect and to preserve foodstuffs. How important such vessels were “…can be seen from the attempts made to repair cracks and breaks in..” them. (D´Amicone, E.: op. cit, p. 19) Such mending was “…made with plant fibres or animal skins sewn into holes made around the fracture in the vessel.” (ibidem) Without touching the relics, at least 3 sherds perforated with 5 holes could be discerned, obviously having belonged to the middle section of the jar.
b.) On the other hand, the “.. regular presence of two holes near the rim...” would indicate that the vessel (comprising of the Abu Ballas-type(?) sherds shown in picture 38) “… had a cord for carrying..” (ibidem) Thus it could be hung up somewhere at the hillock’s rock face. At a glance, two such rim fragments were noticed. While one possesses two drilled holes, the second exhibits just one. A third rim piece is void of perforations.
c.) There is a further consideration to be kept in mind: The vessel could have been “ritually killed” “… by piercing a hole through .. (it), usually near the base.” (Redmount, C. A.: Ceramics. in The Oxford encyclopaedia of ancient Egypt. Redford, D.E. (ed.), Cairo 2001, vol. 1, p. 249) However, a piece of pottery attesting to such a procedure was not noticed.
Therefore, it may be concluded that the MSW-vessel which, normally, would have been suspended well above the ground, was a repaired article which, in ancient times, was still needed “… to keep foodstuffs far from contaminated soil and crawling animals.” (Noguera, A. M. et al.: New rock art sites in the south-western sector of Gebel Uweinat (Libya). Sahara 16/2005, p. 113)
d.) None of the potsherds detected at MSW belong to jars in which water had been stored. Does this indicate that, in this part of Biar Jaqub, the precious liquid was not perceived as a scarce commodity at the time when humans were settled at MSW? I believe so. Therefore, the findings at MSW may serve as a further confirmation that Biar Jaqub (and the area around DWM) had been a palaeoasis for quite some time in the course of the historic era.
e.) MSW is situated on a flat expanse of playa covered by sandstone slabs and thin sand sheets. To the east and south-east the plain is bordered by Shallow Wadi (see Results of winter 2003/2004 expeditions). On some rock faces on hills situated at the fringes of Shallow Wadi, a considerable amount of rock art strikes the eye (see Results of winter 2003/4 - expeditions).
At the time of discovery I had interpreted MSM as a station belonging to a trail which connects a locality south of DWM which is so far unknown. Although chances are dim that MSW is linked with MTS/Yellow Hill by a line of alamat, it seems worthwhile to test this conjecture. On the other hand, taking into account the geological features of MSW and its surroundings, the locality, at one time, may well have served as a camp for collecting pebbles of red ochre. To substantiate such an assumption thorough geological and archaeological analysis is deemed indispensable.
2.242 Rock art- and pottery finds in the vicinity of MSW
A nearby hillock (to the west of MSW) is adorned with a pair of sandals and a quadruped. (see pictures 41 + 42) At its base a sizable spearhead made out of bone was detected and, at the foot of a neighbouring hill, a fragment of a Clayton “lid” (in winter 2003/4). Both elevations are situated in the beforementioned flat expanse of playa.
pictures 41 + 42: Biar Jaqub - images of sandals and of a quadruped at a hillock west of MSW
More startling than the find of a well preserved spearhead is the discovery of a single, rather abraded, sizable bowl, which Johannes Kieninger came across (see Results of winter 2003/2004 expeditions) when walking towards Shallow Wadi (situated in the east of MSW). Although the container is broken into pieces, no parts seem to be missing; its composition possibly revealing a late date of manufacture. An image of better quality (than the one presented in Results of winter 2003/2004 expeditions) consisting of two of the bowl’s sherds, together with a general view of the site are shown in pictures 43 + 44. The bowl is handmade and an estimated 40 centimetres in diameter when measured at the slightly “closed shaped” (D´Amicone, E.: op.cit., p. 41) rim. The item seems to have an almost flat base and is equipped with a handle.
picture 43: Shallow Wadi: “Bowl hill” site picture 44: Shallow Wadi: bowl fragments
What was this “wide mouth” container used for? Its shape reveals no affinity with contents such as water or, especially, milk. The composition of its filler differs remarkably from that of a Sheik Muftah pot found on the Kufra Trail (see picture 45). Surprisingly, not a single water jar or pieces thereof were seen in its surroundings. Barring future expert analysis proving otherwise, it may be assumed that the pot represents a piece of “kitchen-ware” that had been used for cooking or serving food.
picture 45: Sheikh Muftah pot seen on the Kufra Trail
The fact that we did not come across any water jar fragments at MSW nor in the vicinity of the food bowl, indicates that rainwater sources had existed in that region at least up to the period to which the pot may be dated. If such water sources were sporadic, nobody would have left such a valuable utensil behind, unless its owner/s had expected rain to fall in monsoonal periods to come. For the time being, it is not hard to imagine that those who dwelled at MSW and exploited its surroundings (for instance by herding sheep or by hunting wild ones, as picture 47 may suggest) obtained their water from shallow wadi. To carry it to MSW or elsewhere they might have used donkeys, as an image of one of the beasts close by implies. (picture 46) That the shepherds or hunters did not fret about dying of thirst is attested to by picture 48. Graffiti of obscure symbolism scratched into the rock next to the representation of sheep indicates that rock art was either produced to mark the landscape, for religious reasons or, simply, to while away the time.
picture 46: representation of a donkey
picture 47: representation of two sheep
picture 48: Shallow Wadi; graffiti of obscure symbolism
2.243 A Clayton and three stone circles south-southwest of DWM
While investigating a few hills half a day’s marching distance south-southwest of DWM (on 2/21/07) I came across a small sandstone hillock about 5 metres in height. On its narrow plateau 3 stone circles had been erected. The cliff-like elevation is situated at the northern fringes of a small depression which belongs to a larger valley. In the lee of the hillock a badly eroded Clayton and a “lid” were detected. (pictures 49 + 50) The site is another example, where a Clayton is found in (possible) archaeological context with stone circles (see also, for example, MS, MTS and MSW).
picture 49: Hillock with Clayton and “lid” picture 50: Clayton with “lid” (close up)
Two 4WD tracks attest to a recent visit by off-road enthusiasts. According to the tire marks their vehicles had not stopped. Luckily for the Clayton, there were no footprints either.
As testified by playa deposits elsewhere in Biar Jaqub, the present day surface of this former oasis is (due to erosion) well below its paleo-surface. Assuming that the depth of the erosion into the soft ground surrounding the hillock, consisting mainly of a mixture of sand, playa-remains and tiny sandstone slabs, amounts to about 2 metres since early historic times, these stone circles have to be perceived as dwellings that were, at one time, not more than 3 metres above the ground.
It has been assumed that high elevations were chosen for settlement by the ancients as a protection against wild animals and as a safeguard against attacks from human foes. In Biar Jaqub there are quite a few such hills, whose steep cliffs meet such strategic demands. Some of them are hard to climb, their flat tops occupied by surprising numbers of stone structures, albeit, other stone circles or clusters of the same are found even on playa ground. In the case discussed here, a defence motive most probably makes no sense. So, does the low altitude of the settlement indicate that at the time of its erection, no blood thirsty predators were threatening settlers any more? Instead (as observed in the eastern mountains of the Sudan), the three stone circles could have been erected in a slightly elevated position for two reasons:
a.) to allow for an escape from moisture
b.) a deliberate exposure to wind
The latter motive would have helped to keep mosquitoes away. (Note that camel and goat herders of Timai are bothered by mosquitoes for quite a while after rain. Their grazing grounds are situated in the north-eastern part of the Air Mountains, an area which turns into a dry savannah for most of the year. See Spittler, G.: Hirtenarbeit. Die Welt der Kamelhirten und Ziegenhirtinnen von Timia. Köln 1998, p. 150)
2.244 Sheikh Muftah pottery sherds at Outpost No. 1
I discovered Outpost No. 1 on 2/25/2001. The site which, among other important petroglyphs, also bears an engraving of the water mountain symbol superimposed by a sitting giraffe (see for instance Results of winter 2005/6 – expeditions, chapter 4.c, picture 26) is situated in a 1,6 kilometre long valley oriented NNW/SSE. Since giving the coordinates of the find to Kuper (in fall of 2001), numerous 4WD tracks have ruined the valley’s floor. Some of them cut right into clusters of artefacts lying bare on the ground. Under these circumstances it is amazing that two Sheikh Muftah pot sherds (one of them is shown in pictures 51 + 52) lying on the sand about 5 metres north-northwest of the rock art, have not been taken care of by the Cologne archaeologists. Obviously, the sherds belong to “settlement debris” of outpost no 1, partly covered by sand.
In November 2006 the sherds were still to be seen.
pictures 51: A Sheikh Muftah potsherd at WB 1, obverse picture 52: ditto, reverse
If it is substantiated that the Sheikh Muftah pot sherds are archaeologically related to Outpost No. 1, Kuhlmann´s assumption of a pharaonic origin of the water mountain symbols would be further weakened.
In the neighbourhood of Outpost No. 1 Mark found a sequence of artefacts strewn over sand and playa; among them pot sherds (of possible Sheikh Muftah origin), petrified bones, stone implements and -flakes. (see pictures 53 - 55) The site has been spared by car tracks so far. It is only a matter of time until the location will be destroyed by archaeologists or off road tourists.
pictures 53 + 54: potsherds in the vicinity of WB 1
picture 55: “Schlagplatz next to the potsherds
Berlin and Sehlis 9/25/2007
F. Berger´s image of a potsherd found in Wadi Hamra and TL-dated to
1,500 +/- 300 years
(Berger, U.; Berger, F.; El-Mahdy, T.: Report on a journey to the northern part of
Gilf Kebir, SW Egypt, February/March 2001. Cahiers de Láars. No. 8,
August 2003, p. 22)