The Dakhla Oasis, situated some 300km from the Nile Valley in Egypt’s Western Desert,
can be regarded as the most southwesterly outpost of pharaonic civilisation. When an
exceptionally strong sand storm revealed, in 1947, the first traces of the late Old Kingdom
town at Ayn Aseel in the eastern part of the oasis, it came as quite a surprise to the scientific,
Nile-oriented community (though some ancient monuments and artefacts of later date had
been known before).
Over nearly 30 years, the systematic research by missions of the Institut
français d’archéologie oriental (IFAO) and the Dakhleh Oasis Project (DOP) has revealed
many aspects of ancient life in this remote region, the archaeological potential of which is far
from being exhausted. The recent discovery of a long-distance desert route, which extends the
known limit of Egyptian influence several hundred kilometres further towards the heart of the
continent, is another surprise. In 999 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 (fig. 1).2
The midpoint of the trail is the well known, but for
a long time mysterious, Abu Ballas or ‘Pottery Hill’ site where large amounts of pharaonic
pottery were discovered as early as 1918 and 1923, respectively (figs. 2–4).3
for many years interested in the riddle of these pots,
immediately initiated investigations
of the new sites within the prehistoric research programme of the Collaborative Research
Centre ACACIA at the University of Cologne.
This paper, presenting some of the results of the ACACIA project, will focus on the
material evidence, practical use and possible purpose of the trail in the late Old Kingdom
See, for example, the fairly personal account of Ahmed Fakhry, in Textes et langages de l’Égypte pharaonique,
Bergmann, Der letzte Beduine, 367–460.
Kemal el Dine and Franchet, Revue scientifique 65 (1927), 596–600; Ball, Geographical Journal 70 (927), 22, n.
‡; Jarvis, Three Deserts, 114–16. Cf. Förster and Kuper, Sahara 14 (2003), 167–8.
Cf. Bergmann, Der letzte Beduine, 409–10; Kuper, in Caneva and Roccati (eds.), Acta Nubica. Proceedings of the X.
International Conference of Nubian Studies, 39.
Cf. Kuper, Antiquity 75 (2001), 801–2; id., in Friedman (ed.), Egypt and Nubia: Gifts of the Desert, 9–10, pls.
18–23; id., in Hawass and Pinch Brock (eds.), Proceedings of the Eighth International Congress of Egyptologists, 372–
76; id., BSFE 158 (2003), 17–26, figs. 2–6; id., in Caneva and Roccati (eds.), Acta Nubica. Proceedings of the X.
International Conference of Nubian Studies, 357–61, figs. 2–10; Förster, in Bubenzer et al. (eds.), Atlas of Cultural
and Environmental Change in Arid Africa, 130–3; Förster and Kuper, Sahara 14 (2003), 167–8; Kuhlmann, in
“Jennerstrasse 8” (ed.) Tides of the Desert, 149–58; Riemer, in Bubenzer et al. (eds.), Atlas of Cultural and
Environmental Change in Arid Africa, 134–5; Riemer et al., MDAIK 61 (2005), 291–350; Schönfeld, Wegstationen
auf dem Abu Ballas Trail. Preliminary reports on individual field and study seasons of the ACACIA projet