THE ROCK ART OF THE EASTERN DESERT
When the German Egyptologist Hans Winkler started his journey through the south Eastern Desert of Egypt in 1936 he was searching for traces of early human society. This adventurous travel was rewarded with the discovery of hundreds spectacular rock drawings dating from prehistoric and historic times.
During the dark times of the second world war Winkler´s discoveries were lost and forgotten. It was not rediscovered until the early 1990´s when a group of English archaeologists retraced the travels of H. Winkler and studied the carvings once again.
In prehistoric times the landscape of the Eastern Desert resembled more the savannas of today’s East Africa. Herds of wild game like African Gazelles, Elephants, Ostriches and Giraffes were grazing the Wadis. They provided a hunting for the human population as well as for Lions and other predators. While Ibex and Gazelle still cling on in today’s harsher environment, the others disappeared from that region as long ago as the third millennium BC. At this time drastic climatic changes turned the area into a barren and forbidding landscape.
Some of the oldest rock carvings are scenes with Giraffes, Elephants or Ostriches. Some drawings indicate a strong connection between the desert and the Nile valley. There are pictures of men hunting hippopotamus or crocodiles, animals living at the river Nile. Others are drawings of boats transporting godlike figures. They symbolize men’s communication with the after world, a theme common in most tombs of pharaonic and pre-pharaonic Egypt.
The meaning of most drawings were of mystical reasons: hunting scenes were drawn before the hunt, invoking success for the actual hunting; warriors drawn with tails of lions were seeking the strength of these animals. Many of the pictures are to be found in caves or shelters, a common place in the world´s human history to worship the spiritual world. They provided silence and protection from the very often violent environment.
When the desert dried out and society began to concentrate in the Nile valley, the area became host to semi-nomad tribes and mine settlements. Different trading routes followed the Wadis connecting the Red Sea with the Nile. They produced the more recent rock carvings: Caravans with camels, fighting scenes on camels or horses, men hunting with dogs, or pharaonic hieroglyphic writing.
Ancient or more recent, the rock drawings of the eastern desert present a spectacular document of history. They give hints to pre-pharaonic Egypt, present some of the roots of pharaonic times at the Nile valley and tell about the history of later desert inhabitation.
Today these rock drawings are only known to the Bedouin which inhabit the area.