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
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
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