On 8/31/2009 Roberta Simonis invited me to write a reply to Kuper´s paper “A Paradise off Rules?” published in Sahara Magazine of 2009. As my article was rejected by the lady on 10/14/2009, the unabridged text is posted on my website today.
A reply to R. Kuper´s accusations in
“A Paradise off Rules?” SAHARA 20 (2009) pp.7-12
In his article R. Kuper has singled me out as a person who´s methods of exploration in the Western Desert of Egypt are destructive and illegal. Consequently, I would like to present my response which I believe will reveal that R. Kuper´s denunciation of me is based on false accusations, inaccuracies and half-truths.
Soon after I discovered Djedefre´s Water Mountain (DWM) in 2001, Kuper terminated his long-standing collaboration with me, claiming categorically for himself and for his associates the right to solely publish my findings and, in addition, demanding of me that I refrain from presenting my discoveries on TV, a right which he claimed for himself and S. Kroepelin.
I was never Kuper´s employee and no labour contract obliged me to obey such presumptuous orders which seemingly resulted from his repressed anger and frustration. Well equipped and well funded for more than a decade, Kuper and his team had in vain, searched the Western Desert for relics dating to the Pharaonic period. Thus, his ego found it extremely difficult to accept that, a poor man like me, constrained to a low cost survey concept, walking on foot and alone with my camels, relying on simple methods such as giving more serious attention to local rumours and the reports of former explorers like G. Rohlfs, Count Almasy and W.J. Harding King, had succeeded in locating for instance, the ancient road from Ain Asil/Dakhla Oasis to Yam and Tekhebet (RYT) as well as the splendid site of DWM.
There are different ways of compensating for one´s own failures and responding to the success of others. The choice of Kuper and his associates who considered me easy prey, is to combat me by denouncing me as a criminal and as a looter, thus attempting to deny me the right to survey the Western Desert of Egypt and to publish the results thereof.
In 12/19/2002 Kuper, Kroepelin and Kuhlmann had intervened with GEO´s chief editor and had succeeded in halting the publication of an important paper which I had written and which was ready for print dealing with my discovery of Biar Jaqub and its proto-hieroglyphs. My work was discredited by the same arguments Kuper presented in his Sahara 20 article: a.) illegal entry and survey of the Western Desert b.) illegal collecting and sampling as well as taking samples abroad, c.) illegal naming of sites, d.) destruction of archaeological sites e.) coercing archaeologists to take urgent emergency measures in order to protect or to preserve newly discovered sites.
This defamation led to a de facto ban on the publication of my writings and subsequently, to attempts to expel me from Egypt and her deserts. These malpractices are in line with Kuper´s et al intentions as voiced in the January 2007 issue of the New Scientist, by Kroepelin who came out from behind his accustomed cover stating: “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.” (E. Young, Pharaohs from the stone age. New Scientist, 13 January 2007, p. 34)
a.) illegal entry and survey of the Western Desert
From the date he broke off all relations with me and denounced me as the desert´s criminal trespasser, Kuper wrongly assumed that he is the only one from whom I could acquire a desert permit. By now, he and his associates probably have realised that desert permits similar to theirs have been granted to me by the Egyptian authorities. These generous permits have allowed me to freely and legally roam the Western Desert together with my camels. To those men from whom I received this extraordinary privilege I feel extremely grateful and these permits contributed quite substantially to the success of my research.
b.) illegal collecting & sampling and taking samples abroad
It was Kuper himself who had asked me to collect samples and to drop them at his institute at Cologne University. This collaboration goes back to summer 1986 when Kuper equipped me with plastic pouches, measuring tape, spatula and B.O.S.-assessment sheets. (see www.carlo-bergmann.de - Discovery of the Road to Yam and Tekhebet (RYT) – part one.) During these years a considerable amount of archaeological samples (mainly potsherds) accumulated in a depot at Kuper´s Heinrich Barth Institute in Cologne. Finally, the material filled two fairly big sized boxes marked with my name.
Whoever visits Kuper at his institute, passes by an ancient jar taken from the jar deposit of Abu Ballas pottery-hill. Bearing in mind Kuper´s continuous pleading for the preservation of the Egyptian national heritage: how could such a pot be brought to Germany and end up in Kuper´s place? Its presence as well as (in those days) the pre-historian´s friendly remarks concerning my archaeological samples collected at his request gave me the feeling that there was no wrongdoing whatsoever from my side. Pottery samples which I obtained from several RYT-sites, were sent by Kuper to the British Museum for assessment. (figures 1 a-c)
figures 1 a-c: Renee Friedman´s letter of 7/20/1999 to Kuper concerning
the assessment of a potsherd which I collected at Muhattah Jaqub
Among the archaeological material which I carefully recovered on different expeditions were also a few charcoal-samples which after being handed out to Kuper, were 14C dated. One of them concerning a “Steinplatz” found on the western fringes of the limestone plateau east of Naqb Bulaq, Kharga Oasis, yielded a 14C age of 5,800 +/- 40 BP. Another sample of charcoal extracted from the “kitchen area” at DWM whilst Kuhlmann was busy translating the 4th dynasty inscriptions, yielded a 14C date of 2,884 BC roughly matching with the reign of Cheops, a finding which, on the occasion of my visit to Kuper´s institute on 5/6/2001, was announced by Kroepelin with great satisfaction. Moreover, a piece of a string belonging to an ancient saddle bag found by me at Muhattah el Homareen yielded a 14C age of 1,230 +/- 50 BC. With Kuper´s consent the first and the latter age values were presented in my book. (Der letzter Beduine, Meine Karawanen zu den Geheimnissen der Wüste. Reinbek, 2001, pp. 176, 394, figure 21) In those days Kuper was quite enthusiastic about my narrative asking for additional free copies.
Evidently, as long as we cooperated my sampling was welcome and considered legal. The day Kuper and his associates decided to ostracise me, the same exercise was suddenly considered illegal. Such reversals are not reasonable and therefore, Kuper´s criticisms concerning the collection of a few samples for 14C-testing in particular, the findings of which having been incorporated in my 2007/8 - “Preliminary Report on the Results of Radiocarbon- and Thermoluminescence (TL)-datings” and in my paper “On the Origins of the Hieroglyphic Script” on my website, have to be dismissed.
For the following reasons I considered the sampling in question to have been indispensable: a.) On account of Kroepelin and Kuper´s article “More corridors to Africa” (Cripel 26 (2006-2007), pp. 219- 229) which contains some extremely questionable assertions, a limited number of settlements belonging to the Giraffe Hunters & Cattle Pastoralists of Biar Jaqub needed to be studied in detail. Evidence derived from this investigation had to be incorporated into a scenario describing the climatic and environmental conditions that presumably, triggered off the creation of water mountain signs in the region of DWM and Biar Jaqub thus shedding light on the all important period during which, the first attempts towards creating proto-Hieroglyphic characters must have been made. b.) How could this be done without a sound framework of fairly precise 14C datings? Exposing Kröpelin´s and Kuper´s vague and partly wrong conclusions could not be achieved without the dates derived from these samples. Unveiling the roots of the Hieroglyphic script is one of the principal challenges facing Egyptology. Why should I not take part in this exciting venture knowing that a possible answer is at hand at places which I myself discovered? c.) Furthermore, who else outside of Kuper´s team is familiar with DWM and Biar Jaqub and thus, in a position to assess their publications and to discard any factual flaws as well as wrong conclusions? Is scientific progress really advanced by “too fast and too uncritical publications…” (R. Kuper, A paradise off rules. op. cit., p. 10) such as “More corridors to Africa”? I don´t believe so. The Cologne pre-historians exert a de facto near-monopoly on archaeological research throughout the Western Desert of Egypt. Experience shows that such monopolies rarely produce optimal results. Therefore the cause of Eastern Sahara desert research may not be properly advanced if progress in this field is solely in the hands of Kuper et al.
c.) illegal naming of sites & carving one´s name on rock faces
Ascending to the top of Abu Ballas pottery hill, one will notice two inscriptions made by visitors, one dated 1/4/1926 belonging to G. Pluvinet, and another one, also carved into the rock dated 12/8/1983 by E. Cziesla, a member of Kuper´s team.
In December 1987, Dr. Klaus Bokelmann, an associate of Kuper and a member of the German Archaeological Institute, had for the purposes of documenting my expedition itineraries for later generations, urged me to carve short notes into rock faces wherever possible. I had refrained from doing so before. But, because of this invitation, I left my name including the date and a remark regarding my camels at major places of discovery. Visitors to DWM will notice such a brief text on the southern hillside at a respectful distance from the pharaonic inscriptions and other graffiti. My note reads: “Wasserberg des Djedefre – discovered by Carlo Bergmann + 2 camels – 9.12.200”. I had designated the site according to a suggestion of Kuhlmann.
Djedefre´s name and titles are surrounded by a unique contour which is without precedent in Egyptology; the whole array being translated by Kuhlmann as “Djedefre´s Mountain of Water” which connects the pharaoh´s name to a well. Hence, this poetic name for my find seemed justified.
As if my discovery had harmed his ego, Kuper did not accept this name. Soon he was occupied looking for alternative names. Was this any of his business? By imposing his choice of name on my find, did he retrospectively, intend to appear as the discoverer? Among art market insiders a common practice prevails according to which an untalented but wealthy individual may resort to collecting art as a means of buying a fair share of an artist´s fame. Could it be that such a psychological mechanism applies to Kuper? His attempt to stake his claim to my find ended up in petty arguments. Thus, in November 2001, on the occasion of a TV-film shooting at DWM, Kuper tried to push through his chosen name of “Khufu Hill” (German: Cheopsberg) or “WDR” (German: Wasserberg des Radjedef; English: Radjedef´s Water Mountain). This despite the fact that my name (Djedefre´s Water Mountain; DWM) had already acquired acceptance. The quarrel was solved by an agreement in which in his own handwriting, Kuper conceded that the names chosen by me should be used. (figure 2) Notwithstanding this settlement a few days later, he committed the film producer to using the name “Khufu Hill”.
figure 2: agreement of 11/2/2001, written and signed by Kuper
To me, it is not astonishing at all that the text of the official information board which Kuper´s associates have set up at DWM, refers to the names of “Khufu” and “Radjedef”. Seeking official approval for his personal preferences regarding the names in question, Kuper bypassing our agreement, now hides behind legalistic reasoning and sells the personal choice of names he favours as if he is paying respect to our host country, Egypt. This is nothing but a hypocritical manoeuvre. He could have handed in “Djedefre´s Water Mountain” at the Ministry of Culture´s Supreme Council of Antiquities, and the name would have been accepted. But, unfortunately, the man lacks the stature and cannot act in a proper manner.
The same applies in the case of Biar Jaqub, a name he and his associates neglect completely; the same is also true for the way stations I discovered on the RYT. Regarding the latter Kuper had for a while even argued that it cannot be proved that the ancient donkey drivers had indeed rested at those dumps and rejected the term muhattah (the Arabic term for way station). Could however, sites like Abu Ballas or Muhattah Jaqub, each one containing more than one hundred jars, the latter also containing a fair amount of kitchenware, be considered as kind of stand-up cafeterias?
In his paper Kuper affirms that the discoverer “has the right to be mentioned as the discoverer…” (R. Kuper, A paradise off Rules. op. cit. p. 10) Anyone who browses through the publications of Kuper et al since 2001 will notice that when it comes to acknowledging my discoveries, my name is omitted most of the time. This holds true especially for his “Tides of the Desert” (T. Lenssen-Erz, U. Tegtmeier, S. Kroepelin (eds.), Tides of the desert – Gezeiten der Wüste. Cologne 2002) and the “Atlas of Cultural Change” (O. Bubenzer, A. Bolten, F. Darius (eds.), Atlas of cultural and environmental change in arid Africa. Cologne 2007). Even worse, in the case of Cheese Cover Hill and Biar Jaqub, Kuper et al have more or less, stolen my discoveries claiming them as their own finds. (see my website: Results of winter 2005/2006 expedition, postscript of 9/4/2006, E. Note concerning the treatment of a discovery made in March 1989; see also U. Utzt, Wo die Steine sprechen. National Geographic Germany, pp. 50, 52) Bearing this in mind, why should anyone hand discoveries over to Kuper and his team?
d.) destruction of archaeological sites
According to Kuper, the whole desert is “…an open book of history”. (R. Kuper, A paradise off rules. op. cit., p. 8) Why then doesn´t he himself read this book with caution? In the neighbourhood of Abu Ballas, in the surroundings of the hollow that lies within the upper reaches of Wadi el Akhdar and on top of the western cliff of the Gilf Kebir, Kuper and his associates have erected new alamat (cairns) which made it extremely difficult for me to trace the RYT in these areas. By inserting new and superfluous structures into the landscape which can be confused with historic ones, the very same people who claim to be concerned about the protection of these age old settings are paving the way for the disturbance of these ancient landscapes.
Regarding Muhattah Jaqub, a RYT-way station to which Kuper´s critique makes particular reference (R. Kuper, A paradise off rules. op. cit., p. 9), I did not destroy an ancient archaeological context. Before reaching the Muhattah on 5th March 1999 I had followed an old camel road. About two kilometres ahead of the Jaqub pottery hill, my caravan had passed a few camel-bones scattered along that trail. (see www.carlo-bergmann.de - Discovery of the Road to Yam and Tekhebet (RYT) – part one.) Obviously, in the late Arabic period, jars from the ancient dump had been taken from the foot of the hillside and used for some unknown purpose by camel drivers. (It is a well known fact that camels but not donkeys, tend to get afraid by the noise of wind and for other reasons nearby any high elevation.) Before moving any of these jars I took photographs to document them in situ. These pictures were handed over to Kuper. That the jars had been moved since antiquity was confirmed by the fact that they had been laid on sand. Thus, the items did not touch solid ground as was the case at other RYT-way stations. This evidence and an Arabic ostracon made me certain that I was not disturbing an ancient setting.
The reason for moving some of the jars (but not any of the items close to the hill) and for creating a “dramatic” setting for a photo shoot was to draw archaeologist´s attention to the muhattah and to motivate them to dig at this remote site. (Even at sites closer to the oases which are generously decorated with hieroglyphs, archaeologists in previous years had not been interested in publishing my finds.) Note that Kuper allowed himself to take part in a similar photo shoot at Muhattah Jaqub when Uwe George of GEO Magazine was with us. Kuper posted one of the photos in question on www.archaeoafrica.de/Kuper-gallery.html. (see also Der Stein des Tutanchamun, GEO (2000)10, p. 36) This alone demonstrates the inconsistency of Kuper´s accusations. Arguing as it suits him and disguising personal motives, seems to be the criteria when choosing his position. Nothing has changed since 2001. Kuper is still at war with me.
Concerning the damage done at DWM (devastation of Kuper´s excavation trench) and at Khasin Berlin (looting), the former being vociferously denounced by Kuper a few years ago, Kuper himself and not tourists was responsible for putting these sites in harms way and partly for their destruction. If Kuper and his team had not illegally brought radar reflectors into Egypt and had not installed these throughout the Western Desert (figure 3)
figure 3: one of the radar reflectors installed by Kuper et al.
without asking for permission, there would not have been any cause for military action including the combing of areas where the Cologne pre-historians had previously excavated. To complete the picture Kuper and Kroepelin, obviously seeking public attention for themselves whenever possible, even incorporated the illegal installation of the reflectors in a German TV-film. (“Verschollen im Meer der Trockenheit – Die Wüste des Englischen Patienten.” ZDF 1999; figures 4 a + b) No wonder that as a consequence, Kuper and his team were expelled from the Egyptian desert for several years thus, paying the price for their “colonial attitude” (R. Kuper, A paradise off Rules. op. cit. p. 10), which they wrongly believe manifests itself only outside their mentally barricaded world.
figure 4 a: from “Verschollen im Meer der Trockenheit” (12 minutes, 50 sec) - Setting up the support structure for a reflector carried to the spot by Kroepelin; Kuper to the right. (my drawing)
figure 4 b: from “Verschollen im Meer der Trockenheit” (13 minutes, 1 sec) - Calibrating the reflector.
Kroepelin to the left (standing); Kuper in the background. (my drawing)
e.) coercing archaeologists to take urgent emergency measures in order to protect or to preserve newly discovered sites
The first few times I revisited DWM with my camels, I made long detours in order to prevent treasure seekers and grave robbers following the faint tracks of my caravan (figure 5) thus preventing the geographic position of DWM
figure 5: footprints of my caravan intersecting a snake´s trail
being known to everybody. However, even before Kuper and his team had started excavating the site, the area including Biar Jaqub was heavily scored with the Cologne pre-historians´ 4WD-tracks. I had seen such destructive amounts of vehicle tracks elsewhere in the desert, at places where Kuper had shown up. That areas of the desert lose their virginity as soon as Kuper et al stake their claim on them, thus causing devastating destruction to vast pieces of former untouched bone dry soil surrounding a site, is demonstrated by a comparison of figures 5 + 6, the latter displaying Kuper´s upsetting car tracks in the vicinity of DWM.
figure 6: one of the many accumulations of Kuper´s car tracks in the vicinity of DWM and at Biar Jaqub
These pictures do say more than a thousand words. Hence, it is not surprising that soon after Kuper had filled the desert southwest of Dakhla oasis with his tracks, tourists found their way to the 4th dynasty mining camp. In the light of the facts presented here it is, for me, completely incomprehensible that Kuper is blaming me for attracting undesirable individuals to sites like DWM thus, pressing him to undertake immediate emergency excavations. The stress he is complaining about is caused solely by himself.
This in fact, is my first publication in printed media since Kuper´s intrigue resulted in a de facto ban on the publication of my writings. And indeed, as far as I am aware, this is the first time too that Kuper is citing an article posted on my website (viz. Results of winter 2007/08 Expedition: Preliminary report on the results of radiocarbon- and thermoluminescence (TL)-datings.), albeit without the intention of being fair and self-critical and without acknowledging that his own methods also cause disturbance to the original context and are therefore contributing to the flaws which soon will turn “a paradise of fools” (viz. a virgin desert; see R. Kuper, A paradise off Rules. op. cit. p. 11) into a compound devastated by humans.
Seemingly, Kuper regards the Western Desert of Egypt as his research backyard. He also might envision himself as a custodian of the desert. But does he qualify for it? Well, perhaps amongst the bad guys, those who were temporarily banned from the desert by the Egyptian authorities, he might be one of the better ones.
In his paper “A Paradise off Rules” Kuper obviously tries to kill two birds with one stone. On the one hand he sheds light on problems which increasing mass tourism will severely inflict on the Western Desert in the future. On the other hand he still tries to get rid of a successful explorer by defaming me. His strategy seems to consist of giving the appearance of praising me whilst at the same time stabbing me in the back by sabotaging my work and undermining my reputation. Until now Kuper´s strategy failed in Egypt but has been crowned with success in western periodicals. The man should put his cards on the table. Then it will emerge that he is doing nothing more than monopolising the desert for himself and his associates whatever the cost. Why then should I back down? After all, Kroepelin concedes “Despite our bad relationship these days I would go along with 80 per cent of what (Carlo) is claiming.” (E. Young, Pharaohs from the stone age. New Scientist, 13 January 2007, p. 38) This is a fairly good success rate which normally would qualify someone for a participation in scientific discussion. Instead, I am banned from it by the will of one man.
By walking on foot I have tried my utmost to preserve the virgin landscape as well as the ancient sites embedded in it. Much more could have been accomplished, much more could have been discovered and our understanding of the history of human movements and occupation in what is now the desert could have been much better served if, since 2001, the bigger part of my efforts had not of necessity been diverted towards social survival strategies that were required to cope with Kuper´s constant attacks.