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Recent discoveries tell us that Dakhla Oasis has been populated for over 10,000 years. In Neolithic times (5500-2500 B.C.), the climate of Dakhla was similar to that of the African savanna. Buffaloes, elephants, rhinos, zebras, ostriches, and hartebeests wandered around the shores of a huge lake, on whose southern bank primitive people had settled to herd goats and cattle. But with a breakdown in the environment which caused the lake to dry and the region to become arid, there was massive migration south and east, which helped to populate the early Nile Valley. The sands of the oasis covered the ancient sites and kept them safe for centuries. Now those same sands are eroding the surface and ancient cemeteries and villages are popping out of the ground like rare blossoms. Archaeologists, who are just beginning to explore the area, are being will rewarded for their efforts.

Dakhla has been known as al-Wah, the Inner Oasis, Oasis Magna, and Zeszes, place of the two swords.


Pharaonic (2686-332 B.C.)

Dakhla Oasis had contact with the Nile Valley as early as the Archaic Period (c.3150-2686 B.C.) and this contact continued through the Third (c.2686-2181 B.C.) and sixth Dynasties (c.2345-2333 B.C.) of the Old Kingdom. Over a hundred ancient cemeteries have been recorded by the Dakhla Oasis Project, in operation since 1978. Covering a span of time from prehistory to the Roman period, their excavations have told us much about life during these eras. The Institut Francais d'Archeologie Orientale, working since 1977, has been excavating in the area of Ain Asil, where they have uncovered what is believed to be the Old Kingdom capital of Dakhla Oasis.

  It is likely that during the Old Kingdom Dakhla Oasis had a direct link to the Nile Valley via the Darb al-Tawil and was not dependent on the route through nearby Kharga Oasis. In fact, evidence suggests Dakhla may have been much more important to the Nile Valley pharaohs than Kharga.

During the New Kingdom, settlement moved further west and Mut became the capital of Dakhla. We know form inscriptions on tombs in the Nile Valley that taxes from both Kharga and Dakhla were paid in wine, fruit, minerals, and woven products. We also know that throughout history the oases were difficult to bring under control. So far away from the Nile, with so inhospitable a journey, few people went willingly to the desert.

A stela from the Twenty-second Dynasty found near Mut by H.G. Lyons in 1894, now known as the First Dakhla Stela, tells us that Sheshonk I sent a man to "the two lands of wahat {oases}" to " regulate disputes over water rights." At that time a "cadastral register of the wells and orchards took place." In the pharaoh's fifth year he sent one of his royal relatives "to restore order in the Oasis-land, after he had found it in a state  of war and turmoil."

No evidence has yet merged to indicate a heavy Greek presence in the oasis, but several Ptolemaic structures have been found.


Roman (30 B.c.-A.D. 323) and Christian (323-642) Periods

Like all the oases in the Western Desert, Dakhla was very heavily populated during Roman rule. Roman farms, villages, and cemeteries litter the landscape, with major sites discovered at Smint, Amheida, and Qasr. A heavy influx of Roman immigrants occurred during the first century, possibly coming from the Fayoum, where the agricultural community was in decline. The Romans grew wheat, barley, and cotton. They had presses for olive oil and wine, and raised chickens and pigs.

  It must be remembered that Dakhla was an agricultural area in the farthest corner of the Roman Empire. Unlike Kharga, dotted with dozens of Roman fortresses, only a few ruined fortresses have been found in Dakhla. The Kharga fortresses guarded the Darb al-Arbain, the major economic link to the interior of Afric. Although there is one route going south from Dakhla, the Darb al-Arbain. It must also be remembered that Rome expected one third of its annual supply of grain from Egypt. If the Fayoum was being abandoned, the grain had to come from somewhere. Dakhla is as likely a place as is the Nile Valley.

  Egypt was not treated like other conquered countries. Octavian, now Augustus Caesar, after he defeated Antony and Cleopatra, separated Egypt from the rest of the empire and oversaw its affairs himself through the appointment of a prefect, not the usual proconsul. Augustus, according the Naphtali Lewis in Life in Egypt under Roman Rule, used members of the equestrian order (his own) as prefects. He forbade any ranking public figure, including senators or equestrians, holding a higher rank than a intact, but changed the power structure. Where the Ptolemaic era saw soldiers who were farmers living with their families, Roman soldiers lived in fortified camps and outposts. Small detachments rotated to key places on the frontier. The Romans never achieved a sense of belonging to Egypt.

After the Roman period the population declined dramatically, but grew again when Christians came to Dakhla and occupied some Roman sites. There are ruins of Coptic churches and communities dating back as late as the seventh century. A.J. Mills, head of the Dakhla Oasis Project, believes this may be the single most important archaeological fact in Dakhla. Many of these sites have been buried for centuries and once uncovered and examined may "provide rare evidence for the development of late Roman/Byzantine periods." We will be able to see the transition between these two eras, a transition now shrouded in the mists of the past.


Islamic Era (641-1798)

Closer to our era, the period from the seventh to the eighteenth centuries has left a permanent mark on this oasis. Threatened by invaders from the south and west it wast at this time that the fortified towns like Qasr Dakhla, Qalamun, Budkhulu were constructed. Built in places selected for their natural defensive positions, usually a hill or a cliff, these Islamic towns were divided into quarters, with gates that were locked at night against invaders. Buildings in Qasr Dakhla have been identified as existing during the Ayyubid Period, 1171-1250. Hat is well before the Mamluk era, so someone was out here doing something.

  In recent years, these villages have spread beyond the protective walls to the now secure plains below, and have become electrified and modernized, but in villages like Mut, Qalamun, Qasr, and Balat one is still able to view the original buildings. All the domed tombs found throughout the oasis have their origins in Islamic architecture and some of the facades, especially in Qasr, are still in Islamic style.

  Raiders came out of the west to loot and plunder the villages in annual raids or ghazyas (the word that has entered English as 'razzia'). They all did it: Arab, Tebu, and Tuareg. Edmondstone was told of just such a raid by Mograbin or Barbary Arabs three years (1816) before he arrived. There were 400 of them, and just like the pestilence, they hit and ran. It was probably very similar to a raid described by Vischer that took place on the road to Bornu: "The Arabs had chosen the hottest part of the year and swooped down on Tibesti when the Tubbus {Tebu}, themselves probably on a raid of their own, expected nothing. Without much trouble took all the camels, women, and children they found, burnt villages, cut down palm trees in the most approved fashion, and hurried off before the husbands had any news of the disaster."

  The raids into Dakhla were so severe that during Mamluk times the government established a military colony of Surbaghi (Chourbghi) in Qalamun. It was their job to stop the raids. Qalamun, established as the main administrative center of Dakhla Oasis during the Mamluk era, became the center of Turkish influence. In fact, some families still insist on their Turkish origins. The Surbaghi destroyed the wells along the caravan route leading to the west (probably the Abu Minqar-Kufra camel track, or a lost track to Kufra) to a distance of seven days. This made any travel to Dakhla impossible by this route. The trail fell out of use and was lost. It existed only in rumor. The stories of the raiders also diminished.

  This was the situation when the European explorers began searching for Zerzura. This information was given to Ascherson of the Rohlfs Expedition by Hassan Effendi, the mayor of Dakhla in 1874. He said the raiders were Bed ajat, a name Henrich Barth used for the people of Ennedi north of Waidai, but Ascherson believed they were actually from Bornu. Hassan Effendi actually had one of the iron boomerangs, called kurbaj, that were used by the raiders. He gave it to Rohlfs as a gift an it looked just like a Tebu boomerang found by Nachtigal.

  Muhammad Ali subdued the oasis by force. Edmondstone tells us " their tribute, which is paid in kind, not only varies every year, according to hid {the pasha's} caprice, as they affirm, but four or five soldiers ar now sufficient for levying it, whereas four hundred were necessary for that purpose when they first came unde his dominion." It was during Muhammad Ali's reign that the first Europeans came to Dakhla.


British Occupation (1882-1954)

During the Mahdist uprising in Sudan, Dakhla fared better than Kharga. A few Dervish raids, a rebuilding of the Mut fortifications, and the threat was over. Dakhla did have a Zawya and was occupied by Sanusi forces in 1916, when the British were chasing the Sanusi through the Western Desert. Some of the people of the oasis joined the Sanusi, others considered them just another set of invaders. The oasis was taxed and forced to supply provisions for the army. One of the villagers from Gedida remembers how difficult the occupation was, maintaining that no supplies came via the Nile Valley and commodities, such as fabric, became scarce. The occupation lasted until October 16 of the same year.

  The British, who were in control of Egypt at that time, evacuated all British personnel from Kharga in anticipation of a takeover. According to Massey, they sent a reconnaissance plane to Mut on October 9-10, and it observed that the Sanusi were on their way out of the oasis. On October 15, three lieutenants (Armstrong, Lindsay, and Gayford), six light patrol cars, three Lewis guns, a Ford delivery van with signalers, and ten motorcyclists took off for Dakhla. One can almost see them charging down the Ghubari Road, circling sand dunes, with the Union Jack snapping in the wind. They were met by an armored car and tender at mile 73, a former Sanusi post.  Two sections f Australian Imperial Camel Corps soon joined them.

  They occupied Tineida on the 16th . On the 17th Armstrong and four patrol cars went to Balat and Buddkhlu. Nearby they encountered some Sanusi and attached. They surrendered to the Lewis guns. Armstrong moved on to Rashida and "arrested ten Senussi in the Omda's house." Wright went to Bir Sheikh Muhammad and captured forty Sanusi while he burned the farm building. In all, in three days, 181 Sanusi were captured including seven "Egyptian coastguards who had traitorously left their posts in the coastal section." The remainder of the Sanusi headed for Siwa where, by this time, they were unwelcome.

  In colonial days the road from Dakhla was open to motorcars, but the journey took nine hours. The more adventurous traveler could go by camel which took three to four days.






There are sixteen villages in Dakhla Oasis. (When Edmondstone was here in 1819, there were twelve.) Mut, named aftr the ancient Egyptian goddess of the Theban triad, is the capital. Today there are 127,000 inhabitants in the entire New Valley with 75,000 in Dakhla. Of these 11,000 reside in Mut(in 1874 there were 17,000 in all of Dakhla).

  Agriculture is the main industry in Dakhla and its olives, dates, onions, and dried fruit are exported to the Nile Valley. By government decree each farmer must cultivate wheat and rice, and orchards must have a variety of trees including dates, oranges, apricots, and olives. Recent years have seen the introduction of a number of modern innovations: diesel pumps, certified seeds, chemical fertilizers, mechanization, and commercial pest management. Modern pest management, including pesticides, which some claim compound the problem, have been introduced at Mt especially in post-harvest storage of grains. These pests, including insects, weevils, sus, and rodents, firan, have been formidable enemies for centuries. In some instances farmers lose 50 percent of their crops to pests, either in the fields or in storage.

  Traditional methods of post-harvest pest control include burying grain in the sand, which has worked for centuries, to keep grain not only insect free, but dry. The second method is storing the crops in granary rooms inside of houses. A final method is storing grain in specially built mud silos, souma. Anne M. Parrish, with the University of Kentucky field team, reports, "Some farmers say that 'in the old days' there were no sus. One even said that there were no sus until the Ministry of Agriculture came to the oasis. But others explained that 'the old days' were also 'the poor days.' Food was consumed before insects could cause serious economic losses." She also tells us an interesting story about rats: "One farmer said: 'Rats are so clever that they send their young in to eat first. If they don't die, then the old ones come in to eat."

  Primary and preparatory schools exist in all villages, with three secondary schools at Mut, Balat, and Qasr Dakhla. In Mut commercial, teaching, industrial, and agricultural schools have been established in the past few years. Each village has a clinic (with a hospital in Mut), a post office, electricity, tap water, and telephone service with foreign exchange.

Marriage usually takes place in summer. Men marry when they are 20 to 25 and women at 17 to 20. Families which have always averaged five to ten children are streamlining to four or fewer.

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