Advance Report

The aims of the winter 2007/8 expeditions were to resume research on the Darb Wadai and on the Abu Ballas- and Kufra Trails as well as to continue the work to solve the riddle of the origins of the pharaonic script found in Biar Jaqub.

Whilst the first survey, which took place between Nov.2nd 2007 and Jan.10th 2008 was performed by camel, the second survey planned for February 2008, was intended to be performed by 4WD.

A. Survey by camel

1.) Darb Wadai (DW) – Darb Bir Sahara (DBS)
Following the sparse line of alamat which marks the trail up to latitude 23 degrees 30´ and after the trail unexpectedly deveated from its “Merga course” at latitude 24 degrees 03´, it became clear that the track heads for the Bir Sahara/Bir Tarfawi area. Thus, instead of the name DW, an appropriate name for the road would be “Darb Bir Sahara” (DBS). Such denomination would help to distinguish DBS from another ancient caravan road which runs from Mut/Dakhla oasis directly to Bir Tarfawi (“Darb Tarfawi”).

2.) Abu Ballas Trail (TAB)
Departing from DBS on 14th Nov. 2007 we (two camels, Amur and Ashan, and myself; see picture 1) proceeded to Eight Bells/Wadi Wassa.

During the first 16 days of the expedition the camels and me were aflicted by tremendous heat (high temperatures had weakened the beasts and had caused my water consumption to rise to 13.5 litres per day). When, on the 18th Nov. 2007, the heat ceased, I increased hiking speed with the negative result that Amur went lame. From that moment on, my further attempts to track the TAB from Wadi el Akhdar to the southwest were severely hampered. Finally, to save the camel´s life, the endeavour had to be postponed until February 2008, at which time my friend Philipp Moore would arrive in Egypt for a desert survey by car.

picture 1: Amur and Ashan resting during a break

Amur had suffered badly from a sprained muscle and could hardly walk. Averaging a speed of 2.5 kilometres per hour (maximum of 10 km per day) including lots of breaks, we made the 480 km distance back to Dakhla oasis in 48 days.

3. March along the eastern fringes of the Gilf Kebir
Mark Borda´s & Mahmoud Marai´s discovery of a hieroglyphic inscription
As we were dependent on water dumps set up in advance, retreating from the Gilf Kebir in a direct line was out of the question. Moving northward we reached a much needed storage point on the 28th Nov. 2007 containing 120 litres of water in the vicinity of El-Aqab el Qadim. Barely enough remained for me after the camels had drank their fill at this remote locality. On the evening of the same day I received a SMS from Mark Borda. It read: “CARLO WE HAVE FOUND PHARAONIC WRITING WITH CARTOUCHE AND IMAGE OF PHARAOH…” Mark had been one of my hiking comrades and the main sponsor of last winter´s expedition. Keen to make discoveries of his own, he had hired my friend Machmud Marai to provide desert transport in order to survey the area between Bir Abu Munqar and Gebel Uweinat.

What an achievement - a hieroglyphic text containing the name of the ancient land of Yam found some 700 km west of the Nile and circa 650 km afar from Djedefre´s Watermountain! Pleased that two individuals who had helped me in my struggle for survival against Kuper´s & Kroepelin´s vicious attacks, made this incredible find, I congratulated immediately. Shortly after Mark replied: “THANKS FOR YOUR THOUGHTS RE DISCOVERY. WE ARE GLAD THAT YOU HAVE BEEN VINDICATED. MARK.”

Years ago Kuper, totally overestimating his abilities, had declared that the era of the classical desert explorers had ended and accordingly claimed the Western Desert of Egypt for himself and mainly for university based scientists associated with him. However, doesn´t this breathtaking discovery once more, support the conclusion that individuals with extraordinary determination, dedication, perserverance and with a readiness to bear risks as well as physical suffering, are still in the lead when it comes to thoroughly surveying the barren lands west of the Nile? Or, as one does not wish to suppose, are such discoveries made merely because of the shortcomings of those, who arrogate to themselves the exclusive right for desert surveying, thereby creating a monopoly for the one-eyed and the foot-lame?

4.) Kufra Trail (KT)
Maintaining our northward course we finally reached the KT.
In Results of Expeditions 2006/7 – advance report (German version) I had reasoned that the discovery of a Clayton adorned with a simplified image of a cattle head, hints to the fact that the KT was used for cattle drive activities. However, as stated in the same report, the cattle head image might represent the name of a predynastic king called “Horus cattle(head)” (see note in chapter “Discovery of the Kufra Trail”) Therefore, and because of the detection of pieces of ivory in one of the Muhattahs, it is more likely that the trail was utilised for a variety of purposes.

Turning north-east we followed the KT up to longitude 28. On our way we passed by a Muhattah, where a faintly blackened Clayton-lid embedded in compact playa was discovered. At first glance the coating covering this item seemed to resemble the tarry coat obtained from my handal-pip roasting tests in Eastern Sudan. (see Results of Winter 2006/7 – Expeditions; a solution to the Clayton ring problem (continued)) Further studies are needed to verify such conjecture.

Amur´s frequent need for rest was conductive to further investigations of the KT, which resulted in a number of minor discoveries:
a.)    Identification of different types of hearths (some of them, most probably, built for the insertion of Claytons)
b.)  Detection of a side track of the KT
c.)   additional caravan resting places
d.)  a few potsherds

These finds supplement the picture of the trail which had been drawn up last winter.

5.) Latest news from Biar Jaqub
On the last leg of the expedition, organic remains (charcoal, two animal bones embedded in an ancient fire place (picture 2), and ostrich egg shells) belonging to the dwellings of the giraffe hunters of Biar Jaqub, were found. A few of the ostrich egg shell fragments contain incised decoration (picture 3) which, due to stylistic features, may be related to the Naqada II period. (To the best of my knowledge, this is the first find of decorated ostrich egg shells in Egypt´s Western Desert. The shells will facilitate a precise dating of the decorative art in question and of the rock art created by the giraffe hunters in Biar Jaqub.) The bones on the other hand, obviously seem to have belonged to an animal larger than a gazelle. It will be interesting to learn whether these skeletal remains belong to a big antelope or to a giraffe.

picture 2:two bones from a fireplace                               picture 3: one out of five decorated ostrich egg shells

My forthcoming paper on early hieroglyphic writing in Biar Jaqub will partly concentrate on these finds, samples of which will be C14-dated in the near future. Results are not expected before the end of October 2008. By then, my thesis that the giraffe hunters and cattle worshippers of Biar Jaqub (picture 4) were amongst the peoples who created an “imperfect” prehistoric script (Proto-hieroglyphs), which was later partly incorporated into the pharaonic writing system (see previous expedition reports and Young, E.: Pharaohs from the stone age. New Scientist. 1/12/2007, p. 38, where my findings are cited) will hopefully be substantiated.

picture 4: Three hunters next to legs and tail of a giraffe.
Rockart discovered on 2/12/2002 at Watermountain outpost No. 7.

On the 10th Jan. 2008 Amur, Ashan and myself arrived safely back at Bir 5 after a hike of 1,500 kilometres. Because of the shortage of food (The dumps set up between the Gilf Kebir and Dakhla oasis were not designed for slow passage as forced upon us by Amur´s disablement.) I had become skin bones. My weakness increased when amoebic dysentery struck me. Eventually I ended up in Al Shourouk Hospital, Cairo-Dokki with broncho-pneumonia and it became clear that if I was to recover and to regain my strength, I had to skip the 4WD-expedition to the Gilf Kebir and Gebel Uweinat.

This year is my 28th year in the Egyptian deserts. Inchaallah in May I will celebrate my 60th birthday. I don´t know any Bedouin who, at such an age, would bear the burden (and enjoy the pleasures) of such long marches on foot. My future expeditions will have to take into consideration the physical limitations which we experience as we get older.

B. Survey by 4WD
The results of the 4WD-survey including an account of a raid that took place at Gebel Uweinat leading to the subsequent deportation of members of the expedition deep into the Sudan will be presented by my friends at a later date.

Malberg, 3/15/2008

Carlo Bergmann

(For making this script more readable the original text of 3/15/2008 has been slightly corrected.)

Sehlis, 6/20/2008