Kharga Oasis,Darb el-Arba'in .BAGAWAT Kharga Museum , HIBIS Temple,,Dush,Kysis,Qasr el-Ghueita,Nadura,Qasr el-Zayyan,
El-Deir, Qasr el-Sumeria,Qasr el-Geb,Ain Muhammed Tuleib,Ain Umm el-Dabadib
Kharga -known to the ancient Egyptians as the 'Southern Oasis'- is the largest of the oases of the Libyan Desert and consists of a depression about 160km long and from 20km to 80km wide. Today it is often referred to as the 'Great Oasis'. In ancient times a lake occupied a large part of the depression and the thick deposits of sandy clay then laid down, forms the bulk of the cultivated land. Although the oasis gets little rain, water is obtained from wells dug into the porous sandstone which underlies much of the desert area and extensive reclamation work has been undertaken since the beginning of the 20th century Kharga is also the name of the bustling main city of the oasis whose inhabitants now number sixty thousand, including one thousand Nubians who were settled here after the creation of Lake Nasser. The oasis is still growing and the Egyptian government have plans underway to reclaim even more of the desert areas and to offer land and homes to people in the overcrowded Nile Valley as well as to make the area more attractive to tourists. The main source of income in the oasis is from agriculture, the cultivation of dates, cereals,
rice and vegetables, which are sent to markets in the Nile Valley Kharga's main craft is basket and mat-making from the leaves and fibres of the palm trees .
Historical references to expeditions into Kharga Oasis go back as far as the Old Kingdom, but little evidence remains in Kharga today of life in pharaonic times. The ancient route into the oasis from Luxor, known as the Luxor-Farshut desert road is currently being studied by the Oriental Institute of Chicago, who have uncovered remains of several early structures and a great deal of pottery from as far back as the Middle Kingdom. Throughout its history Kharga
seems to have been the place to where undesirable inhabitants of the Nile Valley were banished - the fierce summer heat, devastating winds and remote location making it an ideal place of exile and many records survive from the New Kingdom to illustrate this. There are also many historical accounts of expeditions sent to quell the rebellious inhabitants of the oasis During the Third Intermediate Period, Egypt's Libyan rulers began to take an interest in the Oases, improving the desert tracks and making an effort to bring the marauding desert tribes under control. From this time onwards Kharga began to prosper and two temples dedicated to the Theban triad werebuilt at Hibis and el-Ghueita during the Late Period. By then it was securely attached to the Nile Valley and when the Romans came to Egypt they increased the prosperity of the oasis by creating new wells, cultivating many crops and building a series of 'fortress settlements' for protection of the caravan routes. These Roman 'fortresses' are especially
numerous in the Kharga Oasis, where the Darb el-Arba'in (the'Forty-Day Road') which ran north to south between Asyut and the Sudan, was the most important trade route. This was later to become part of the infamous slave-trade route between North Africa and the tropical south. The chain of at least twenty mudbrick forts vary in size and
function, some are large settlements or garrison towns, while others are small desert outposts, but most of them lie close to the road crossing the oasis, following the ancient track. 'Fortress' is perhaps a misleading term for these structures, for although it is thought that Roman soldiers were stationed in all of them, they are not all regarded as primarily defensive structures, nor do they necessarily indicate a high level of hostility, at least during the earlier years of the Roman Period. The larger fortresses may have been built on existing settlements, but during Roman times their
populations grew rapidly. The Romans went to great lengths to secure water in the oasis, although little is known about how or when the original bore- holes were made - some are over 120m deep and continue to be used today. They also built long underground aqueducts up to50m deep in the water-bearing sandstone, which must have involved a huge amount of labour. Many of the Roman fortified settlements are situated strategically on hilltops and several, such as Qasr Dush, Qasr el-Ghueita, Nadura, and Qasr el-Zayyan incorporated temples and large communities of people The practice of using Kharga Oasis as a colony for exiles continuedthroughout Roman times and into the Christian era. Many early Christian bishops were banished here and the oasis soon became a refuge for Christian hermits who often lived in isolated tombs or caves in the desert. The Christian population of Kharga quickly grew - many fortresses date from the early Byzantine era - and it was one of the most enduring Christian areas of Egypt, continuing into the14th century. One of the earliest and best preserved Christian cemeteries in the world can be seen at Bagawat and it contains hundreds of tombs and several chapels still have biblical scenes painted in bright colours We do not know precisely when the desert route to Sudan developed Camels, which were introduced after the Persian invasion, enabled ancient travellers to cover greater distances than they had done previously, but the trade caravans were not popular in the desert regions until the Mamaluke era when rising tolls made the Nile Valley routes too expensive. Two villages at the southern end of the Oasis, Maks Qibli and Maks Bahri were customs posts on either side of the Darb el-Dush, the Nile Valley route which connected with the Darb el-Arba'in. A small mudbrick watchtower at Maks Qibli, known as Tabid el-Darawish, was built by the British in 1893 to protect the trade route.
There are numerous ancient sites to see in Kharga oasis. Some are close to the road but many others will require the use of a 4x4 vehicle to visit them. The oasis is connected to the Nile Valley by two main routes, one from Armant, near Luxor to Baris, in the south of the region and the second from Asyut to Kharga City in the north Tourists are encouraged to use the northern route, which follows the ancient Darb el-Arba'in
Dush The very southernmost outpost of Kharga Oasis is marked by a Roman fortress known simply as el-Qasr (literally 'the Fortress'), a mudbrick structure measuring about 30m by 20m. In Roman times a small garrison of troops would have guarded the fortress, but it is not known whether it was purely a military guard-post or if intended to control the trade route at the southern end of the Darb el-Arba'in. The structure is situated in a palm-grove on the eastern side of the paved road, but little is visible today. When it was excavated by the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities in the 1980s over 150 Ottoman tombs were discovered as well as a great deal
of Roman pottery sherds, attesting to the age and continued use of the site Dush is situated about 15km north-east of el-Qasr, at a point where five ancient desert tracks met. One of the tracks, the Darb el-Dush led over the treacherous desert escarpment to the Nile valley towns of Esna and Edfu, an important and heavily used route during Roman times. Near to Dush, on a hill, is the site of the ancient town of Kysis, one of the oldest Roman ruins in Kharga Oasis. Once a border town commanded by a large garrison of Roman troops, it contains a mudbrick fortress (Qasr Dush) and two temples. The area around Dush has been investigated since 1976 by French archaeologists of the IFAO who have found evidence of temporary occupation possibly dating back as early as the Old Kingdom
(possibly Dynasty IV). On the slopes of the hill, Persian and Ptolemaic Period settlements have been identified and the earliest fortress which enclosed a rectangular area at the top of the hill was of Ptolemaic or possibly even Persian origin. The massive crumbling mudbrick walls of the Roman fortress still stand6m to 12m tall in places. The Romans enlarged the Ptolemaic structure on this strategic point overlooking the wide desert plain and the town of
Kysis with its large community and cultivated agricultural land would have grown around it. Inside the fortress walls the interior is densely covered with barrack structures, while the underground chambers go down four or five levels.
Abutting the Roman fortress on the eastern side are the remains of a sandstone temple, probably erected by Domitian, enlarged by Trajan and then partly decorated by the Emperor Hadrian during the 1st to 2nd centuries AD. The temple was originally dedicated to Osiris, who the Greeks transformed into Serapis and also to the goddess Isis. A monumental stone gateway fronts the temple and contains a dedicatory inscription by Trajan dated AD 116 as well as graffiti by Cailliaud and other nineteenth-century travellers. To the north is a large forecourt containing five columns with a pylon at its northern end. The main part of the temple measures approximately 7.5m by 15.5m and
contains a pillared hall with four slender columns, a staircase to the roof, an offering table in an outer chamber and inner sanctuary with vaulted roof. Two long side-chambers also had barrel-vaulted roofs. A taller pronaos was later added to the front of the main building. All three Roman Emperors are depicted in scenes carved on the temple walls, which were reputed to be partly sheathed in gold. In March 1989, during the excavation of a magazine complex on the west side of the temple, French archaeologists discovered a magnificent collection of artefacts
, now known as the 'Dush Treasure' (Cairo Egyptian Museum). They first uncovered linen-wrapped gilded statuette of Isis, a small bronze figure of a Horus dressed as a Roman legionary, and a bronze figure of Osiris Nearby, a large loose-lidded pottery jar which had been concealed. by masonry, was found to contain a hoard of magnificent
gold religious jewellery and ex-votos objects. These precious items had obviously been gathered together for safety and hidden in the jar during the4th to 5th centuries AD. The religious treasure was of the highest quality craftsmanship and included a golden crown depicting the Roman god Serapis as well as bracelets and pendants of gold and semi-precious stones. These objects have provided scholars with valuable information about Roman worship in Egypt. From the temple courtyards, many other artefacts have been unearthed, including pottery, coins, and ostraca. A large collection of demoticostraca date from the Persian Period. Many were also written in Greek,
appearing to be dated from the early 4th to 5th centuries AD and consist largely of receipts and payments for supplies for the Roman army but also include names of individual soldiers and civilians. The names are a blend of Egyptian, Greek and Roman but also include numerous instances of biblical Hebrew names, evidence that
Christianity was practised at Dush at this time. Some of the most historically interesting the human elements of life in a Roman o finds from Dush include a few brief private letters in the form of ostraca, allowing scholars to piece together utpost. While the main temple was within the mudbrick fortress walls, a second smaller temple stands on the western side of the hill about200m away across densely pottery-strew terrain. Little is known of the second temple, built entirely from mudbrick, which has small rooms with vaulted ceilings and is probably also Roman.
The remains of the once-thriving town of Kysis are scattered over the hillside around the fortress, together with its associated cemeteries on the northern and western sides. The Roman cemetery, consisting of undecorated tombs dating from the late Ptolemaic Period onwards, is the largest and runs from the base of the hill almost to the escarpment edge to the south-east. The discovery of an elaborate system of clay pipes, irrigation channels and a Christian church suggests that the town was abandoned when its wells dried up, some time after the fourth century AD. The IFAO team have recently been investigating another site at 'Ayn Manawir, discovered during 1992-3, about 5km north-west of Qasr Dush. An entire ancient village buried in the sand, with houses, fields, orchards, irrigation channels and even the hoofprints of bovines in the dried mud of a pond where the animals were watered
The establishment and survival of the community was secured by a novel means of access to the subsurface water, trapped in a complex system of irrigation consisting of lines of channels or aqueducts (known as qanats) which radiated from the well. The discovery of these has been instrumental in dating the different occupation and
construction periods of the site. The site was a Persian and Roman settlement with a small mudbrick temple, although archaeologists have now confirmed occupation from the end of the Palaeolithic Period. The excavations have so far uncovered a house to which a small temple of Osiris was attached. Hundreds of archival texts have
been found, written in demotic on large ostraca, including one from the reign of Xerxes (Dynasty XXVII) - the
first instance of this king's name written in demotic - as well as Artaxerxes I and Darius II. The documents provide evidence of relations between the temple at 'Ayn Manawir and Hibis Temple further to the south in Kharga Oasis. Archaeologists have been able to work in ideal conditionsusing a combination of archaeological evidence and precisely dated written sources. Unfortunately 'Ayn Manawir is directly in line with an advancing field of sand dunes which are marching towards the site and will soon bury it before moving on to the south and will stop any immediate future excavations
A little to the north of Qasr el-Zayyan, is the magnificent hilltop fortress of Qasr el-Ghueita, which like the former site also contains a temple. The Arabic name of the mudbrick Roman fortress means ‘fortress of the small garden’, evidence that it was once part of a thriving agricultural community Long before the Romans came to Egypt, this settlement was called Per-Ousekh and is thought to have existed from at least as early as the Middle Kingdom, when it was famous for its wine. Texts in the New Kingdom tombs of the nobles at Thebes describe the excellent quality of the grapes from the vineyards of Per-Ousekh Grape-harvest scenes often accompany the desert hunt rather than other scenes of food production, perhaps suggesting that grapes were grown for wine in the desert oases in preference to the Nile Valley Wine from the oases was favoured by the royal courts. The fortress which dominates the hilltop at Qasr el-Ghueita may once
have served as a headquarters for the garrisons of Roman troops who guarded the desert routes and numerous mudbrick buildings are contained within the high fortified walls. Little is known at present about the Roman occupation here. The village which once occupied the slopes below the fortress can be seen in the scattered remains of ruined houses and there is some evidence that the area was inhabited even in prehistoric times A yellow sandstone temple within the Roman walls measures 10.5m by 23.5m and occupies about one-fifth of the space within the fortressIts earliest parts are thought to date to the reigns of Ahmose II (Amasis) of the Persian Dynasty XXVII and Darius I of Dynasty XXVIII, though it was possibly begun by the Nubian rulers of Dynasty XXV on the site of an earlier sacred structure. The temple
dedicated to the Theban triad of Amun, Mut and Khons, is entered through a sandstone gate on the southern side of the enclosure walls. A pronaos with screen walls was constructed by Ptolemy III in
a courtyard which fronts the temple. This leads to a hypostyle hall, richly decorated in Ptolemaic style with scenes of Nile gods holding nome symbols in the lower registers and with exquisite capitals on top of four columns. Decoration in the extant temple contains the names of Ptolemy III (Euergetes I), Ptolemy IV (Philopator) and Ptolemy X (Alexander I). There is no suggestion of earlier decoration but it is thought that this hall may have been constructed by Ahmose II. Beyond the hypostyle is an offering chamber with a staircase to the roof, from where the visitor can get a birds-eye view of the interior of the fortress and the surrounding countryside. To the rear of the offering room are three parallel sanctuaries for the cult statues
of the Theban triad, with the largest, the sanctuary of Amun, on the right-hand side. These walls too are decorated but blackened by smoke and age. To the south-east of the main temple building, within the enclosure, is the columned screen façade of another stone structure which may have been a birth-house. In front of the gate there is a processional platform Visited by 19th century travellers and excavated by Ahmed Fakhry in 1972, the temple has undergone more recent excavations by the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities which are not yet published
How to get there The imposing fortress of Qasr el-Ghueita can be found 3km to the east of the main road and about 18km south of the city of el-Kharga, on the crest of a sandstone hill from where it commands a strategic view over the desert plain
Kharga Museum For an overview of antiquities found in Kharga and Dakhla Oases, nothing could be better than a visit to the newly constructed Kharga Museum, the latest in the Egyptian Ministry of Culture’s regional museums plan. Built from local bricks to echo the style of early Christian architecture seen at Bagawat, the museum houses artefacts ranging from the Egyptian Prehistoric Period right through to the
Islamic Era. The displays are located on the first two of the building’s three floors, bringing to life the historical human journey through the deserts of Egypt. On the first floor the collection includes items
such as prehistoric tools, ostrich eggs and many other artefacts found in the Western Desert, indicating the presence of man here from the earliest times. Many of these items have been found by members of the Dakhla Oasis Project during their excavations over the past decades and well-displayed with the help of the Royal Ontario Museum’s Kharga Prehistory Project, complete with hand-printed object labels in Arabic
and English In Pharaonic times, the oases were important provinces, with large settlements, since they were Egypt's front line of defence against invaders from the west and south. Many funerary items from pharaonic tombs are displayed, including outer parts of the Dynasty VI tomb of Im-Pepi, discovered by the
French Mission in Dakhla Oasis and a false-door stela of Khent-Ka, also from the Old Kingdom
Roman presence in the Western Oases is represented most of all, especially in the form of glass, ceramics and coins found in excavations by the many teams who have worked here in recent years
One of the most exciting finds is from Dakhla Oasis, where the Canadian Mission, directed by Professor Tony Mills discovered a set of wooden ‘notebooks’, known as the Kellis Wooden Panels. These important documents written in Greek and Coptic contain lists of accounts and payments in kind by tenant farmers during Roman times. They also give details of marriage contracts and letters, giving us tremendous insight into productivity and everyday life in the oases The second floor houses Christian and Islamic artefacts from the oases, including many religious items as well as articles of cultural interest from the more recent heritage of the region. Artefacts include textiles, icons, books and coins. There are also many folk items which reflect the customs and traditions of the New Valley.
Nadura At Nadura, whose name means ‘The Lookout’, remains of a temple once enclosed within a Roman fortification are strategically perched high on a hilltop about 1.5km south of the centre of el-Kharga
The settlement of Nadura is now buried and the two temples of the village are badly ruined, but the southern entrance wall of the main temple can still be seen on top of the hill. Thought possibly to be
outposts of the large and well-preserved Temple of Amun at Hibis2km to the north-west, it is difficult to know to which deities, these two temples were dedicated The main temple was built during the rule of Hadrian and Antoninus Pius during the 2nd century AD. A sandstone gate in the southern crumbling enclosure wall fronts a courtyard which contains the three rooms of the temple. Another smaller entrance
was through the northern wall. Remains of the pronaos on the western side of the structure can still be seen, but the vestibule and sanctuary have now virtually disappeared. The façade of the pronaos, typical of the period, has screen walls linked by columns and is decorated inside with figures and hieroglyphic texts. An unusual sunk relief on the lintel above the south-west entrance depicts a male and female figure beneath a starry sky, but it is not known who these figures represent and they are now badly damaged A Coptic church once stood within the space outside the temple and the whole structure was later reused as a Turkish fortress Remains of the second uninscribed temple can be seen at the base of the hill towards the main road.
Near the main road, about 75km north of Dush towards Kharga City, are the ruins of Qasr el-Zayyan, one of the largest and most important ancient settlements in Kharga Oasis One of the chain of fortresses built during Ptolemaic and Roman times, the settlement was known in ancient times as Takhoneourit, which the Greeks called Tchonemyris, meaning ‘The Great Well’. The town is still unexcavated, but was obviously of importance as a major water source in antiquity and would have been a place where travellers would stop for the night. The remains of the well can still be seen close to the mudbrick enclosure wall on the western
side. Because of the availability of water in this part of the oasis, the town must once have been quite large and prosperous and surrounded by small farming settlements on agricultural land which consitutes the lowest part of the Kharga depression, at 18m below sea-level. It is here that the cemeteries of the ancient community are to be found. A major desert route led from Qasr el-Zayyan to Esna during Roman times, testifying to the importance of the settlementThe rectangular mudbrick enclosure walls of the fortress measure 26m by 28m and are still well preserved. Within the walls there is a temple dedicated to the god ‘Amun of Hibis’, who was known to the Romans as Amenibis. This small sandstone temple measured only about 7.5m by 13.5m when it was first constructed during the Ptolemaic Period, but was renewed during the Roman rule of Antoninus Pius (AD138-161) and a brick hall, 22m long, was constructed in front of
the main structure. Inside the fortress Council of Antiquities have uncovered rooms containing kilns and
hearths, a water cistern enclosure were the living quarters of the Roman garrison and modern clearance by the Supreme and a cache of Roman coins
The temple is entered through a sandstone gate in the southern side of the enclosure wall which depicts a dedicatory inscription in Greek: ‘To Amenibis the great god of Tchonemyris and to the other gods of the temple, for the eternal preservation of Antoninus Caesar, our Lord and his whole house and goes on to name the governor and officials involved in the restoration The inscription is dated 11 August AD140. The main temple building comprises a court leading to the sanctuary or offering chamber which has an elaborate cult-niche in the north wall and to an antechamber with a staircase leading to the roof.
The site was visited during the latter part of the 19th century by the German geographer, Georg Schweinfurth, who found pottery, coins, glass and cast bronzes within the enclosure. Modern restoration of
the temple was undertaken in 1984-1986 by the Egyptian Antiquities Organisation and more recent extensive excavation and reconstruction by the Supreme Council of Antiquities
How to get there Qasr el-Zayyan lies about 30km to the south of the city of el-Kharga and not far from the fortress of Qasr el-Ghueita. It can be easily reached by road and a 4x4 vehicle is not necessary
The fortress-town of el-Deir, also known as Deir el-Ganayim, lies at the foot of the eastern escarpment about 20km north of el-Kharga where it guarded the main desert route towards Farshut and the Nile
Valley. It is one of the most impressive Roman fortresses in North Kharga The huge enclosure measures 73m square and had twelve round towers interspersed along its thick mudbrick walls. The towers were
interconnected by a parapet running along the top, accessible via staircases inside the fortress. Entrances to the fortress were on the northern, eastern and western walls but it is the southern wall which is the best preserved, still rising to a height of around10m. The interior is now empty apart from a few rooms on the southern side of the courtyard and the plastered walls of these rooms still contain a wealth of modern graffiti left by British soldiers who were stationed nearby during the First World War, as well as many
Arabic, Coptic and Turkish names. In the centre of the courtyard a deep well provided the inhabitants with water which was also channelled through an ingenious system of underground conduits to the outbuildings and cultivated fields beyond. Although never excavated, the fortress is thought to date from the reign of Diocletian at the end of the 3rd century AD. Sadly, much of this magnificent fortress is now irrevocably ruined by the destructive forces of sand and wind, but assessments for the consolidation and restoration of the remains are being currently undertaken by the French team Alpha Necropolis, who will present them to the Supreme Council of Antiquities
A town lay on the northern side of the fortress and surrounded a temple which also remains unexcavated. A great number of pottery sherds litter the ground but remains of any dwellings have yet to be found, even though their irrigation system is quite visible. It is thought that the site was occupied from the Ptolemaic Period or earlier through to the 5th century AD, and was cultivated up to the 20th century when it was eventually deserted The temple, about 1.5km north of the fortress, is constructed from mudbrick, similar in plan to the temple at Qasr Dush and thought to
date to the 2nd to 3rd centuries AD. It contains an antechamber with benches along its sides, a hypostyle hall, an offering chamber and vaulted sanctuary. The name el-Deir means ‘the monastery’, indicating occupation of the site in early Christian times, when the temple itself was transformed into a Coptic church and may have been the monastery from which the name derives.The Alpha Necropolis team has recently been conducting a study of the occupation of some of the sites in Kharga Oasis, including el-Deir. A rapid survey carried out in 1997 recognised the existence
of three areas of burials to the south, north and east of the fortress. During excavations of the southern sector in 1998, eight plundered tombs were uncovered and wooden sarcophagi, human remains and traditional funerary furniture were found. Subsequent excavation seasons devoted to the northern sector of the necropolis have revealed 35 tombs and 19 white limestone sarcophagi, some containing well-preserved mummified bodies buried in the Osiris position with arms crossed over the chest. The burials are thought to date from the 3rd to 5th centuries AD. During the 2002 season several re-usedtombs were found to contain the bodies of a large quantity of mummified dogs, presumably votive offerings to the canine deities Wepwawet or Anubis who were worshipped in the Asyut to Abydos regions from where desert tracks led out to the oasis
How to get there
A well-defined dirt track to the fortress of el-Deir leads off from the main Kharga to Asyut road but ends about two kilometres from the site. The last part over a chain of encroaching sand dunes should not be attempted unless on foot or alternatively from the south in a 4x4 vehicle. Permission from the Antiquities Office and a guide must
be obtained before visiting this site.
About 50km north of el-Kharga, Qasr el-Sumeria is a small unexcavated Roman fortress which was surrounded by
a settlement now marked by a sea of pottery sherds strewn across the desert floor. The ruined fortress stands on low ground on the ancient desert route between Asyut and Dakhla, the Darb el-Arba’in, at the point where it enters the Kharga depression via the Ramia pass The mudbrick fortress, 14m square and 7m high contained severalrooms, all of which have now collapsed. The corners of the structure were marked by round buttressed towers and the entrances to the fortwere in the centre of the southern and northern walls. The northern wall has mostly collapsed.
The village, recently found to be large and complex, is on the southern side of the fortress and was probably once an important provisioning station for travellers going in and out of the oasis. The shapes of several ruined houses can still be seen beneath the sand and the remains of mudbrick structures, ovens, storage areas and grinding emplacements suggest that this may have been an extensive industrial site as well as having an agricultural role.Possible animal pens have been located by the North Kharga Oasis Survey team as well as a complex field system with drystone walls and an irrigation system, including the qanats (underground water system) seen in other Roman sites in the oasis.An extensive Roman cemetery is located further to the south of the settlement which contains rock-cut tombs as well as brick-lined tombs with vaulted ceilings
Qasr el-GebAs the most northerly Roman fortress of Kharga Oasis, Qasr el-Geb stands on a high-point of the desert only about 2km from Qasr el-Sumeria and is a replica of the latter structure. The fortress of el-Geb is visible from the main road.
In Roman times Qasr el-Geb was the last source of water in the Kharga depression. Larger than its companion fort of el-Sumeria at almost 17m square and 11m high, the strategically situated structure probably served as a watchtower and beacon to control and guide travellers into and out of the oasis. All of the desert between eastern and western escarpments is visible from Qasr el the-Geb. The fortress was constructed from mudbrick with exterior walls 2.5m
thick and round buttressed towers at its corners joined by a parapet along the top of the walls. The entrances were on the eastern and southern sides - the eastern wall has now mostly collapsed, but the others are in good condition and the southern wall still retains its beautifully constructed arched doorway, The structure originally had three stories and the staircase on the southern side still leads up to the parapet. Inside the fortress there were many rooms packed
close together and the remains of six vaulted garrison rooms still exist along the eastern and western sides of the courtyard. There is an underground gallery and aqueduct system which is part of the highly sophisticated and complex hydraulic system which supported this part of the oasis It is thought that Qasr el-Sumeria and Qasr el-Geb were probably constructed around the 5th century AD and were both re-used by the Turkish garrisoned army during the Ottoman Period. Many other settlements and cemeteries are known to exist in the surrounding areas, which apparently had been long inhabited, but until recent years the area had not been thoroughly investigated. To the south of el-Sumeria is a settlement known as Ain el-Gazar which contained a spring and a cemetery, although little remains today above the sand. Another buried site exists at el-Maghatta, south of el-Sumeria. NKOS have located tombs in the rocky outcrop to the west of here which have revealed some fragments of cartonnage and mummy wrappings as well as remains of several human bodies showing varying levels of mummification The North Kharga Oasis Survey (NKOS) co-directed by Dr Salima Ikram and Dr Corinna Rossi (American University of Cairo and Cambridge University) are currently mapping and documenting the archaeological remains of the northern part of the oasis with the aim of gaining a better understanding of the relationship between sites
How to get there The archaeological sites of Qasr el-Sumeria and Qasr el-Geb are off to the west of the main Asyut to el-Kharga road and access is by 4x4 vehicle. Permission from the Antiquities office in el-Kharga must be
obtained before visiting these sites. Visits will be accompanied by an antiquities officer.
The fortress and settlement of Qasr el-Labekha lies in an isolated part of the desert around 12km west of the main Asyut to el-Kharga road and approximately 50km north of the city itself. The contains two temples, an imposing fort and a group of decorated tombs site The fortress of el-Labekha was constructed in a wadi at the base of the northern escarpment and served as a garrison, strategically placed to guard the intersection of two important ancient caravan
routes from the north and the west. Similar in style but smaller than its neighbouring fortress at el-Deir, Qasr el-Labekha must have been an imposing sight, with mudbrick walls 12m high and four massive round towers on its corners. The entrance on the eastern side gives access to the interior, which today is a chaos of crumbled walls and sand-filled remains of vaulted chambers Several buildings once surrounded the fortress and to the south is the silted remains of a large well, an ancient spring, still surrounded by palm, acacia and tamarisk trees, which would have
provided water for the fort and settlement. The size of the well probably suggests that a large community lived here, which was served by a series of aqueducts, or qanats, built to take the water out to the cultivated fields. The fortress itself has never been excavated, but the area below the western and southern walls has recently been the subject of a study by the Supreme Council of Antiquities together with the French Alpha Necropolis team, who have uncovered several small statues as well as large quantities of Roman pottery. Qasr el-Labekha is also part of the current North Kharga Oasis Survey conducted by a French team of archaeologists. An impressive brick-built temple, situated to the north of the fortress, was constructed on a natural outcrop which dominates the wadi. The temple, 12m square, contains three rooms and possibly dates from the 3rd century AD. The eastern wall is now collapsing but there are entrances on the other three walls leading into the interior. On one of the plastered lintels there are remains of a
depiction of a vulture goddess (Mut?) and some graffiti is inscribed on the sides of the arch A second more ruined temple, to the north-west of the fort, was onlyrediscovered during 1991-92 by Adel Hussein of the Egyptian
Antiquities Organisation. This temple was completed during the reign of Antoninus Pius and still contains some of its original painting. The architecture of this temple is unusual and consists of a speos-like structure, partially built into the rock with extensive remains of a brick-built section to the front. There is recent evidence that the temple may have been dedicated to Hercules (who also had a temple in his name at Bahariya) and later to a deified man named Piyris during the 3rd century AD. The structure appears to have been re-used as a Christian shrine. A limestone statue of a
hawk, unearthed in the temple by the French Mission, is now in Kharga Museum
A number of cemeteries have been located in the Qasr el-Labekha environs. The most impressive necropolis is in the area to the north of the fortress, dug into the western cliffs where some of the most elaborate tombs in the oasis have been found. Many of the tombs were simple one-room chambers cut into the rock, but there are also several multi-chambered and decorated tombs and many still contained mummified burials when investigated by Alpha Necropolis and the Supreme Council of Antiquities during 1994 to 1997. Although virtually all of the burials had been disturbed by thieves (some very recently) the team evaluated some 500 mummies and found that the majority had enjoyed a good state of health and good quality embalming. Some of the bodies of higher-status individuals were covered with gilded face masks similar in style to the Faiyum portraits and many, especially the burials of women and children contained jewels of bronze, glass and semi-precious stones. Mummy boards were decorated with traditional paintings of Osiris. In many cases the richer tombs were plastered and painted with religious symbols and burial equipment included
large quantities of glass vessels. The less imposing tombs are located to the south and the west of the settlement.
Ain Muhammed Tuleib
Remains of a late Roman settlement and fort can be found near the modern village of Ezbet Muhammed Tuleib, about 1km from the main road on the track leading to el-Labekha. The small fortress and the settlement is named, like the modern village after a local land-owner. Only two walls remain standing of the two-storey military installation, once measuring 22m by 16m, and the interior is now a mound of rubble. The structure was surrounded by a large settlement with evidence of domestic and industrial sites as well as aqueducts and cultivated fields. There are cemeteries located on the eastern and western sides of the settlement
How to get The archaeological sites of Ain Muhammed Tuleib and Qasr el-Labekha are off to the west of the main Asyut to el-Kharga road. While the former is accessible by normal vehicle, Qasr el-Lubekha requires the
use of 4x4 vehicle. Permission from the Antiquities Office in el-Kharga must be obtained before visiting these sites. Visits will be accompanied by an antiquities officer. there
Ain Umm el-Dabadib
At around 40km north-west of el-Kharga, at the base of the northern escarpment, Ain Umm el-Dabadib is in a remote region of the oasis which lay on the Darb Ain Amur, the ancient route to Dakhla Oasis. Here, a small but impressive fortress once surrounded by a large well-populated settlement remains one of the most impressive sites in North Kharga. The site includes an Egyptian-style temple, a Christian church, several cemeteries and a vast irrigation
road flat wadi in which Ain Umm el-Dabadib stands was crossed by at least three ancient tracks, offshoots of the Darb Ain Amur.The first track led from the fortress of el-Labekha past el-Dabadib and continued on westwards towards Ain Amur and Dakhla Oasis, while a second crossed the plain directly towards Hibis Temple. A third
track crossed through el-Dabadib and north-westwards over the escarpment, eventually leading to a route connecting the Nile Valley with Dakhla Oasis. The fortress stands at the southern end of the settlement - a magnificent structure even today with its huge mudbrick walls enclosed within an area of around 100m square. The area within the enclosure is partly covered by encroaching sand but still has many structures visible. Four massive rectangular towers marked the corners of the fort making it architecturally different to any other fortress in Kharga Oasis (which had rounded towers), suggesting that it may have been a later construction. The tallest of the el-Dabadib towers, on the
south-western corner, still contains remains of spiral staircase and rises to a current height of about 15m. The main entrance was on the southern side and smaller buildings crowded around its southern and
western walls. The interior of the fortress is now ruined, its floors collapsed, but several vaulted chambers at ground
level are still intact Remains of a small Christian church adjoin the east side of the fortress, its arches and pillars forgotten and partly buried by sand until 1998 when local antiquity thieves damaged the walls in search of artefacts. Although the damage (done by battering the walls with a forklift truck) is extensive, there are still remains of the
original red plaster and Greek, Coptic and Arabic graffiti and prayers The ruins of a settlement exist on the eastern side of the fortress, but the main visible settlement areas begin about half a kilometre to the north, where hundreds of small buildings served as homes and shops. The fortified town appears to consist of many luxurious houses, sometimes up to three storeys high, which are currently being studied by the team undertaking the North Kharga
A smaller and slightly earlier settlement lay further to the north In the north-east section of the fortified settlement, next to a spring or well, are the remains of an Egyptian-style temple with sides slanted inwards from the base. Recent discoveries in the area include a possible mill and a small hermitage. The fortress town seems to have been surrounded by a large area of cultivation, irrigated by a vast system of underground aqueducts. The five aqueducts so far discovered at Ain Umm el-Dabadib are by far the best example of such elaborate tunnels in Kharga Oasis, but
more sophisticated than the Roman qanats in the other areas and similar to the ‘foggara’ found in Libya and Algeria. The tunnels are also similar to those in ancient Persia, leading scholars to speculate that the irrigation system may date back to the Persian occupation of Kharga. The aqueducts run in a northerly direction from the town towards the escarpment winding and bending along the sides of three narrow valleys. They all feature regular vertical shafts which probably functioned as air vents as well as access for clearing out the sand which must have been intrusive.
Ten different cemetery areas have been identified at Ain Umm el-Dabadib by the NKOS team, which include both rock-cut and shallow graves. The rock-cut tombs are in a spur of rock to the east of Aqueduct 3 and the desecrated
remains of many mummified human bodies were found scattered about. Some of the tombs were lined with mudbricks and some showed remains of mudbrick façades. NKOS are currently studying the methods of mummification
Several areas with Prehistoric remains have also been located at Ain Umm el-Dabadib. The whole plain is an ancient dried-up lake, or ‘playa’ where the action of sand and wind over the millennia can be seen in the shapes of the rocks. Itis possible that the site was occupied sporadically from these early times, but its present importance is in providing valuable information covering the transitional period between Pagan and Christian Egypt Sadly, since writing this report on Ain Umm el-Dabadib there has been yet more heavy damage to the site inflicted by antiquities looters driving a front-loader. The extensive damage includes the total loss of the temple and a tower, destruction of the east side of the fortified settlement and looting in one of the cemetery areas.
Ain Amur Ain Amur is a tiny isolated oasis lying between Kharga and Dakhla on a wide ledge half-way up the north-western cliffs bordering the Abu Tartur Plateau, which outlines the Kharga depression. Caravans travelling along the Darb Ain Amur between Kharga and Dakhla would have stopped at this spring (fed by fresh surface-water) to break
their journey and it became the site of a quite large and important settlement. The well, with its ancient stone water-trough, still contains water today although it is now choked by weeds. Herbert Winlock visited and recorded the archaeological remains at Ain Amur in 1908, after travelling there by camel. The remaining structures at Ain Amur have been severely damaged by the water thundering down over the escarpment in flash floods over the centuries and in more recent years by antiquity thieves and tourists. Originally the site was enclosed by a thick irregular-shaped wall, but only two short sections still remain.The most impressive remains are those of a Late Period stone temple at
the northern side of the settlement The temple has sandstone walls and a roof constructed with limestone slabs and faces the main entrance to the settlement. It originally contained three chambers and an inner sanctuary, but only the eastern and western walls remain. There are a few original decorations and numerous Coptic and Arabic graffiti still to be seen but which provide little information to help with precise dating of the structure. One example, on the exterior western wall, includes a badly-preserved relief of a ram-headed Amun, an unidentified winged figure and part of a male wearing a kilt. There are traces of blue and red paint on the eastern wall. A large cemetery is located on the eastern side of the settlement, though many of the tombs have been plunderedAlong the Darb Ain Amur there is Prehistoric, Greek and Arab material similar in style to graffiti, rock-drawings and inscriptions recorded elsewhere in the Western Desert, confirming that the track was used by travellers of all periods. Old Kingdom graffiti has been found which provides new evidence of activity from that period in Kharga Oasis, possibly linking it with Old Kingdom
settlements in Dakhla.
How to get there
The journey to Ain Umm el-Dabadib and Ain Amur requires the use of a
4x4 vehicle with an expert driver, a knowledgeable guide and special
permission from the Antiquities Office in el-Kharga. The track from
Ain Umm el-Dabadib to Ain Amur is around 50km long and passes
through enormous dune fields and rock-strewn plains