The biggest desert discovery of the decade

February 11th, 2010

Mark Borda and Mahmoud Marai made arguably the biggest Eastern Sahara discovery of the decade when they found the ancient Egyptian inscriptions on a large boulder right in the Sudan/Egypt/Libyan border area.


Here, Mark Borda answers a few questions on the matter.


1. How did you get involved in desert exploration?

After selling out from business in 2004 I was on the look out for interesting projects and would occasionally come across information about the Libyan desert. Eventually, the fact that this desert still harboured unexplored areas began to sink in. I was intrigued and resolved to explore it. In 2005 I joined a trip with Chris Scott and another with Andras Zboray with the idea of making contacts, meeting like minded people etc.and during the latter trip I was given the email address of Carlo Bergmann.  I ended up joining Carlo’s Khufu trail expedition in 2006. The thrill of making discoveries on Zboray's and Bergmann's trips spurred me on to organize my own explorations from then on.


2. What skills did you specifically learn from Carlo Bergmann that helped you locate the new inscription?

I learnt various things from Carlo but my initial objectives at Uweinat in 2007 were very different from those of Carlo’s 2006 expedition so the approach and skills required were also different. Also I don’t think the discovery of the inscription resulted directly from the application of any particular skills.


3. How did you find the new inscription?

The inscription just happened to be fortuitously located in one of those parts of Uweinat that had been little explored or not explored at all and which I had targeted for inspection. It was found when Mahmoud Marai and myself were walking back to camp after a circuit survey through a wadi and along the fringes of a plain.

Mahmoud, who I contracted to supply transport and camping facilities for the duration of the trip, is keen on exploring and frequently accompanied me on my treks. The area where the Inscription is located is strewn with boulders along the fringes and slopes of the hills and on such terrain I often scan the faces of the boulders at a distance with binoculars. This of course allows you assess the boulders and then to walk up to and closely inspect only those that seem promising. It was whilst conducting just such a scan that the inscription popped into view.


4. How many desert expeditions did you mount and what else have you discovered?

Altogether I have mounted six of my own expeditions. The discoveries have been many and varied mainly consisting of settlement sites probably of prehistoric date, many with rock art.


5. Who has identified the inscription and what does it read?

The inscription has not yet been seen in situ by any archaeologists or Egyptologists. It was first translated and interpreted by means of examining photographs by Egyptologist Aloisia De Trafford of University College London and ancient language specialist Joseph Clayton of Birkbeck College, University College, London.
It reads as follows:-


sA ra mnTwHtp  

Son of Ra, Mentuhotep

Title Above Cartouche

Above the cartouche and slightly to the right we find the king’s nsw-bity title, which can be translated as ‘king of the dualities’ or ‘ King of Upper and Lower Egypt.’

Epithet Below Cartouche

Hr anx Dt

Horus living forever

Upper couplet

imA Hr ms sn-ntr

Yam bringing incense

Lower couplet

txbt Hr ms ..

Tekhebet bringing ..


6. What is its significance?

a) The inscription is probably the most distant one known to exist away from what where the generally accepted boundaries of ancient Egypt. I would say that this on its own is already significant.

b) That the ancient Egyptians had traveled north into the Mediterranean, Palastine etc., east to the Eastern desert and Red Sea and south to Nubia, Punt etc., has been known for a long time. So the existence of an inscription almost 650 kilometers due west of the Nile is also significant because for the first time, we now have irrefutable proof that the ancient Egyptians also undertook long range extra-territorial expeditions to the west.

c) The geography of the areas in between Egypt and the north, east and south destinations already mentioned is such that journeys to and from these places could have been accomplished with relative ease by the ancient Egyptians as compared to a journey to Uweinat. A journey to the latter entails crossing one of the most forbidding and severe natural environments known on earth. So the inscription is again significant because its location raises many questions about how the Egyptians managed to cross the intervening terrain without camels and about the real climatic conditions that prevailed at the time.

d) Perhaps the most significant thing about the Inscription is its reference to Yam. The location of this kingdom has been the topic of considerable debate and research amongst historians but it was always assumed that Yam had to be somewhere in Nubia either on the Nile itself or west of it but still in Nubian territory.

A singular feature about this inscription in comparison to other Yam inscriptions is that it records a meeting between Egyptians and Yamites at the actual geographical point where the meeting took place. It's very difficult to explain why two peoples both living on or relatively near to the Nile would choose to meet at such an inordinately distant spot west of the river, involving both peoples in a round trip of over 1200 kilometers (straight line distance only) through one of the worlds harshest and most impassable terrains.

The inscription is therefore raising serious questions not only about the true location of Yam but it is also bringing closer into the realm of the possible, a series of other startling propositions that would previously have been in the domain of the virtually unthinkable. One is the possibility that Uweinat was not the final destination of the Egyptians south western travels and that indeed they may have ventured much further into subtropical zones in the heart of Africa.


7. Is there any false or misleading information on the net that you would like to correct regarding your discovery?

Yes there is some misleading information out there but perhaps most of it has been corrected from what I have already said.


8. Do you think there are more ancient Egyptian inscriptions in the desert waiting to be found?

I would think its very possible for more inscriptions to turn up in the hills immediately south west of Dahkla and other areas in the desert relatively close to territory that was under pharaonic administration. In the deeper areas of the desert it would probably be less likely but hopefully we will know more about this issue once a scientific investigation of the Inscription site is undertaken as we currently don’t have a clear understanding of exactly what the Egyptians where doing in Uweinat.


Before the inscription was found, Calro Bergmann as well as a team of scientists at Cologne University led by Dr. Rudolph Kuper, had already proposed Uweinat as a major stopping point on a hypothetical extension of the Abu Ballas trail. If this is the case then the likelihood of more inscriptions increases as the Abu Ballas trail was used over an extended period. If Yam was indeed located west across the Libyan desert then this would also increase the likelihood of more inscriptions out in the deep desert as we have textual evidence for at least three and possibly four visits to Yam by just one Egyptian in the person of Harkuf .