Results of the Winter 2008/9 Bergmann-Böckli-Marei-4WD-trip to Gebel Uweinat
Karkur Talh, Gebel Uweinat
On account of the after-effects of cancer surgery, my original winter 2008/9 campaign plans, which had also included a strenuous expedition by camel, had to be cancelled. Instead, in February/March 2009, Hardy Böckli, Mahmoud Marei and myself departed on a 5 week 4WD-trip across Egypt´s Western Desert to search for the last remaining untraced segment of the Abu Ballas Trail (TAB) on Egyptian soil; the leg between the Gilf Kebir and Gebel Uweinat. The journey was sponsored by my friend, Hardy Böckly, to whom I feel much indebted as, due to financial constraints, I would not have been able to perform any research last winter. Charging a fair price for his services and at the same time, taking part in the survey, Mahmoud Marei and his team also contributed in no small way to the results.
The prospects of finding anything were dim as a previous trip by Christian Kny and Mahmoud Marei on the one hand and two further trips by Mark Borda on the other, had not succeeded in contributing anything substantial to what had already been found out by myself in winter 2000/1.
The <![if !vml]><![endif]> outlook was made more bleak <![if !vml]><![endif]> by the trauma <![if !vml]><![endif]> of my separation from Joyce, my girl friend and the love of my life. <![if !vml]><![endif]> Expecting a more difficult life ahead, she had left me after eight years of deep mutual affection. Whilst I was in hospital she succumbed to the persuasions of those who courted her in Egypt, where I had advised her to go to write her book. <![if !vml]><![endif]> During her stay in Aswan, she <![if !vml]><![endif]> married one of the locals becoming <![if !vml]><![endif]> that man´s <![if !vml]><![endif]> third wife <![if !vml]><![endif]>. She had confessed her love for me right until the last moment when, <![if !vml]><![endif]> after one of our long phone conversations, she emailed me <![if !vml]><![endif]> saying that she is very happy that we could speak once more. That she is embracing and kissing me and that she loves me. The message ending with an affectionate farewell phrase. 1) 2)
After checking out from the clinic, the awful reality that <![if !vml]><![endif]> Joyce had left me, hit home; made all the worse by the fact that there had been not the slightest intimation that our relationship would ever end. To ease my woes I resorted to Mendelson-Bartholdy´s violin concerto in E minor. Soon the music developed a life of its own. In the silence of the desert I could not get rid of it. How could one concentrate on anything <![if !vml]><![endif]> whilst beset with a resounding desolation during daytime and with a never ending symphonic bombardment at night? Despite such obstacles the trip yielded a few positive results.
1) To avoid legal fights this paragraph was partly rewritten, as my girl friend´s lawyer claimed that a statement (including the direct quote from her e-mail) and the mentioning of her name would infringe her personal rights.
2) Abandoned text blackened.
New text (of 7/10/2009; slightly revised again on the 7/16/2009) in blue.
Here our findings in brief:
A.) A solution to the Clayton ring problem (continued)
On account of heavy rainfalls which occurred in the area of the Gilf Kebir plateau in January/February 2008 and due to additional precipitation in January 2009, a remarkably well developed vegetation cover was found. Surprisingly, in eight different locations extending from Wadi Hamra to Gebel Uweinat, quite sizable plots of colocynths (Handal) were noticed in addition to a limited variety of other plants. Among them were five sites situated close to the neighbourhood of the TAB. Does such proximity point to the ancient donkey caravans provisioning themselves with the poisonous fruits 4,000 years ago? I believe so, although no Clayton pottery was found during our swift survey. However the mere fact that Handal is blossoming in areas that have been considered barren and infertile for decades if not centuries, illustrates the resilience and survivability of its seeds. This alone increases the possibility that the fruits had been picked up and consumed by those who traversed the desert in antiquity.
B.) Discovery of the Abu Ballas Trail´s last missing link on Egyptian soil
In my winter 2000/1 camel expedition to the Gilf Kebir I had succeeded in tracing the TAB up to Wadi el-Akhdar. Proceeding further to the southwest, I again ascended the plateau but detected only few alamat. When my caravan finally reached the Gilf´s steep south-western front I had neither the strength nor enough water left to check several marked locations for a descent and to search for the continuation of the trail in the adjacent lowlands extending towards Gebel Uweinat and Gebel Arkenu. In winter 2007/8 Christian Kny and Mahmoud Marei identified some additional alamat belonging to the trail with the aid of my 2000/1-waypoints, but failed to definitely determine the location of the ancient pass. We performed this important exercise this winter and in addition, also found four new way stations between the pass and Gebel Uweinat. These hardly contained any pottery. Our search was hampered by mine fields passed around Peter & Paul.
In an area without the slightest traces of the ancient trail, Hardy Böckly discovered a well smoothed granite fragment which seems to have belonged to a handle. An average person would probably not have afforded such a precious object so the handle may have belonged to a rich individual.
C.) Discoveries of rock art
In winter 2007/8 Mahmoud Marei and Christian Kny had detected four rock art sites in a basin of the northern branch of Wadi el Akhdar. These are only a stone throw from a site where Kuper had carried out excavations between 1980 and 1985. Although the Cologne pre-historians had conducted eight campaigns at this site, they missed the rock art due to what must be improper surveying methods. We paid a visit to the sites and documented the artefacts.
On our way to Gebel Uweinat we passed by the impressive rock art shelter discovered last year by Mark Borda and Mahmoud Marei. The site and its surrounding which are situated on the virtual alignment of the TAB also contain sizable amounts of potsherds. Among the ceramics a mace head made out of whitish rock was found.
At Gebel Uweinat Hardy Böckli and I discovered a rock shelter covered with paintings. Among the depictions a peculiar symbol (rosette) caught our eyes. The same icon is also present in Biar Jaqub. This find may hint to a cultural transfer between Gebel Uweinat and the Dakhla region. Furthermore, at one of the descents to Bir Murr my friend found a rock painting consisting of four male figures positioned above a water line. This piece of art attests to the seemingly age old convention amongst the Neolithic desert populations of using zigzag or rounded lines to mark locations where water was available. Note that contrary to Biar Jaqub Bir Murr still bears water.
D.) Discovery of a skeleton
In the course of the survey a skeleton was found by our driver, Hesham Sobhy. Whilst traversing a featureless expanse of playa Hesham, who seemingly possesses the competence of a dowser, just knocked twice with his walking stick on the ground and then claimed to be standing in the middle of an ancient grave yard. To our surprise, five centimetres below his feet, a skeleton emerged. It will be interesting to learn, how old the human remains are.