Czech Egyptologists explore the "Egyptian Pompeii"

Written by Felgr Pavel on .

Czech Egyptologists do not only work at the pyramids at Abusir – they are also excavating in the Western desert in El-Hayez oasis. Up to these days several water sources remained there, on a place about 200 miles to the west of the Nile Valley.

There was much more water in prehistoric times and hunters of the Late Stone Age were moving on the banks of several local lakes, which doesn’t exist anymore. The hunters were replaced by the farmers, Egyptian crew and in the end – in Roman times - by communities, probably the Christian one. The entire area contains more than 20 locations that offer unique historical sources for gaining the knowledge of the ancient past.

The sand-covered city

Bir ShawishOne of the researches is carried out in Bir Shawish area. The first results are very interesting. "You began with digging in the desert and suddenly arches of Roman houses appeared with walls 2 to 3 meters high. We even unexpectedly fell through the ceiling of one of the houses with our car. Fortunately we were able to drive out," says Miroslav Bárta, who leads the research in El-Hayez oasis.

The remains of Bir Shawish town came from 4th to 5th century, i.e. from the period, when the first Christian communities existed in Egypt. There hasn’t been found direct evidence yet that they really were Christians. According to Bárta it will be a great discovery if it comes off that the local people were Christians.

"The historical potential of El-Hayez is enormous. We began to find the first written texts this year. They were written in Greek on fragments, which are probably of farming character. We can only explore a little part of the houses so far, but many items and tools of local equipment were left there as they were, when the inhabitants were leaving. Those are really kind of Egyptian Pompeii. At least 1,000 people lived there in total," says Bárta.

We still don’t know where everyone has gone. They probably moved elsewhere after the year 500 AD, perhaps for environmental or political reasons.

Kilometres of underground tunnels

Another interesting place in El-Hayez is Gard el-Abyad. Its scientific value lies it the fact that it shifts the known Pharaonic history of this area 1,500 back to the period of 24th century BC. It turns out that El-Hayez played an important role by the time of the pyramid builders. The Egyptian went to El-Hayez because of resources or the oasis was of political importance. It may be a border impact zone for the Bedouins, who frequently attacked the Nile Valley in the third millennium. It could also be a pass-through area and oasis, where the travellers could stockpile and went on to the Western Desert.

Other local interesting thing are so-called manawars, underground tunnels, which lead from the desert towards the settlement. They are located at a depth of 10-20 meters, are attached to the surface with shafts that were used at the time of their construction and then also for their maintaining. These kilometres long corridors were built for the only purpose of bringing subsurface water from the surrounding hills to the village. So the local people could survive and irrigate their fields and gardens. The scientists also discovered there peach pits and olives, even if the area was a semi-desert.

One part of El-Hayez oasis is cover by large sand dunes, while another part is still settled nowadays and a couple of hundred of people live there, but more and more are leaving. The drought progresses, the sources of drinking water are both limited and its quality also gets worse. "The desert is biting off the oasis constantly, it is really a lost world, which may not exist at all in several years," says the Czech Egyptologist.

Source: MF Dnes

Message from the Nile

  • History of Czech institution of egyptology

    The Czech egyptology founder is Frantisek Lexa, the author of up to now evaluated work about ancient Egypt magic and Demotic grammar. Seminar for egyptology started thanks to him in Faculty of Philosophy and Arts of Charles University in Prague in 1925. Two years later Lexa became the first regular professor of egyptology in then Czechoslovakia.

  • Abusir - outstation of Czech egyptology expedition

    Abusir is an archaeological locality in Egypt named after nearby recent village Abusir. It is situated on western Nile bank on the edge of Libyan tableland approximately 20 kilometers to the south-west of Cairo. The name of this locality is derived from ancient Egypt god Osiris, from Per Usir (Busiris), "(cult) place of Osiris" (Busiris in Greek).

  • Researches in Western desert

    Czech egyptology is successful in researching not only on pyramidal fields in Abusir recently, but also in supporting and organizing smaller expeditions into egyptian Western desert. Czech expedition has been working even in slowly evanescent oasis El-Hajez since 2003, which is situated about 400 km to the south-west from Cairo.

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