Dakhla Oasis, EGYPT
- Keywords: Egypt Cultural Landscapes, Dakhla Oasis, Desert Landscape, Al Qasr.
1. OFFICIAL CLASSIFICATIONS AND CATEGORIES
1.1 National and International Classification Lists
Dakhla oasis is included in the Tentative List of UNESCO (date of Submission: 12/06/2003) in category: Natural, and under the criteria: (vii)(viii)(ix)(x). According to Med-o-Med, this site has also enough cultural values to be considered as a cultural landscape. This oasis was also defined as a “Desert Landscape” in the World Heritage Regional Thematic Expert Meeting on “Desert Landscapes and Oasis Systems in the Arab Region”, in Kharga Oasis, Egypt (2001).
1.2. Cultural Landscape Category/Tipology
Organically evolved landscapesRelict (or fossil) landscape
1.3. Description and Justification by Med-O-Med
Dakhla Oasis is characterized by desert feature and its environment has both cultural and natural elements which formed a remarkable Cultural Landscape. The 1972 UNESCO Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, which is known as the World Heritage Convention, was designated the concept of Cultural Landscape in its Article 1 as cultural properties which represent “the combined works of nature and of man”. Moreover, the 2008’s Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention clearly explained the definition and categories of inscription of the Cultural Landscape on the World Heritage List. In parallel, it urged the State Parties to the World Heritage Convention to do all they can to ensure the protection, presentation and management of their cultural landscape and its outstanding universal value as one component of World Heritage. Basis on the above definition, Cultural Landscape reflects the interactions between people and their natural environment over space and time, so Dakhla Oasis represents a good example of a cultural landscape which is produced by the interactions between the indigenous people and their natural environment from Pharaonic time till today. According to the second category (ii.b) of the Cultural Landscape Categories in the 2008’s Operational Guidelines, There are many elements and units have been formed the cultural landscape of Dakhla Oasis, which could be identified as follows: -Natural heritage components: lakes, freshwater springs, mountains, hills, palm fields, and rock and sand formations. -Cultural heritage components: local festivals, traditional houses, traditional handcrafts, historical trade route, artifacts and archaeological remains (temples, caves, fortresses, and necropolises).
2. NAME / LOCATION / ACCESSIBILITY
- Current denomination Dakhla oasis
- Current denomination Dakhla oasis
- Original denomination Dakhla oasis, Al Wāḩāt ad Dākhilah
- Popular denomination Dakhla oasis
- Address: Dakhla Oasis lies at about 120 km west of Kharga Oasis, extending for some 55 x 10-20 km in a northwest-southeast direction, at an altitude of 100-400 mas.
- Geographical coordinates: 25°31′N 29°10′E
- Area, boundaries and surroundings: Dakhla Oasis , translates to the inner oasis, is one of the seven oases of Egypt's Western Desert (part of the Libyan Desert). Dakhla Oasis lies in the New Valley Governorate, 350 km from the Nile and between the oases of Farafra and Kharga. It measures approximately 80 km (50 mi) from east to west and 25 km (16 mi) from north to south.
- Access and transport facilities: Until recently, all the routes going from to the Dakhla Oasis, or from Al Bahariya or Farafra, were not paved and travelers used to suffer a lot to reach this unique oasis. However, nowadays there is a good network of roads that connects all these oasis with the Nile Valley.
3. LEGAL ISSUES
- Owner: New Valley Governorate
- Body responsible for the maintenance: New Valley Governorate
- Legal protection: Unprotected. Dr. Ahmed Nazif Prime Minister assigned (2010) eleven ministries including agriculture and land reclamation, tourism, trade and industry, housing and finance the mission of sorting out laws on dealing with the desert lands owned by the State and to propose a unified law on the use of desert land, in implementation of President Mubarak assignments for making the best use of those lands. The assignments included the incorporation of similar laws and define the contradicting ones to avoid in the unified law.
- Public or private organizations working in the site: Dakhleh Oasis Project The Dakhleh Oasis Project (DOP) is a long-term study project of the Dakhleh Oasis and the surrounding palaeoasis, initiated in 1978 when the Royal Ontario Museum and the Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities were awarded a joint concession for part of the Oasis. In 1979, the Centre for Archaeology and Ancient History at Monash University began to cooperate in the project. The DOP studies the interaction between environmental changes and human activity in the Dakhleh Oasis. The director of the DOP is Anthony J. Mills, former curator at the Royal Ontario Museum. The excavations at Ismant el-Kharab (ancient Kellis), Mut el-Kharab (ancient Mothis), Deir Abu Metta and Muzawwaqa are undertaken with the cooperation of Monash University, under the direction of Gillian E. Bowen. Bowen and Colin Hope, also of Monash, are the principal investigators at Ismant el-Kharab. The DOP has also excavated at 'Ain el-Gazzareen, El Qasr el-Dakhil, Deir el Hagar and Ain Birbiyeh. As well as the Dakhleh Trust, formed in 1999 to raise money for the DOP, organizations which have supported or participated in the DOP include: the Royal Ontario Museum, the Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities, Monash University, the University of Durham, the University of Toronto, Columbia University, the American Research Centre in Egypt, the Egyptology Society of Victoria and New York University. In addition, excavations are undertaken at Amheida under the direction of Roger S. Bagnall. These were originally conducted under the auspices of Columbia University, but are currently conducted for New York University. Dakhleh Trust The Dakhleh Trust was formed in 1999 and is a registered charity in Britain. Its declared aim is to advance understanding of the history of the environment and cultural evolution throughout the Quaternary period in the eastern Sahara, and particularly in the Dakhla Oasis.
Prehistory The human history of this oasis started during the Pleistocene, when nomadic tribes settled sometimes there, in a time when the Sahara climate was wetter and where humans could have access to lakes and marshes. But about 6 000 years ago, the entire Sahara became drier, changing progressively into a hyper-arid desert (with less than 50 mm of rain per year). However, specialists think that nomadic hunter-gatherers began to settle almost permanently in the oasis of Dakhleh in the period of the Holocene (about 12 000 years ago), during new, but rare episodes of wetter times. In fact, the drier climate didn’t mean that there was more water than today in what is now known as the Western Desert. The south of the Libyan Desert has the most important supply of subterranean water in the world through the Nubian Aquifer, and the first inhabitants of the Dakhla Oasis had access to surface water sources. Pharaonic Period The first contacts between the pharaonic power and the oases started around 2550 BCE. Islamic Period The fortified Islamic town of Al Qasr was built at Dakhla Oasis in the 12th century probably on the remains of a Roman era settlement by the Ayyubid kings of Egypt. After 1800 The first European traveller to find the Dakhla Oasis was Sir Archibald Edmonstone, in the year 1819. He was succeeded by several other early travellers, but it was not until 1908 that the first egyptologist, Herbert Winlock, visited Dakhla Oasis and noted its monuments in some systematic manner. In the 1950s, detailed studies began, first by Dr. Ahmed Fakhry, and in the late 1970s, an expedition of the Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale and the Dakhla Oasis Project each began detailed studies in the oasis.
5. GENERAL DESCRIPTION
5.1. Natural heritage
- Heritage: Rural
- Geography: Desert Lake
- Site topography: Natural
- Climate and environmental conditions: Precipitation over the Western Desert is minimal and many consecutive years may be completely rainless. Mean annual rainfall at Cairo is only 25 mm. Precipitation in the hills of the Eastern Desert and Sinai is very variable. In these places a stream may flow as a torrent for a day or so after a storm, during which over 100 mm of rain may fall, but it may thereafter remain dry for several years. There are two seasons. Winter lasts from November to March, and summer from April to October. Winters are cool and mild, but summers are hot and dry. Then, in the deserts, daytime temperatures may reach 48°C but may fall to 10°C at night. NE winds predominate in winter, but it is the occasional westerly winds that bring rain. In summer, winds are from the SW, off the Sahara. January is the coolest month throughout the country and August is generally the hottest month.
- Geological and Geographical characteristics: Dakhla and Kargha Oases occupy part of a great natural excavation in the southern section of the western Desert of Egypt. This excavation includes also de slightly elevated plain (140 m above sea level) between them. The depression is open towards the south ande southeast. Altitude rises agradually to the southwest reaching 400 m in the direction of Gebel Uweinat. Dakhla Oasis is ubicated 120 km W of Kharga Oasis. Altitudes are in the range 100-400 m above sea level. Bounded in the N by a precipitous escarpment. To the S of thiscliff is a low-lying expose of sand stone country forming a gentle undulating plain. In the E, lowland coverd with sand dunes. In the W there are also some dunes. This oasis consists of several communities, along a string of sub-oases. The main settlements are Mut (more fully Mut el-Kharab and anciently called Mothis), Al-Qasr, Qalamoun, together with several smaller villages. Some of the communities have identities that are separate from each other. Qalamoun has inhabitants that trace their origins to the Ottomans.
The natural vegetation, as well as the naturalized species and the cultivated plants in Kharga and Dakhla Oases, seem to be more or less uniform, and to deal with each of them separately would involve an overlap which may approach a mere repetition. However, the peculiarities of each Oasis will be dealt with apart. Seven vegetation types are recognized in Kharga, described here mainly after Zahran and Willis (1992). The scientific names of plants throughout this listing are updated after Boulos (1995, 1999, 2000, and 2002): 1 – (a) Aquatic Vascular Plants Urticularia gibba and Potamogeton pectinatus in freshwater (wells, reservoirs), Ruppia maritima and Zannichellia palustris, in brackish waters of shallow ponds, often associated with P. pectinatus, Najus graminea and N. minor, in shallow irrigation canals, Lemna gibba and L. aequinoctialis, free floating in most water bodies. 1 – (b) Aquatic Green Algae Nitella spp. and Chara spp., submerged green algae, often forming thick masses at the bottom of the water body and are attached to the mud by rhizoids, mainly in drains and stagnant waters. 2 – Reed Swamp Vegetation This vegetation type is most pronounced around ditches, rice fields, wells, and in drains and pools. The most characteristic species of this type of vegetation are: Typha domingensis and Phragmites australis, usually associated with Cyperus rotundus, C. laevigatus and Pycreus mundtii. Other associates which may occur on the fringes include: Panicum repens, Desmostachya bipinnata, Conyza bonariensis, Alhagi graecorum, Ambrosia maritima and Prosopis farcta. 3 – Halophytic Vegetation Two halophytic vegetation types may be recognized in the salt marshes: a. Wet salt marshes: Here the dominant species are Cyperus laevigatus, Juncus acutus, Suaeda aegyptiaca and S. monoica. b. Dry salt maeshes: The dominant species are Cressa cretica, Aeluropus lagopoides, Imperata cylindrica and Tamarix nilotica. 4 – Psammophytic Vegetation This vegetation type occupies flat expanses of wind-drifted sand (the sand plains) and sand dunes, at different stages of development. The vegetation of the plains is usually richer in plant cover. The dominant species is Alhagi graecorum, associated with Stipagrostis scoparia, Calotropis procera, Aerva javanica, Tamarix nilotica, Hyoscyamus muticus, Suaeda vermiculata, Reaumuria hirtella, and Zygophyllum album. On the older stabilized sand dunes, Tamarix nilotica and Alhagi graecorum grow in anundance and may cover the summits and slopes of the dunes. In Baris town, at the southernmost tip of the Depression, Balanites aegyptiaca (heglig, or the desert dates), and Hyphaene thebaica (dom palm) trees are seen in thickets among the dunes. 5 – Waste Land In the vicinity of cultivated ground, vast areas are usually abandoned and neglected. The major elements of this habitat type are: Zygophyllum coccineum, Tamarix nilotica, and Alhagi graecorum, which reflect the rather saline soil. Among the associated species are Hyoscyamus muticus, Sporobolus spicatus, Fagonia arabica, Cyperus laevigatus, Aeluropus lagopoides, and Polypogon monspeliensis. 6 – Xerophytic Vegetation This type occupies the desert ecosystem, mainly around the Oases, and is particularly part of the Western Desert flora, with an extensive list of vascular desert plants, which is outside the scope of this brief description. Endemic Species Compared to other areas in Egyptian deserts, there may be few endemic species restricted to Kharga and Dakhla Oases. They are: Ducrosia ismailis Asch. and Pimpinella schweinfurthii Asch., both in the Family Umbelliferae, in Kharga. Melilotus serratifolius Täckholm & Boulos (Leguminosae), is endemic to Dakhla Oasis. Rare Species Rhazya stricta Decne. (Apocynaceae), is known in Egypt only from Kharga Oasis. Its occurrence in Kharga represents the westernmost locality in its geographical range of distribution, which extends eastwards to Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India, and southwards into Sudan. The above three endemic species, as well as the rare Rhazya, are known only from one or very few collections, and are therefore to be classified as threatened species. Rare Animals The endemic oligochaete Nannodrilus staudei, discovered in the Nile region and described by Michaelsen in 1887, was discovered in 1969 by S. Ghabbour from Ain Khosh, in the south of the Kharga Oasis.
Gazelles (Gazella dorcas and Gazella leptoceros) also inhabit the Qattara Depression, being an important food source for the cheetah. The largest gazelle population exists in the southwestern part of the Qattara Depression within a vast area of wetlands and soft sand. The area of 900 square kilometres (350 sq mi), includes the wild oases of Hatiyat Tabaghbagh and Hatiyat Umm Kitabain, and is a mosaic of lakes, salt marshes, scrubland, wild palm groves and Desmostachya bipinnata grassland. Other common fauna include the Cape Hare (Lepus capensis), Egyptian Jackal (Canis aureus hupstar), Sand Fox (Vulpes rueppelli) and more rarely the Fennec Fox (Vulpes zerda). Barbary sheep (Ammotragus lervia) were once common throughout but now are few in numbers. Extinct species from the area include the Scimitar Oryx (Oryx dammah), Addax (Addax nasomaculatus) and Bubal Hartebeest (Alcelaphus buselaphus). Also the Droseridites baculatus, an extinct plant known only from fossils of its pollen, was found at the Ghazalat-1 Well.
Land uses and economical activities:Farming is the main land use of Dakhla oasis. The main source of income is from agriculture, industry, and tourism. Dakhla’s main cultivated crops are cereals, dates, and vegetables. Main handcrafts are pottery, carpet, basket and mat-making from the leaves and fibres of the palm trees. There are also allum mines in the site.
Agricultural issues or other traditional productions and their effect on the landscape:The date palm is the main cash crop of Dakhla and Kharga oases, besides olive and other fruit trees. The date palm does not provide only dates, but also fibres, leaves, trunks, used locally or exported, for making basket, ropes, mats, sandals, furniture, building material, agricultural tools, and numerous other items. It is a culture based on and supported by the date palm. Some vegetables are also cultivated for local consumption. In addition to this, the cultivated land in these oases is cropped in hay (mainly alfalfa), cereals (mainly sorghum, wheat, rice and barley) and horticulture (mainly lives, grapes, citrus, pomegranate and apricot). Doum trees (Hyphaene thebarica) are also common. Their nuts as well as the fruitos handal (Citrulus colocynthis) are exported with Acacia fruits which are used for tanning. Acacia also yields a valuable wood durable for coating the wells. The most common weeds of winter cultivation in Dakhla and Kargha Oases include Cynodon dactylon, Melipotus indica, and Sonchus oleraceus.
Summary of Landscapes values and characteristics:
The oasis contains superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance. Natural heritage components of Dakhla oasis are lakes, freshwater springs, mountains, hills, palm fields, and rock and sand formations. It is also a outstanding example representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals and it contains the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including threatened species.
5.2. Cultural Heritage
A) Related to current constructions, buildings and art pieces in general
Art pieces, artesany, furniture and other elements:
Ceramic pottery and bronze artifacts have been found in 2004-2008. Dakhla Oasis Project has been searching in Dakhla Oasis for the an uncontaminated sample of the cobalt-bearing mineral that was used to colour the blue pigment used in high quality blue-painted pottery. The pottery is particularly well known from the New Kingdom sites Malqata, Amarna and Deir el Medineh. Samples from allum mines in Dakhla were extracted, and one of the elements founded was cobalt. Unfortunately the samples extracted showed low levels of cobalt, although they did contain other elements that were used in the paint.
In the case of gardens: original and current style:It is not the case.
Man-made elements related to water management:
B) Related to ancient remains
- Archaeological components:
The fortified Islamic town of Al Qasr.
- Traces in the environment of human activity: During the Roman era, the oasis, including Al Dakhla, Al Kharga, Al Bahareya, and Al Farafra were the lands of grains as many grains were cultivated in the lands of the oasis.
C) Related to intangible, social and spiritual values
- Population, ethnic groups: Ethnicities: Egyptians and Ottomans (Qalamoun).
- Languages and dialects: Egyptian
Condition: environmental/ cultural heritage degradation:Arid lands in general are not very well represented on the World Heritage List of UNESCO, and others. These areas are vulnerable to climatic change owing to their low species diversity and, especially near oasis with water sources, are often points of conflict for water access. In cultivated lands frequently unfavourable conditions are related to rising of the water-table, salinization and water logging develop. Under these conditions, in Dakhla and Kargha Oases, sepcies that endure saline soil and saturated substrata may invade, as Aeluropus lagopoides, Cressa cretica or Cyperus rotundus. The overarching and main objective of this research is to help in protection and management of the cultural and natural components of Dargha Oasis’ Landscape to safe and sustain its outstanding universal values.
Quality of the night sky, light pollution and possibility to observe the stars:Deserts are privileged sites to breath in silence, to find ourselves and to observe the pure beauty of nature, including the stars that are brighting in the night sky, free of light pollution.
Perspectives/Views/ Points of interest/Setting:
The oasis itself, including its cultivated lands, its palm fields, its lakes and water wells, and its architectonical and archaeological elements.
- Living heritage
Authenticity:Specialists think that nomadic hunter-gatherers began to settle almost permanently in the oasis of Dakhleh in the period of the Holocene (about 12 000 years ago).
Universality:According to UNESCO criteria and Med-O-Med consideration, Dakhla Oasis: (iii) bears a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared, (v) is an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land-use, or sea-use which is representative of a culture (or cultures), or human interaction with the environment especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change, (vi) is directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance. (vii) contains superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance, (viii) is an outstanding example representing major stages of earth's history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features, (ix) is an outstanding example representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals, (x) contains the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation.
Values linked to the Islamic culture and civilisation:-Living heritage: the traditional way of farming and the specific irrigation systems came from the Islamic culture. -Archaeological values: The fortified Islamic town of Al Qasr. -Mythical values and religious: oasis could be considered as a picture of the garden of Eden.
Historical and graphical data (drawings, paintings, engravings, photographs, literary items…):
Dakhla oasis is one of all of the oases of Egypt Desert which are included in The Cultural Landscape inventory runned by Med-O-Med.
-Giddy, L. Egyptian Oases: Bahariya, Dakhla, Farafra and Kharga during Pharaonic Times, Warminster, Aris & Philips, 1987. -Jackson, R. At Empire’s Edge: Exploring Rome’s Egyptian Frontier, New Haven et Londres, Yale University Press, 2002. -Thurston, H. Island of the Blessed : the Secrets of Egypt’s Everlasting Oasis, Toronto, Doubleday, 2003. -Vivian, C. The Western Desert of Egypt: an explorer’s handbook, AUC Press, le Caire, 2000. -Wagner, G. Les oasis d’Égypte à l’époque grecque, romaine et byzantine, d’après les documents grecs, Le Caire, Recherches de papyrologie et d’épigraphie grecques, 1987.
Compiler Data: Sara Martínez Frías