Expedition of Winter 2012/13

Advance Report


The aims of the winter 2012/13 field season were:


A.) to continue analysing the function of further possible libation devices in the region of the Gilf Kebir and to check their orientation.


Subsequent to my report On the Origins of the Egyptian Pantheon part two (hereafter referred to as Pantheon – part two) posted on this website on 10/15/2011 and also to my Winter 2011/12: Results of a visit to Gebel Uweinat and two visits to the Gilf Kebir in November/December 2011 - further evidence of a Neolithic desert religion in the region of the Gilf Kebir (hereafter referred to as Winter 2001/12-report) posted on this website on 7/10/2012 several possible libation devices so far unknown to me were brought to my attention, so that it deemed necessary to pay another visit to the Gilf Kebir and its surroundings. As these devices and the ones discussed in the above mentioned papers seem to resemble those found by J.-L. Le Quellec in Wadi Anag, Sudan, and published in Sahara 23(2012)p. 65 et seq. (figures 1 +2) it is highly probable that closely related sets of Neolithic religious beliefs and practises as attested by similarly designed desert altars in the Gilf Kebir area and in Wadi Anag were spread over large areas of the South-Western Libyan Desert. But how far did these religious practises and their affiliated hardware extend towards the Nile valley?



figures 1 +2: Two possible libation devices found by J.-L. Le Quellec in Wadi Anag, Sudan.

(Courtesy of J.-L. Le Quellec. Images shown are color enhanced.)


B.) to survey several localities situated between Abu Ballas and south of Biar Jaqub in order to find an answer the question raised above.


Astonishingly, not long ago F. Berger et al. found a petroglyph south of Biar Jaqub which, because of its supposed resemblance to the ancient Egyptian iconography, the discoverer qualified as a “Bes figure”. (figure 3) Indeed, “…the appearance of ...(this) god has been compared with models as diverse as African pygmies and with prehistoric Libyan images.” (R. H. Wilkinson: The complete gods and goddesses of ancient Egypt. London 2005, p. 102) Figure 3 showing “…mask-like and….bearded(?) features…and large staring eyes…” (ibidem) is indicative of the latter. As one of but a few iconographic proofs found so far north-east of the Gilf Kebir it nevertheless attests to the cultural-religious diffusion which, directed towards the Nile valley at the end of the Neolithic Wet-Phase, originated somewhere in the far west. (see Winter 2001/12-report, introduction and sidenote 8) The issue of the permeability of the Western Desert during the period concerned is still highly disputed. (see Pantheon - part one, chapter 5.343) Hence, any new find proving cultural links between the regions in question during the said period will further strengthen the cultural diffusion approach put forth in my papers. Consequently, discoveries of libation devices in the region east of the Gilf Kebir, for instance in an area south of Biar Jaqub, would give additional weight to proposals dealing with possible cultural-religious transfers from the desert to the Nile valley from which the pharaonic civilization may have profited at its dawn.


figure 3: So-called Bes figure found south of Biar Jaqub by F. Berger at al.

(Courtesy of R. Berger. Image shown is contrast enhanced.)


C.) to visit several Wadi Sura sites in order to review some of my rock-art interpretations based solely on an analysis of Andras Zboray´s photographs. (see A. Zboray: Rock art in the Libyan Dersert. 2nd. Edition, Newbury 2009) Take for instance figure 49 in Pantheon - part two which, for the convenience of the readers, is shown here again. (figure 4) Because of the predominantly white coloration and the specific pictorial elements presented one could light-handedly assign a mythical dimension to the scene which may allude to a hunter’s cult of the prey and which, possibly, also refers to an allegory of rebirth. However, would such an interpretation still be valid if the white coloration has to be considered as the sole remnant of a process of selective pigment decay causing the almost complete obliteration of images painted in other but white colors? A good example for such a selective pigment decay is shown in figure 5 where, supposedly, the white horned skull in the center is the only vestige of a formerly complete depiction of a bovid. To examine the effects of pigment decay and to evaluate its consequences with regard to the interpretation of the Wadi Sura rock-art we had planned to take a close lock at the imageries of WG 45/A and WG 35.



figure 4: Detail from the “lower right” section (A. Zboray: Rock art of the Libyan Desert. op. cit.) of the WG 45/A rock shelter that is primarily decorated with images of white cattle. Note that the white bows and arrows next to the white game might, in an unconventional way, convey the idea of a hunt. (Image shown in a color enhanced version. Courtesy of Andras Zboray.)

figure 5: Detail from the ceiling of CC21 (Borda Cave) possibly attesting to the phenomenon of selective pigment decay. Due to this effect only the white horned skull of a bovid shown in the center of the picture remains visible.


These were my objectives for the winter 2012/13 expedition. However, due to unsafe conditions at Egypt´s border with Libya at the time when our 4WD-trip to the Gilf Kebir was scheduled, the entire Western Desert was sealed off by the military. We therefore had to postpone our journey to the next field season and, instead, spent a few days below the limestone plateau near Tineida, Dakhla oasis, where my camels were grazing. (figures 6 + 8) The area is studded with ancient potsherds and other artifacts. A few of these items are shown in figures 7, 9, 10 + 11.



figure 6: One of the grazing grounds for my camels near Teneida, Dakhla oasis.

figure 7: Small stoen-fragment showing an image of Seth.



figure 8: Taiba, Ashan, Amur and Fatima at our midday camp asking for a fair share of our meal.

figure 9: Badly weathered petroglyph possibly representing an irrigated field.



figure 10: Badly weathered petroglyph showing the fragments of a vessel and a human figure.

figure 11: Petroglyph of a vessel whose hull is partly shown in plan-view.


After visiting the camels we traveled to a “lost” oasis, discovered by my friend Muhamed Abd el-Hamid Achmend Ranem. On an excursion into the desert south of Dakhla oasis Muhamed had come across a sizable former shallow lake. This lake which is now an expanse of dried-up Playa interspersed with fresh water mollusks, is surrounded by hillocks covered with tamarisks. The majority of these tamarisks are still animated. At the lake´s shore Muhamed showed us a trunk of a palm tree. (figure 12) In its surroundings we noted a fair number of potsherds. North of the lake an old caravan route heading for Kharga oasis passes by. As the trunk looked quite old, a sample was taken for a 14C-test.


figure 12: The trunk of a palm tree found by Muhamed Abd el-Hamid Achmed Ranem south of Dakhla oasis at the shore of a former lake Note several tamarisk hillocks in the background.


Before returning to Cairo we walked up the steep pass which ascends the limestone cliff close to my house in Bir Hamsa. This pass and the associated trail surveyed by the author many years ago are part of the ancient Oasis Road. (figure 13, click also Discoveries in the Western Desert of Egypt, chapter D.) As, despite repeated attempts in the past, I had not succeeded finding the pharaonic(?) petroglyph discovered by Muhamed at the top of the pass, I so far refrained from publishing the results of my reconnaissances. Luckily, on our hike I managed to locate the said petroglyph. (figure 14) Therefore the results of my road survey which await publication since 1986, will now be posted on this website.



figure 13: Top section of the ancient pass at Bir Hamsa. Note the stone circles in the foreground below the ancient trail presumably indicating resting places of the donkey caravans.

figure 14: Image of a pharaonic(?) guard at the top of pass. This section of the pass has been fortified by sizable dry stone bulwarks.


Sehlis 5/7/2013

Carlo Bergmann