jueves, 17 de marzo de 2011

Ancient Egyptians made the arduous trek to Chad

Ancient Egyptians made the arduous trek to Chad

A trip across the desert of south-west Egypt is not for the faint of heart. Modern day travellers departing south-west from the Dakhla Oasis will find themselves hitting their flasks as they traverse the Egyptian wilderness. Por Owen Jarus

Water sources are scarce, the area is sparsely populated and the lack of landmarks means you’ll want to keep your GPS system in good order.

Passing by Gilf Kebir, a plateau the size of Puerto Rico, you’ll find prehistoric cave paintings, evidence of a time when the climate was much more favourable to human life. Assuming you keep a south-west direction, and don’t get lost, you’ll come across a mountain range called Jebel Uweinat. Straddling the Egyptian-Libyan-Sudanese border, travellers will find springs there and – if you know where to look – a recently discovered 4,000 year old inscription, written in the name of Mentuhotep II, a Pharaoh credited with reuniting Egypt.

If you continue south-west you’ll cross the border into south-east Libya and, if you keep on going, venture into the north-east corner of Chad, in Central Africa. It’s a daunting, perilous, journey. And now, thanks to a body of new archaeological, textual, environmental and linguistic research, we have evidence that the ancient Egyptians undertook it.

In an article recently published in the Journal of Ancient Egyptian Interconnections, Thomas Schneider, a professor at the University of British Columbia, lays out this wide assortment of evidence. "It’s something really new," said Professor Schneider in a telephone interview. "There’s a new window opening into the past of Egypt."

One line of evidence, which suggests that Egyptians travelled to Chad, is found in the archaeology of the south-west desert. "The Dakhla Oasis, situated some 300 km from the Nile Valley in Egypt’s Western Desert, can be regarded as the most south-westerly outpost of pharaonic civilisation," writes Frank Förster in a British Museum article. "In 1999 and 2000, the German desert traveller Carlo Bergmann found several sites which form a chain of staging posts on an almost straight line, the end of which lies close to the Gilf Kebir Plateau in the Libyan Desert, about 400km southwest of its starting-point in Dakhla."

Or so he thought. In 2007 Mark Borda and Mahmoud Marai, a pair of explorers, found the 4,000 year-old Mentuhotep II inscription far to the south-west of Gilf Kebir at Jebel Uweinat. As mentioned earlier, this is a mountainous region on the borders of Egypt, Sudan and Libya.

Professor Schneider says that this is a significant discovery which shows that royal expeditions went much further south-west then Gilf Kebir. "At important places expeditions always left inscriptions," he said. "I think it was also a demonstration that this is an official expedition trail set up by the Egyptian state."

Schneider says that creating a trail that went from the Dakhla Oasis through the mountains of Jebel Uweinat would have been an incredible logistical feat. "You would have to establish way stations with water depots in the ground at specific places," he said. "You would have to establish also these physical markers, these piles of stones, for example, that help you find the trail at certain distances."

This would require lots of people. "You would have to mount an expedition with probably dozens of people, donkeys etc, all the equipment needed."

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