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Fabled Land of Yam revealed in Western Desert

January 1, 2008


Libyan Desert


 Map of Western Desert

Explorers just returning from the Sahara desert have claimed they found a remarkable relic from Pharaonic times.

Mark Borda and Mahmoud Marai, from Malta and Egypt respectively, were surveying a field of boulders on the flanks of a hill deep in the Libyan desert some 700 kilometres west of the Nile Valley when engravings on a large rock consisting of hieroglyphic writing, Pharaonic cartouche, an image of the king and other Pharaonic iconography came into view.

Mr Borda would not reveal the precise location in order to protect the site.

He explained the far-reaching implications of the find for Egyptology. “Although very active in the Eastern Desert, as attested to by the innumerable inscriptions they left behind, there is very little evidence for the presence of the ancient Egyptians in the much larger and harsher Western Desert.

“The consensus among Egyptologists is that the Egyptians did not penetrate this desert any further than the area around Djedefre’s Water Mountain. This is a sandstone hill about 80 kilometres south west of the Dakhla Oasis that contains hieroglyphic inscriptions. Its discovery in 2003 by the German explorer Carlo Bergmann caused a sensation as it extended the activities of the Pharaonic administrations an unprecedented 80 kilometres further out into the unknown and waterless Western Desert. The find we just made is some 650 kilometres further on!! Egyptologists will be dumbstruck by this news.”

But that is not all. As soon as he emerged from the desert Mr Borda flew to London to discuss the find with Maltese Egyptologist Aloisia De Trafford from the Institute of Archaeology (University College London).

She immediately facilitated a preliminary decipherment of the text via Joe Clayton, an ancient languages specialist who lectures on hieroglyphic writing at Birkbeck College at the same university. 

Mr Borda continues, “Within a matter of days the short text was yielding astonishing revelations. In the annals of Egyptian history there are references to far off lands that the pharaohs had traded with but none of these have ever been positively located.

“It turns out that the script we found states the name of the region where it was carved, which is none other than the fabled land of Yam, one of the most famous and mysterious nations that the Egyptians had traded with in Old Kingdom times; a source of precious tropical woods and ivory.

“Its location has been debated by Egyptologists for over 150 years but it was never imagined it could be 700 kilometres west of the Nile in the middle of the Sahara desert.”

Speculation about the extent to which the Egyptians penetrated the Western Desert gained momentum in the 1990s when it was determined that caches of pottery discovered all along the Abu Ballas Trail by Bergmann, where determined to be of XVIIIth Dynasty manufacture.

During this period it was also realised that the central stone in the famous Tutankamun pectoral was made of Libyan Desert Glass, which is only found just north of the Gilf, 700 kilometres west of the Nile. Egyptologists however, concluded that the Egyptian pottery on the Abu Ballas Trail was probably transported there by desert dwellers who were trading with the Egyptians, and that Tutankamun’s natural glass also got to the Nile via such desert peoples.Libyan desert glass

Last year Mr Borda was the main sponsor and also a participant in Carlo Bergmann’s expedition to the Gilf Kebir, the aim of which was to find evidence that the ancient Egyptians had crossed the Western Desert and reached the Gilf.

Mr Marai who specialises in providing desert transport for adventurers and explorers supplied the vehicle back up. The expedition involved walking the entire distance on foot with camels carrying essential supplies and surveying the ground along the way.

After the 2006 expedition Mr Borda resolved to do this year’s expedition with vehicles that would allow a much greater area to be covered.

The search would focus on hieroglyphic writing which, if found on immovable surfaces such as boulders, hillsides and so on, would be positive proof for Egyptologists that the pharaohs has organised long range trading, diplomatic and prospectingJebel Uweinat missions very deep into the desert.

He thus contracted Mr Marai to provide the transport and together they searched two routes between the oasis of Abu Munqar and Jebel Uweinat, a total distance of about 1,400 kilometres.

Numerous boulders, rocky ridges and hillsides the length and breadth of these routes were inspected before they eventually made the discovery.

A trip is being planned in February to show the site to Egyptologists and journalists.

One Comment leave one →
  1. pasthorizons permalink*
    January 10, 2008 12:52 pm

    Read more about Yam….

    Because, of course, ancient place names do not always, if even often, make it through the ages to our modern era, they frequently become problematic to our study of ancient times. Even within Egypt, we often have problems identifying from ancient texts various cities and sites. More difficult even than this is perhaps the places outside of Egypt to which the Egyptians refer to in their texts. The Land of Punt, for example, has never been positively identified, though various Egyptologists seem to have strong opinions about its location. Another region, featured in Egypt’s oldest narrative of foreign travel dating to the 23rd century BC, is that of Yam. Apparently, Yam was a transfer point for trade with the Sudan and other African regions and a source of tropical precious wood and ivory.

    This account was recorded on the tomb facade of Harkhuf, the governor of Elephantine, who recorded his adventures during the 6th Dynasty. He travelled, not once, but four times to yam, leading an expedition apparently into Nubia south of Egypt. These visits were made for trade, using donkey caravans in which Egyptian goods were exported and traded for those of Yam. On one journey, we are told that some 300 asses brought back “incense, ebony…leopard skins, elephant tusks and boomerangs”.

    Read all of this article

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