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Kharga Oasis Geography

The New Valley

  Geography and Geology

The Kharga depression is shaped like a frightened seahorse with its curling toward th Nile Valley and its face looking toward Dakhla and the Great Sand Sea. Bound by escarpments only along its eastern and northern borders, the depression, lying north to south between E 30 and E 3I, is 220 kilometers (I37.5 miles) long north to south and barely I5 to 40 kilometers (9 to 25miles) wide east to west. At one point, where the open mouth of the seahorse gapes aghast at the desert that lies before it, the oasis is 80 kilometers (50 miles)wide. A fault runs the entire length of the depression.

Although Kharga's fossils are not as prominent, or as much studied, as those of Fayoum, Khara does lay claim to a dinosaur, Ornithischian.  There are also plenty of sea fossils within the esh-gray clays of the Upper Danian sections of the escarpments.

The beds run from less than 20 meters (64 feet) to not more than   40 meters (I27.6 feet) thick. Zittel, during the Rohlfs Expedition, found a wide assortment of fossils.

At one time covered by a great sea, evident from fossils found in the depression and on the escarpment, it is believed that the depression was created by the natural forces of wind and water, assisted by upheavals and tectonic action in the Tertiary Period. The eastern escarpment is a 37I  meter (I,I87 foot) Eocene wall of limestone, which is extremely steep and difficult to traverse.



There are many impressive mountains in Kharga Oasis, particlarly in the north where they not only determine access routes, but dictate the personality of the oasis. Gebel al-Ramliya, Mountain of the Sand Dunes, at 448 meters (I,433 feet), is located near the northeastern edge of the depression just above the escarpment. Gebel al-Aguz, Old  Man Mountain, is connected to the escarpment, but protrudes above it, just south of the modern descent into the oasis. Gebel Umm al-Ghanayim, the Mountain of the Mother of Spoils, Follows along he eastern edge of the escarpment. Gebel al-Ghanima, 14 kilometers (8.7 miles) south of Gebel Umm al-Ghanayim, and due east of Qasr Kharga, is 5 kilometers (3 miles) west of the edge of the eastern scarp. Running north to south it is 2 kilometers (I.2 mils) long with a 250 meter (800 foot) wide flat top and is 383 meters (I,225 feet) above sea level. Gebel al-Teir, Mountain of the Birds, is the most elusive mountain in the oasis. When one searches for landmarks it is never where you think it should be. Located near Qasr Kharga, Bagawat is found in its foothills.Gebel al-Tarwan, Just of Gebel al-Teir, is much samaller, being 0.05 kilometers (0.03 miles) long and only 32 meters (I02 feet) above the depression floor. It is currently being mined for its white limestone, and is destined to disappear altogether if mining continues. To the south of its western side is Bagawat. Gebel al-Zuhur, Mountain of Roses, is than a mountain and even a poor excuse for a hill. Located to the west of Gebel al-Tarwan and Bagawat , just to the east of the main road, its only Desert Roses are selenite.

The most impressive mountains in the entire depression are Gebel al-Tarif, Mountain of the Border, and its small neighboor Gebel al-sheikh. The pair form the called Gebel Ghurabi has no distinction other than as a landmark for finding the beginning of the ancient desert road to Ain Umm Dabadib and Ain Amur.

In the south stands the rugged Qarn al-Ginah, a rugged sandstone hill 14.5 kilometers (9 miles) southwest of Qasr Kharga. Standing alone on the depression floor it is visible from most locations and serves as an excellent landmark. Gebel al-Tafnis is located on the scarp due east of Baris. Gebel al-Qarn, Horn Mountain, a 204-meter (652-foot) double-peaked black anticlinal hill surrounded by sand dunes, is located 16kilometers (10 miles) southwest of Baris and is the southernmost mountain in the oasis.

The Abu Tartur Plateau , Plateau, Plateau of the Cone shaped Hat, separates Kharga and Dakhla  oases, and covers I,200 square kilometers (750 square miles). Its Oval-shaped, flat-topped summit is surrounded by high scarps on three sides and is joined to the  escapment in the northwest by a small saddle. Rich in phosphate, the Abu Tartur plateau is attracting modern mining ventures. The fabled Ain Amur is located on one of its northern slopes.



Most of the water in this oasis and throughout the Western Desert comes from rainfall in tropical Africa that saturates and penetrates the ground and moves north through two layers of Nubian sandstone. The sandstone, which composes most of the depression floor, is 700 meters (2,240 feet) thick. The water gushes forth from the depression floor at a rate of II million gallons a day, watering the cultivated area of the oasis, which is only I percent of the total area of the depression.

The water flows from a spring , ain, if it bubbles up naturally and only needs to be cleared from time to time, or a well, bir, if the source had to be tapped by a drill. There are hundreds of springs and wells in Kharga and most of them have been running nonstop night and day for thousands of years with no sign of abating. Some date as far back as Acheulean times. In I8232, the French mining engineer LeFever worked in Kharga frilling wells, and new wells are constantly being dug.

Ancient spring are called Ain Romani in Kharge. But they may in fact be Persian, as the Persians developed considerable water resources in Kharga too. The ancient springs still retain their old wooden linings of doum or date palm or acacia wood. Built water right they are still in good working order after 2,000 years.

There is another method of obtaining water which was used in ancient times, probably developed by the Chinese or the  Persians and possibly brought to Egypt by the Romans. An elaborate underground aqueduct system tapped  trapped water in limestone riges below, but near, the surface. Once tapped the  water was channeled through a massive system of tunnels to lower lying areas where it was used for irrigation. Sometimes these tunnels went on for kilometers. Three systems were known to exist in Kharga: at Ain Umm Dabaib, Qasr al-Labeka, and Qasr al-Geb. Now a new site must be added, for the French Mission at Dush has found an extensive system at Manawar.

These amazing systems exist in many areas of the ancient world and are still used in Afghanistan  and Iran (Persia), where they are called qanat; in Libya and Algeria, where they are called foggara; in Oman, where they are called falaj; in southeast Asia where Bahariya, Farafra, and Kharga and in each place under a different name. In Bahariya they are manafis, in Farafra, jub, and in Kharga manawal.


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