8-10 Nov. 2019: ANEE represented at the international specialist conference on the Egyptian Oases in the Western Desert

Melanie Wasmuth was invited to the conference “Die altägyptischen Oasen: Forschungsstand und Perspektiven (The ancient Egyptian oases: state of research and future perspectives)” organised by Prof.es Heike Sternberg-el Hotabi and Luise Gestermann of Göttingen University at the Coptic-orthodox Kloster Brenkhausen (Höxter) in Germany.

I have been very pleased to represent ANEE at the oases conference in Kloster Brenkhausen with a paper on “Großinvestition Oasen: den Persern auf der Spur (Major investment oases: the Persian period evidence)”. Especially the oasis El-Kharga saw major sacral and infrastructural investments in the name of the Persian kings, who ruled ancient Egypt as pharaohs of dynasty 27 (and 31) in the 6th–4th c. BCE. Inter alia major decoration programs were executed at the contemporary main settlement of the oasis (temple of Hibis) and further south (temple of El-Ghueita). Furthermore, an additional temple (in mudbricks) was built at the most strategic crossing of the ways from the Nile valley to the oases further west and through Kharga oasis further south into Nubia and Kush (Ayn Manawir). This sacral investment was accompanied by the establishment of settlements, smaller embellishments of temples (at least in Kharga and Dakhla oasis) and by major infrastructural ventures: especially the building of so-called qanat systems, which enable large(r)-scale agricultural efforts by tapping into the artesian water reservoirs below the Libyan desert.

The key questions I asked included: What do – and don’t –we know about the physical and organisational effort behind these projects? Could they be locally accomplished or did they require regional or cross-regional efforts: concerning the recruitment of specialists from the Nile valley or even from the Persian imperial heartland, but also for the provision with materials, tools, and foodstuffs? Who were the audience and the beneficiaries of the investment? Were these efforts the result of a local (i.e. oasis), a regional (i.e. Egyptian Nile valley community), or an imperial (i.e. Persian court at Memphis or Persian heartland) initiative? And were they mainly economically or politically motivated?

Potential imperial incentives might have been a) to protect the frontier region of Egypt, e.g. against the spread of the rebellion under Petubastis in Dakhla, b) to secure the claim of dominion over Libya and Nubia by controlling all major trade routes to/from the Nile valley and delta, c) to control or tax the trade of highly valued commodities on the caravan routes through the desert oases, or d) to gain access to the specialised agricultural produce from the oases for consummation by the major temples and the court and/or for imperial distribution (in form of trade or gifts).

The conference program and venue

For conceptual and feasibility reasons, the conference was strongly focused on German-speaking scholars. Aim was to assess the scope of recent international research in the oases of the Western desert and suitable further steps since the stop of field-archaeological research in the oases for security reasons in 2015.

You can find the conference program under this pdf link.

A special feature of the venue is the architectural screening of the conference room from WLAN access, which proves to be a major asset in disguise. Everyone’s inability to check anything online, nowadays substantially enhances the intensity of the scientific exchange.

The conference took place in the Coptic-orthodox monastery and episcopal see at Höxter-Brenkhausen. Bishop Damian and his team welcomed us very cordially and nourished us deliciously and lavishly. The efforts made to restore the formerly decrepit building are valiant and well worth a visit. Check also the beautiful ancient Egypt-inspired wall paintings in the monastery and in the restaurant belonging to it.

More information on the venue can be found from here.

How does the event relate to ANEE?

The event as a whole only marginally relates to ANEE due to its wider chronological scope from the 3rd mill. BCE to the 1st mill. AD and due to its geographical focus on an area at the periphery of the south-western margin of ANEE’s spatial framework. However, the ancient Egyptian oases in the Western desert provide a potentially fruitful comparative case study to other strategic cross-roads areas in the ANE empires. The paper by ANEE member Melanie Wasmuth highlighted the importance of combining potential local, regional, and cross-regional (‘imperial’) incentives for ancient building and maintenance activities. The questions raised for the specific case study are immediately transferable to any other site of local-imperial interaction within the ANEE focal regions.