Saturday, November 14, 2009

Lost Army and the sites mentioned in the SCA press release

Okay here's the summary of all the odds and ends so far, and thanks to everyone who sent in comments and emails. Aayko Emya also posted a summary on EEF.

The Castaglioni brothers, who were responsible for the discovery of the alleged lost army site are also assocatied with the discovery of another Egyptian site which was mentioned, most confusingly, in the SCA press release. Some years ago they located a site named Berenike Panchrysos in the Red Sea hills of Nubia (not in Bahrein, south of Siwa). Their findings were published in Castiglioni, A, and Castiglioni, A., Berenice Panchrysos (Deraheib-Allaqi): la "città dell'oro" del Deserto Nubiano Sudanese, Cahiers de Recherches de l'Institut de Papyrologie et d'Égyptologie de Lille 17/2 (1997), 153-162. This Berenike is not to be confused with the better known site on the Egyptian Red Sea coast called Berenike Trodlodytica, which has been investigated under the direction of the University of Delaware and UCLA for many seasons. Photos and a map showing the rough location of Berenike Panchrysos (well worth a look) are available here. Here's an abstract of the Castiglioni article in French:

Le 12 février 1989, au cours d'une expédition conduite par Angelo et Alfredo Castiglioni et Giancarlo Negro dans le Désert de Nubie au Soudan, furent retrouvés dans le Ouadi Allaqi, les vestiges d'une cité antique défendue par deux imposantes forteresses. Elle avait été brièvement visitée en 1832 par Linant de Bellefonds et son souvenir en fut perdu par la suite. Les recherches historiques et les études archéologiques menées par l'équipe des frères Castiglioni ont permis d'identifier ce site, indiqué sur les cartes géographiques par le nom de Deraheib, avec celui de Bérénice Panchrysos cité par Pline L'Ancien dans sa Naturalis Historia (livre VI, 170). La cité, sans doute aménagée à l'époque ptolémaïque, fut aussi habitée aux époques antérieures et son importance était liée à l'extraction de l'or. Construite le long d'une importante voie caravanière reliant la Mer Rouge à la Vallée du Nil. Bérénice Panchrysos fut d'abord un point de halte pour les pélerins se rendant au centre important le long de la voie des épices qui reliait la Mer Rouge à la Vallée du Nil, ainsi qu'il en ressort des nombreuses chroniques médiévales des voyageurs et d'historiens arabes.

They also published in Egyptian Archaeology in 1994: Castiglioni, Angelo and Castiglioni, Alfredo 1994: Discovering Berneice Panchrysos, Egyptian Archaeology No.4. Egypt Exploration Society.

Previous research did take place in the oasis of Bahrin and this was conducted by Paolo Gallo. He discovered a 30th Dynasty temple dedicated to Nactanebo I (380-361) which dates to a couple of centuries after the death of Cambyses in 522BC. There's an online report of the discovery on the Middle East Online website:

There was a previous claim that the lost army had been found back in 2000, about which I posted during the week with a link to Archaeology magazine as follows:

The Castaglioni brothers appear to be affiliated with a research centre called the Centro di Ricerche sul Deserto Oriental / CeRDO (Centre for Research in the Eastern Desert) but I couldn't find a website address for it, or find details of what its purpose actually is. Dario Del Bufalo, who was a member of the team and who also appears on the video talking with some authority about the find, seems to be an expert (if my dodgy Italian is to be believed) on marble and stones of the Roman period.

I've read one report that says that the brothers went on a geological expedition to Egypt and that they found the remains more or less in tandem with that project, but rewatching the video about the current claim for the discovery on the army on Discovery News they say that they have been studying a possible route for many years and set out to prove their theory. The video does not claim that they found the main body of the army, but that the army remains to be found and more research is required.

The route from Gilf Kebir to the Great Sand Sea is one that can be accomplished by tourists, with all the permissions for travel in place (I've done it myself), so there's no reason why the team should not have been able to travel this route as tourists albeit with a secondary agenda. This has been done many times before. The fact of the matter is that tourist companies have been using the Lost Army to sell holidays to would-be explorers for years - I've seen them and found them rather amusing. See, for example, a story which covers the subject on the Rogue Classicism website (which has some other good comments to make on the subject of the discovery). It is, however, difficult to know how to stop the less responsible people from doing harm to the desert archaeology as tourism in the deserts is on the up, and "desert safaris" are becoming increasingly fashionable.

The Castaglioni brothers brothers are unknown to me and may or may not come into the class of interested amateurs (by which I mean those who have a lot of knowledge but who don't necessarily have the skills to excavate and interpret what they find). The wisdom of permitting desert investigation by tourists / amateurs has been the topic of much discussion in both Eastern and Western Deserts of Egypt. Rock art surveys have been conducted and published which have been managed by responsible parties but have used amateurs to complete the surveys, as part of their holiday package, effectively financing the work by charging holiday fees. The debate focuses on how well these amateurs are trained and the extent to which they are managed and the quality of their work monitored. Examples of amateur investigations are the discovery of the Mestekawi-Foggini cave in Gilf Kebir (where a private tour went looking for new rock art sites and found the astonishing cave) and the invaluable publications of two rock art surveys conducted in the Eastern Desert by David Rohl and Mike and Maggie Morrow (both using amateurs to carry out the surveys). These were all conducted under the heading of tourism.

The greater problem is when work is conducted without either authorisation or clear signs of responsible methodologies, and when the work is invasive (i.e. items are disturbed at a site, removed or otherwise impacted by modern investigation). The obvious example from the Castaglioni investigation is the the TL dating of ceramics) This oversteps the line. On having discovered the skeletons and artefacts the brothers appear to have provided information to the authorities but went ahead with a Discovery article anyway, presenting their investigations as a bona fide archaeological mission, which on the available evidence it clearly wasn't.

Understandably there has been concern about how unauthorised operations are conducted and even when it is agreed that they are conducted responsibly (as in the above Eastern Desert examples) there are concerns about what the slight bending of the SCA's rules will encourage in the future.

In as far as this particular discovery is concerned the real regret is that because of the way in which the Castaglioni brothers made their announcement without waiting for official SCA recognition the discovery will probably be moth-balled, tied up in red tape and bureaucracy and not properly investigated in the near future. That's a shame because whatever the finds represent the fact is that something was found and it would be good to initiate an official project and learn more about it.

Examples of other "unauthorised" publications of discoveries that spring to mind are Joann Fletcher's TV programme about KV35 and the identification of Nefertiti, (again a Discovery Channel output) and Nick Reeves's clearly thought out decision to reveal the possible existence of a new tomb in the Valley of the Kings which he termed KV64. Reeves was met with a negative response from the SCA. Fletcher's ideas were rejected by the SCA and she was banned from working in Egypt as a result (I don't know whether this is still being enforced).

I have no idea whether the above is of any use to anyone but I thought that it might be of some help to clarify a few of the more confusing points!


I did not mean this to become a debate about the value of unauthororised and/or amateur investigation of Egypt, but David Rohl's comments do seem to require a response. My main concerns are that a) tourists and unsupervised amateur researchers can cause huge damage to remote archaeological and geological sites and there are documented examples of tourists denuding the archaeological landscape and b) unauthorised archaeological research can damage the chances of other research expeditions to gain permission to carry out formal work in an area (amateur or not).

The SCA only permits people to work on projects if they are approved, via official application, as part of a submission for working in Egypt, and there is a requirement that those project members should have some level of relevant education or qualification. Hawass has been vocal on the subject of rejecting amateur work outside a recognized and authorized project. Those who work without authority in Egypt, whether or not they are professional archaeologists, independent explorers and/or use well trained amateurs, who publish results without SCA approval will always risk the disparoval of the authorities. The more sensational the claimed discovery the more likely it is that increasingly tough restrictions will be imposed. As sad as it may seem this makes sense because the rules, as I said above, are the rules.

As an undergraduate working on my first dig on a Roman site in the UK in the early 80s I was set to work with another novice on a section of a basilica. Fortunately for the site and its publication the pair of us were prevented from digging all the way through the Neronian floor that we were supposed to be clearing down to. As David Rohl says (see comment) your competence is not about whether you are within or without the academic community. But in Egypt it is about whether or not you are playing by the rules of the nation in which you are operating.

I'm fairly sure that the Castaglioni brothers were playing outside the rules and I'm by no means sure that less sensational but otherwise intriguing projects were any more valid - they have just generated less interest than the Lost Army. Looking further into the future the Lost Army claims may have a long term benefit. If my unconfirmed suggestion that unofficial researchers are using holidays in the deserts to carry out their own agendas turns out to be correct (in the dim and distant future) then perhaps tourism will be restricted in the deserts. I shouldn't think so, because it generates revenue for the Egyptian government, but perhaps it would be a good outcome. Seeing the graffiti at the Cave of Swimmers, the debris in the White Desert, defacement of Eastern Desert rock art and the denudation of archaeological remains in the Western Desert does raise the question of whether tourism in those areas should be moderated by some form of licensing.

So much for the Lost Army! I hope to get back "on topic" in the next few days.


Anonymous said...

Get off your high horse Andie.

The Eastern Desert Survey, led by myself, published a full Survey Report on the rock art that was several times more competent and detailed than the official mission of Hans Winkler in the 1930s. Mike and Maggie Morrow's volume is also extremely valuable.

The people who recorded the rock art were not amateurs (in the pejorative sense of that ugly word). In fact, once trained, they were just as competent (probably more competent) than a bunch of university students, tagged onto an archaeological mission, with little idea what they are doing. These desert surveys were non-invasive. They did not destroy anything or dig up anything. Nothing was removed from the desert - except knowledge – which was then published within a year of the final expedition (unlike most academic publications).

Ask yourself a simple question. Would the Eastern Desert Survey (which located and published thousands of examples of rock art) have been attempted if it had been left to academic establishments who neither have the resources nor interest in very much outside the Nile valley?

Please don't try to denigrate volunteers who are both keen and competent enough to broaden our understanding of the past through their efforts. The quest for knowledge and good research are not the sole preserve of academia.

David Rohl.

Andie said...

I was in favour of both your and Mike and Maggie Morrow's work in the Eastern Desert. I quoted your books extensively on my survey of Eastern Desert archaeology on my website

So far from being on a high horse I am always in admiration of people who manage to achieve and share sound archaeological work without the resources available to university and other official teams.

I have met Mike Morrow and was hoping to help them to produce a second edition of their valuable work (just from a technical point of view). I am also acquainted with a number of the participants and have always been interested in their perspective, two of whom are good friends who have gone on to do PhDs on the subject of the Eastern Desert.

Having led tours into both Eastern and Western Deserts I am, however, aware of some of the danger. And I do understand why concerns are raised when unauthorised (as opposed, perhaps to "amateur") projects take place.

I believe that my own websites on Egyptian archaeology, although strictly amateur, are not without a useful role.

I regret that you misunderstood the tone of my post.

I understand that you led a second survey project into the Eastern Desert and that the results were never published, which seems a shame. Any news on that front?

Kind regards

Andie said...

PS - in case anyone else reads my remarks in the same way I have made some changes to the text. Cheers. Andie.

Hicham Maged said...

Dear Andie,

I am neither archaeologist nor historian but this story published via Discovery news caught my attention too especially that these claims were not officially declared in Egypt. Few days ago I posted about this and looking forward for reading the truth about this one day!

Anonymous said...

Just to point out that (a) the Eastern Desert Survey missions which followed the publication of EDS Volume One were all approved by the SCA and with full permits; and (b) all the rock art defacement I saw in the Eastern Desert (especially along the Wadi Barramiya) was done by Egyptian lorry drivers. I did not see a single example of modern graffiti made by foreign tourists.

David Rohl.

Anonymous said...

PS On the publication of EDS Volume Two (the rock art sites south of Wadi Barramiya). This has not been published as yet because of lack of funds. The situation may change in the near future.

Andie said...

There are examples, however, in the Western Desert - there's graffiti and even a video of someone on a tour firmly tracing scenes in the Mestekawi-Foggini cave is quite hair raising. And I can send you photos of damage done to some of the inscriptions in the Wadi Hammamat (looks as though someone has covered them in wax - the residue is very ugly). I've no idea who did that but it doesn't look like the work of lorry drivers.

Andie said...

PS - re the publishing of EDS Volume 2. I'm glad to hear that the situation might change. If it doesn't had you thought of trying to raise the funds through private subscription? Contributions might well be forthcoming. Alternatively how about publishing online?