Friday, December 26, 2008

A Search for Pictures from the Times When the Sahara Was full of Lakes

The archaeologist, Martin Tomášek, describes an almost twenty-two day exploration by the Czech expedition into rarely seen stretches of the Egyptian Sahara. Thanks to him we bring unique pictures from the places where package tours rarely ever go.

It was almost 2 a.m. on 3rd November 2008, when most of the members of our scientific expedition met at Cairo airport. The final destination was the remote area of Gilf Kebir, which is located near where Egypt borders with Libya and Sudan. Our team of scientists – Egyptologist Miroslav Bárta, surveyor Vladimír Brůna, and me (archaeologist Martin Tomášek) – were joined at the airport by other members of the expedition. The rest soon arrived from Prague and comprised of: archaeologist Jiří Svoboda, expert of the Palaeolithic era, surveyor Václav Cílek, archaeologist Jiří Musil, specialist on the Roman Period, botanist Petr Pokorný and Josef Jíša who was responsible for charging all of the electrical devices using solar cells. The last person to join the expedition was Martin Frouz, a photographer working for the Czech National Geographic team.

The founder of the expedition and its natural leader was Miroslav Bárta from the Czech Institute of Egyptology. He had in-depth knowledge of the environment and the Arabic dialects spoken in Egypt and was in charge of arranging the necessary travel permits as well as the logistics side of the expedition. Local knowledge was supplied with the help of Bedouins from Baharija. Due to the recent tourist abduction, which had happened not far from Gilf Kebir, Egyptian authorities took all possible steps in order to limit visitors to the area as much as possible. Because of this our permits were delayed, and we were allowed to stay close to the border of Sudan only for a restricted number of days.

The following day we left Cairo and made our way south-west. What was the reason and goal of our journey? Czech Egyptologists have been working in Egypt for fifty years, mainly in a burial-ground near the royal metropolis in Abusir. In 2004, one of the Czech expeditions set off for the Egyptian Western Desert where its members explored what was left of the extinct settlements in the area of el-Hajez in the oasis Bahrija. This is certainly not the only oasis of the desert. Five oases have been populated up to recent times (Siva, Bahrija, Farafra, Dachla, Charga). People also used to live in many other places in this part of the Sahara. Even after the desert had taken over there were still paths connecting individual areas. It was these ancient paths that we decided to follow as they led to the little known remains of the settlement in the Gilf Kebir locality.

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