As we conducted our research for this project, we began to appreciate the tremendous impact that technology (especially the introduction of vehicles into the desert) had on extending our ability to explore. Compared to the distances achievable by foot, donkey  or later camels, the combustion engine literally opened up previously unknown areas of the desert to the early 20th century explorers Ball, Bagnold and Kemal el Din. Likewise, in our attempt to apply new technologies to unshackle us from the physical constraints of water and petrol, we are again seeking to use technology to extend our ability to explore.

As the application of technology figures so prominently in this expedition’s objectives, we believe that combining and comparing “state of the art” from different periods of exploration will serve to reinforce our understanding of the tremendous impact that technology has in extending our horizons. We believe this will also give us a better appreciation for how exploration was conducted in the past. To this end, we will be field testing a fully restored 1943 Willy’s and 1943 Ford GP Jeep similar to the equipment used in the 1940’s by the Long Range Desert Group in order to advance our understanding of how such equipment performed in this environment. This information can be used to assist in conducting research for future expeditions.

While this expedition will not conduct any survey or excavation work, per the Arab Republic of Egypt’s Minister of Culture, Supreme Council of Antiquities Regulations for Foreign Archaeological Missions, the director of the mission will notify the Secretary General of the SCA immediately of any new discoveries.


After two years of restoration work, the two  expedition field test vehicles; a 1943 Willy’s and 1943 Ford GP Jeep will be shipped from the UK to Alexandria Port and from there be driven to Cairo where we will embark on a 16 day 2,000 km expedition through the desert. We will carry with us all subsistence requirements including food,water and petrol.  Our plan is to enter the desert once we pass the Dakhla Oasis. From Dakhla we will head west to Gebal Kamil (N22 15 E26 15).  We will spend 8 to 9 days surveying petroglyph and LRDG cultural heritage sites.  From there we  enter the Great Sand Sea from the South at its center latitude of East 26 10.  Over four days our target objective is to identify cultural material thought to be located south of Siwa  approximately 560kms away.  From Siwa we  head on to Alexandria and finally Cairo where the vehicles will re-embark aboard a transport ship back to the UK. Back up and logistics will be provided in two Toyota Land Cruisers which will contain a locally sourced cook and a mechanic. Our security will be provided by eight armed soldiers from the Egyptian Army riding in military Toyota Pick-ups.
Field Journal:

21 October 2011
Matlock, England

We flew over to the UK to meet up with the Anglo side of the expedition team.  Toby and his son Matt Savage kindly hosted us at Matt’s place and we were able to finally see first hand the Ford and Willy’s jeeps which after two long years of restoration work, are having their second shakedown prep trip.
Toby Savage outlining his proposed route through the desert

While some of the team have driven vintage jeeps before, others were introduced to the concept of  double de-clutching the 3 speed mechanical wonders from the past.

Having had a successful shakedown, the jeeps will head back to Matt’s workshop for new distributors and a few other  minor tweaks and from there they will be shipped to Egypt in mid March.  The team will re-assemble in Cairo at the start of April and from there we will make our way south to the desert.

25 October 2011

Eastnor, England
While not at all related to jeeps or desert driving techniques, as we were in the area, we drove down to the hallowed grounds of Eastnor Castle where Land Rover used to train participants for the Camel Trophy races.  Land Rover now runs their off road training courses here. We spent two entertaining days with Expert Land Rover Guide- Martin who did his best to find sticky situations for us to test their fleet of shiny defenders.
Stock Defenders fording at their surprisingly shallow recommended limit:
Another bog easily managed by the Defender:

21 February 2012

Matlock, England
Toby reports “Plans are looking good – very good! I have the Willys loaded in the truck finished and ready to go and the Ford is here, as of last night. This week I shall load it with the things that can go overland  Tools, spares and other bits and pieces. Up to Matt’s place next week and the Port the week after!”

5 March 2012

En route to Felixstowe, England
Jeeps are on the road and Toby reports “Matt and I are en route to Felixstowe right now ( he’s driving) all going well and cruising at a healthy 55 mph. Good considering the weight”  The Moranto container ship is scheduled to transport the jeeps and equipment to Alexandria.

6 March 2012

Norway, Virginia &; California

Meanwhile far west of Cairo and England,  a team lead by Albert Yu-Min Lin who is  Research Scientist/Emerging Explorer at the Center of Interdisciplinary Science for Art, Architecture and Archaeology UCSD Division / National Geographic Society have been working on testing applications of non-invasive technologies such as  analysis of satellite and aerial imagery to help search for cultural material. This expedition forms  part of a wider global initiative to utilize satellite imagery to help search for cultural material in different geographies.

Since October we have been coordinating with Albert and his team as well as Tor Henderson and the satellite imagery company Geo Eye   to source high resolution imagery (50cm) of various locations including a test site in the Libyan desert. GeoEye has very kindly donated  imagery to this project and Dr. Nate Ricklin  from the The Exploration Lab worked all weekend  to  convert the GeoEye-1 50 cm  Pan +3-Bands,1-File, True Color RGB imagery for us.  This imagery is then tiled and pushed onto a UCSD proprietary hosting platform.  This process allows us to view and geo-reference the high resolution images in various mapping programs such as Google Earth.
We plan to use this technology to help us identify new targets which we hope to be able to locate,  ground truth and inventory while we are bashing about in the old jeeps. For example:


This appears to be rocks piled together  and there are many vehicle tracks clearly visible leading to and from this known target site. However just 0.5 kms east of this site is another anomaly:
Image courtesy of GeoEye

This is clearly “something” but there are no recent tracks leading to it. Perhaps it is just a rock ? Ultimately this particular site may not be of interest, but it does illustrate that with limited time, petrol and water most expeditions into this area are focused on reaching a known target along well established routes. Whereas just off the beaten path there may be much to discover. Perhaps with this high resolution bird’s eye view we will be able to efficiently identify new targets and make new and possibly interesting discoveries of lost or previously hidden LRDG or even older sites.

30 March 2012
Already our best laid plans have failed to survive first contact with reality: the scheduled container ship reportedly had a mechanical problem.  Adaptability is the watch word and  Toby and the expedition logistics team have already solved the problem  and found another vessel to transport the jeeps to Alex. Toby is now in Cairo with Mahmoud and is preparing to collect the jeeps and other equipment in Alexandria on 2nd April, “InshaAllah” from the container ship Cap Harvey.
Meanwhile back in the states, we have spent the last few weeks analyzing the high resolution sat imagery donated by GeoEye/ViewfromaStar. So far we have identified 19 targets in the GSS.  We will ground truth as many as possible depending on our petrol and water consumption rates.

We have also identified a second search area far south of the GSS in an area north of the Gilf al Kebir plateau. Here we are searching for evidence of prehistoric occupation in and around a remote plateau. So far we have identified 12 targets including two shallow wadis. In shallow wadis we may find engravings ( prehistoric graffiti) whereas if we can locate deeper hidden wadis, they may well contain overhangs where  prehistoric graphite rock art is sometimes found. In addition to the wadis, we have identified 3 “circles” roughly 3 meters in diameter on the plateau.  If these are indeed stone “watch towers” they  may well represent the first evidence of early human habitation at this site:
3 April 2012
London Heathrow
Toby arrived a few days earlier and is currently working on arranging shipping papers but his battle with Egyptian government bureaucracy is not going well at the moment. Container ship Cap Harvey which is carrying our jeeps is late but due to arrive in Alexandria at 0600 on the 3rd. I am sitting in Heathrow waiting for my flight to Cairo which is due to arrive at midnight.
If all goes according to plan we will drive from Cairo at 7am tomorrow morning to Alex where we will meet the fixers and secure the release of the jeeps. However If it turns out that the ship is unable to dock tomorrow we will have to push plans to the next day which leaves us just a day to recover the jeeps and prep them for the expedition which is scheduled to begin on Friday.
4 April 2012

Giza, Egypt
After 27 hours travelling finally arrived to Mena House at 3am. As of this morning The Cap Harvey was in Alex but still waiting on another ship to clear out so she could dock and unload. No chance of getting the jeeps today so we spent the day doing the tourist bit getting heckled and shaken down by the locals around the pyramids.
Tonight we meet up with Toby and Mahmoud at Mahmoud’s apartment. After a lovely meal we got the news that our ship had come in finally. First thing tomorrow (Thursday) am we are driving up to Alexandria to start the custom clearing process for the jeeps. Carnets, insurance inventory lists in triplicate in hand we are entered the unknown… We all agreed to bring toothbrushes in case this turns into a multi day negotiation….
Thursday, 5 April 2012

Alexandria, Egypt

Mahmoud, Karl and John waiting outside the Port
We drove 200kms from Cairo to Alexandria only to wait 8 hours outside of the Alex port to be told we can’t collect the jeeps today but have to come back on sat and do it all over again on Saturday as Friday is the traditional weekend in Egypt.
Friday, 6 April 2012

Cairo, Egypt
Spent the day exploring Cairo. Sam Watson has found in a history of Mazarra (local neighborhood where expats lived in the 20th century) a reference and a photo of where Pat Clayton of the LRDG lived and which would have presumably been the meeting place of many expedition planning sessions. Later in the afternoon we drove four borrowed rovers out to Wadi Degla outskirts of Cairo .
In the sedimentary rock and shale we find evidence of marine organisms many thousands of years old. Tho there is some debate amongst our experts as to whether these are actually small freshwater snails that live about a metre down in subsurface moisture, and come to the surface on the rare occasions when it rains – and the birds eat them. Would be interested to learn more on this…

Expedition Geologist Rick Pewe holds a shell from Wadi Degla :
LRDG historian Sam Watson, FRGS points out the remains of what could be a WWII era jerry can he found in Wadi Degla:
This Wadi was used during the war as a bivouac for newly arriving New Zealand troops to train in desert warfare techniques.
Saturday, April 7 2012

Alexandria, Egypt
Outside of the Port of Alexandria as we wait for the jeeps to clear customs we spent our time analyzing the sat imagery to identify targets. As far a we know, the area we intend to traverse is a totally unexplored plateau to the north of the Gilf el-Kibir in the Great Sand Sea we have a 5x5km 50cm high resolution sat image and have identified a number of potential targets. Mahmoud Marai, our expert on the area is focused on looking for rock art north west face side of wadi’s as this is the most shade.

The jeeps were due to arrive in Alex on March 27. However the Morento had mechanical problems and was diverted from the UK. The jeep container was rebooked on the Cap Harvey due to arrive Alexandria 29 March. This will turn out to have major consequences for our expedition. Our freight forwarders told us we need to plan on three days to clear the jeeps once they arrive. Unfortunately the container ship arrived on a Thursday which is the last day of the week and customs officials tend to leave early(er) than usual. We had planned to leave Mena House in Giza on Friday the 6th but it is now looking like best case we will get the jeeps on the 8th.
8 April 2012

Giza, Egypt
We left again for Alex at 6am. After the customary tea and wait, we finally recovered the Jeeps at 1pm from Customs.

Mad scramble as we had just two hours to get the jeeps which were physically located in another port 10kms (an hour with Alex traffic) away as we had temporary plates and needed to get back to traffic authority before they closed for the day to get the real temporary tags and $200 custom stamped fire extinguishers….
We finished by 4pm. After a quick meal we fueled the jeeps and headed south. At 9pm we were stopped by a broken radiator bracket which we tied down with wire we found on the side of the road.
After a further 7 hours and 775 total kms we arrived at Bahareya Oasis in 0415 am.

Pit stop for tea somewhere south of Cairo at about 1am
9 April 2012
Bahareya Oasis
Needing to make up for lost time, we were back on the road after just 3 hours sleep on our way to Dakhla 470km away.
Reached Dakhla late evening but the Ford was running poorly due to bad gas purchased north of Dakhla.

How could we get bad gas from such a fine establishment?
Egyptian bureaucracy was not yet done with us, at 11pm we found out that the final paperwork required to allow us into the military controlled desert required one more signature but unfortunately the fax machine in Kharga was broken (we were to learn it had been broken since January) so we had to send Islam on an overnight 200kms round trip to hand deliver our documents to the military.

10 April 2012
Dakhla Oasis
After a welcome night sleep we met in the am to take stock of our situation (not good): we are 3 days behind schedule, and will need to revise our planned route and abandon some of our objectives. More concerning though was the fact that out of necessity the jeeps were driven hard straight out of the cargo container almost 1,000ks whereas we had planned to spend a day checking them over after their two month sea voyage. Complicating matters further is that while most of us have sufficient expedition experience, our team of eight comes from four different cultures, and few of us have worked together before beyond a brief two day training meeting in England. Most importantly however, in an attempt to maintain good relations amongst a group of equals, we had  not established a clear chain of command or delegation of duties and roles, a situation sure to lead to trouble if not addressed.

LDE expedition team in good spirits on the eve of our push into the desert, despite little sleep and being 3 days behind schedule.

After breakfast the team met to discuss our next steps. Happily years of experience and lessons learned prevailed and we agreed to organize ourselves into sub groups each with specific tasks and roles. As a wise man once said “one must learn to be both a good Leader and a good Follower. The strength of character of this group was soon evident as egos were put aside and we got down to the business of taking control of our situation. Rick Pewe assumed the necessary but unenviable role of operational control for which he was uniquely qualified. With equal dexterity he sorted out fuel lines, oiled the carb , got a team to clear out the bad fuel purchased between Bahreya and Dakhla, retarded timings on pistons as well as efficiently but diplomatically got each member of the team to accept a specific role and responsibility . Of all the significant results and accomplishments of this expedition, watching this group confront both physical and mental challenges and quickly bond into a cohesive and effective team was to become the one achievement of which I am most proud.

By 5pm with paperwork finally in hand, jeeps sorted and we left the military checkpoint outside of Dakhla.

We ran free for almost 109 kms before we had to stop for the night as Major Sharif our Police escort was keen to enforce the no travelling after dark ban for our expedition.

11 April 2012

Camp 1

24° 40.687’N 29° 5.061’E

Dawn breaks over our first camp site in the Libyan Desert

Geologist Rick Pewe examines pink sandstone sedimentary rock formations on a hill near our camp. Hard dark sedimentary layers protect the softer Jurassic layers

The expedition convey departing the final military check point before we head off road into the desert.  Mid morning we air down from 30 to 16psi and head off the tarmac.

The 1943 rear wheel drive Ford GPW ( Government  P=80inch wheel base Willy’s design) is still suffering badly from the poor quality fuel so we decided to adjust the distributor.  However we decide to use the remaining 20Lof 80 Octane fuel in the jerry can on the theory that the timings are already opened and we would rather have our better quality 90 grade octane for emergency situations.

Approximately 70kms into the desert Mahmoud Marai shows us a LRDG fuel dump depot site he found a few years back. At this prominent rock outcropping we find various artifacts including many of the maligned 4 gallon “flimsies” stamped “Shell Oil” as well as other diagnostic artifacts
In the hyper arid environment the desert preserves the historic as well as the mundane evidence of life.

At this LRDG site we find an evaporated milk can labeled “Nestle 7/7/42”. As well as a tin of Corned Beef “Bully Beef” tin from Argentina:

17kms further west we come to the remains of a LRDG patrol truck found by the explorer Carlo Bergmann in the winter of 2007 while on one of his camel expeditions.

Strewn around this site are four sand tires for a 30 CWT truck, various bits of camp life (bottle, tin cans etc) and an in line 6 cylinder overhead valve head which is stamped: 838773 Gm J-17-16 and the block reads: XR3758456.

Our LRDG historians believe this may have been a 30 CWT 1939 Egyptian or 1942 Canadian build. In this type of typography tracks tend to disappear quickly and we did not see any evidence of recent activity at this site.

Sardine can from where the LRDG may have eaten while trying to fix and or salvage their vehicle
3 Kms south of this location we come come to the hill where in 1983 Major-General  David Lloyd Owen ex-Y Patrol Commander and his team recovered “Waikaha” (Mori word meaning strong water)  a Chevrolet WA 133-inch wheel base 4 x2 30 cwt truck and raised a cairn with a plaque to honor the men of the LRDG (1)

Image courtesy of Piers Llyod Owen Copyright LRDG association first appeared in ATB
This  truck  is now in the Imperial War Museum (IWM) in London .

Moving on we follow a set of tracks that I assumed were relatively recent “tourist” traffic heading towards the Gilf area.

We pass a flimsy and almost drive past it as these artifacts are not uncommon in the desert, but as we come along side I see a broken shovel. It turns out what I assumed were new tracks are not new but very likely 70 year old LRDG tire tracks based on the width of the tire and the condition of the reg:

Arguing in favor that we had found a new set of tracks and a new site was the existence of a  shovel  which should be too tempting an object for a “collector” to leave by the side of a track  especially since it bears the inscription “1941 NSW” (perhaps New South Wales?) Apologies for the bad picture this was the only one took for some reason.

Some 100kms on not far from a LRDG  look out camp located near Beacon Hill we  find the remains of a modern Egyptian Army camp where sandbags fortify a defensive position now abandoned. A creative or very bored warrior poet appears to have used his time here  attempting to immortalize himself by writing in rock the modest phrase “Sharif the Lord”
The team enjoying a quiet moment at dusk in the dunes after a great day of exploration.

Time for rest after a long day can’t beat sleeping under the stars…
12 April 2012
Camp Two

N 34.02.252’ E 27.35.449
Our plan today is to head towards 8 Bells today. However major Sharif informs us that earlier in the month 22 Egyptian border guards disappeared in this area and have not been found. Our military friends believe it is the Tubu rebels who are to blame. The Tubu are generally associated with the Guraan, a branch of Tubu (Berber) people who inhabit Tibesti, known in medieval times as the Desert of Gorham, and are famous for their raiding propensities (Bagnold, 1935). Today the Tubu are often smugglers taking goods and people across the borders from Sudan and Chad trying to get to Libya. They appear to prefer to be left alone to their trade but a party of westerners can, at times, be too good an opportunity to pass up. Sharif is on the sat phone with Cairo who apparently now does not want us to travel south of N23 which we have permission to do. Sharif is willing to take us and the team voted unanimously after breakfast basis that any rebels will have the same fuel and water constraints that we have and thus the probability of “running into “ any rebels is very low. A somewhat interesting theory when you think about..

After just 16 kms our lead truck stops dead in his tracks. Talk of Tubu rebels swarming over the hills begin to percolate. Then the lead truck starts to ever so slowly back up like one might do when you stumble onto a sleeping lion in the bush…..trouble. As Mahmoud tracks back to the group it is very difficult to read his face. We query, but he simply points. Just beyond his bonnet we strain to see what lies ahead and recognition begins to dawn on us what he has found along this rarely traversed part of the desert. Rather than an armed party of rabid rebels we have followed old LRDG tracks leading right to an abandoned 1942 Ford patrol truck:

Karl Gunner and Sam Watson our resident LRDG experts seem to agree this truck was probably a patrol vehicle.  It has Ford Motor Company 1942 stamped on and based on other evidence it appears to  be a Canadian built right hand drive patrol truck.  VIN : 718789 and 029016474.  Based on follow up research with local guides, as well as the small community of Western desert and LRDG experts currently supports that this  may not be a completely new find  but it is the first dissemination of information about it which brings the total known number of Sudan Defense Force and or LRDG trucks in Egypt Libya to 8.
Red lead primer, Green base coat and blue/cream camouflage colors are evident in the wheel well.  This find is diagnostic and will give historians a better idea of the patterns used as most historic evidence is in black & white photos.
As Marai later recounts how he found the truck: ”we were following a clear  WWII piste used by LGDG and or SDF; that is why we could see hundreds of barrels and eventually the vehicle… finding the track was luck- but following  this route was  was a clear wise decision- john who was next to me when we got to the track-  said “well, well, look what we have got here; an old track- who knows what we might find along here”
Scratched into the paint on the back gate of the truck is “Farafra Abu mungar” All of our Arabic speakers agree this script is interesting as it is written in an old style not commonly used any more.
After the celebratory photos the reality that we are many days behind schedule and need to stick to a timeline that puts us into Siwa on the 19th  sinks in. Reluctantly we push on from this exciting find.

Rick “Hannibal Lecter” Pewe Takes the wheel
on on Baggers…
However the going is getting tougher as we enter into sand and the military Land cruiser heavily laden with four guys and all their gear  fuel and water bogs down where the light jeeps skip over:
We reverse out of the soft sand and carry on for another 42 kms passing by the remains of another LRDG truck  which has been previously documented.  We stop at an abandoned LRDG airstrip where there are a number of artifacts of interest:
87 octane  “Benzine” aviation fuel flimsie used to fuel the two seater Waco bi-planes used during the war.  Note that below the sand line there remains original paint

Toby Savage testing out his “kite-cam” used to record overhead images of sites on the expedition

Earlier in the afternoon we suffer our first and amazingly only puncture of the entire trip for either jeep. Here are the boys breaking the bead of the rim Desert rats style:

It is a bit tense tonight as we begin to look for a place to make camp just before sunset. The Military officer calls in our location every night.  We are not allowed to travel after dark.   We have heard stories of how difficult and unhelpful obligatory escorts are in Egypt.  Many refuse to travel to Egypt anymore because of this.  I have to say our experience with the Egyptian Military and Tourist Police was nothing but positive.  These men were efficient courtesy but very clearly focused on doing their job of both  making sure we were safe as well  protecting the fragile artifacts  of the desert that is the People of Egypt’s patrimony.

13 April 2012

Camp Three

N 23.04.994 E 26.20.529

Dawn breaks over our camp site hidden from the smuggler trail

The driving today is very different what we have encountered before. For the first time we met deep sand. The jeeps perform marvelously In fact we calculate we spent less than 3% of our time off road in low range 4×4 drive.

“Toby’s Savages” :Toby Savage, Sam Watson and Karl-Gunnar Noren
The irrepressible master Chef and Rally Mechanic Tarek Abd El Fatah doing yet another mid desert tune up

Robert Atwater LF’05, Mahmoud Marai Expedition Leader and Jason Paterniti on the Libyan Desert Expedition 1,500kms from Cairo near the Gilf Kiber
The much cherished daily water ration
The expedition approaching Three Castles
The Anglo contingent of the LD Expedition prepares a commemorative plaque honoring the LRDG at Three Castles

John Carroll Laying the Wreath

A message for Noor…..

Back on the reg…
After 6pm and we are still on the move. Major Sharif and Mahmoud are not happy. It’s getting dark and we are on the main smuggler highway from Sudan up through the Gilf area.

Driving towards the Gilf
We make camp after dark. Tonight for the first time our military escorts are visibly on edge and keep armed watch throughout the night. We later learn that not far from here 35 bodies were found assumed to be refugees from Dar fur or Ethiopia. Typically these poor people were trying to get to Libya and then perhaps on to Europe. We hear that it is not unusual for human smugglers to take refugees to a desolate place in the desert point to star low in the horizon and say: there that is Tripoli” just walk to the lights and you will be safe”. Like everywhere, there is great beauty in the desert but also great sadness.

14 April 2012

Camp Four

N23.39.033 E 25.09.937

We start out the day near the Foggini-Mestikawi Cave discovered in 2002.  This site 5-9,000 year old site is now well documented but nonetheless, is truly spectacular and far outshines the  well known Wadi Soura (Cave of the Swimmers).

Water hole

The “Beast”

Prehistoric tribes clashing or Pre Pharonic representaions of the Dead?

View from the Cave of the Beast
Meanwhile our crack pit crew check tires, fuel up, replaces oil filters in the Willy’s and attempts a field repair on the Military land cruiser exhaust  using Rick’s home made torch of hooking up a series of batteries to a welding rod. The repair attempt on the Land cruiser has pushed us back a bit behind schedule.  We have 90 kms of rocky reg to get to Aqaba pass.  Then 2 kms up what could be a difficult slog through the pass and then on another 70 kms to our target location we have identified using sat imagery.

Heading towards Wadi Soura

Cave of the Swimmers

Heading towards Aqaba Pass

Tune up before we enter the Great Sand Sea
The Ford exhaust manifold has been overheating a bit but this has been addresses by wrapping an old shirt around the petrol pump and soaking it with water.

Final checks on the computer before head towards Gara Marai

Signs of life are rare
We make it to within 15 kms of our target but must stop for the night as it is getting dark. Our plan is to leave at first light to reach the wadi entrance at Gara Marai.

15 April 2012

Gara Marai Plateau, Camp Five

Great Sand Sea

N 24.02.012 E 25.59.449

This morning I wake early fueled by the thought we are just a few kms from the target site I have stared at for almost a year from a far.
This previously unexplored plateau located over 330 kms from the oasis town of Dakhla to the east almost 300 kms from Kufra in Libya to the west.
As we break camp a sand storm has come up and we sail across the sand as if in fog heading towards the plateau.
As we drive through this etheral void Mahmoud recalls how in the 1920’s Hassan Bey discovered Jebal ‘Uweinat in similar conditions.

Image Courtesy Google
As we approach the plateau we see a very old set of narrow tire tracks but no other evidence of exploration.

We named this plateau Gara Marai in honor its discoverer and our expedition Leader:  Mahmoud Marai.
Image courtesy of GEOEYE High resolution satellite Imagery of Gara Marai

Using the GEOEYE sat imagery we identified a number of areas on this plateau whose geography resembled areas where prehistoric settlements and rock art have been discovered in and around the Gilf and Jebal ‘Uweinat. Specifically we looked for deep wadis where Sheppard’s would have sourced water for the livestock and used the mouth of the wadi to pen in their animals as well as provide a secure location. As we entered the wadi it became clear that it was too shallow to hold water but we decided to explore up the plateau a number of targets identified by sat imagery.
Following our GPS to a point one kilometer north of the Wadi entrance we locate the Watchtower at an altitude of 891m .

Gara Marai Watchtower. Photo Credit Sam Watson, FRGS
Site Qmm14

Bob Atwater EC LF ’05 stands at the base of the “watchtower”

Our geologist believes that rock to composed of a rough sandstone conglomerate. This rough oval structure’s dimensions are: 2.8 meters x 3.3 meters in diameter:
LDE Expedition team Jason Paterniti MN’10 and Mahmoud Marai examining site QMM14  (our tracks can be seen leading to the site) Photo Credit Rick Pewe

Flag 60 at Gara Marai Site Qmm14 in the Great Sand Sea (Photo Credit: M Marai)

Settlement Structure

755 meters north of  QMM14 another site was identified using the satellite imagery:

Although no rock art was found at this location, the remains of what appear to be a round settlement structure was identified similar to structures found throughout the Gilf and Jebal ‘Uweinat. Little is known about the people who lived in this area although based on climate change analysis: “The year 3500 BC represents a definite turning point in the occupation history of the Egyptian Western Desert, when permanent occupations definitely ceased and only limited transhumant populations managed to survive for another few centuries” (Barta, 2010, p. 33). Based on our current knowledge, if this site is in fact the remains of a shelter it would be one of the northern most prehistoric settlements discovered in the Gilf area to date (Marai).

One kilometer due north, Marai identified a marker located on a hill at 896m elevation. Marai says this rock marker shows clear signs of being placed and carefully buttressed.

M Marai examining a stone marker atop Hill QMM15 (Photo Credit Rick Pewe)

One kilometer due north of QMM14, Marai identified a marker located on a hill at 896m elevation. Marai says this rock marker shows clear signs of being placed and carefully buttressed.  From this prominent hill site QMM14 lies on an orientation of almost 180 due South (178.46 degrees) towards the Gilf el-Kibir.  Was this deliberate?
Orientation of Qmm14 and Qmm15 towards the Gilf (Image Courtesy Google & GEOEYE)
We enter the Great Sand Sea at about N24° 12.000′ E25° 60.000′
Mid afternoon engine tune up:

Easy Riding between inter-dunal corridors kilometers wide
I happen to be riding in the support vehicle this afternoon with Tarek and Mohammed Fawez who is our Military liaison.

The Old and the New both awesome
At 5pm they decide they want some coffee so they break out a gas burner coffee pot and proceed fire up a burner to make a brew in the back seat of the land cruiser while we are cruising at 40mph across the sand sea. The coffee was excellent..

16 April 2012

Great Sand Sea Camp Six

N25.21.726 E25.57.455

Camp at dawn:

Ran 171 Kms yesterday fantastic going over the sand.  “Toby Savage’s” are starting to look the part:
Recalling Bagnold in Libyan Sands we are starting  to learn how to read the sand by colors and almost sense where it will be soft
We have now gone an entire  week without seeing another human being.
As we track eastward we make eight west to east  inter- dunal crossings today.

We came across a bird in the sand dunes.

Most likely migrating was separated or too weak  to keep up. We leave a cap of water but this creature will not make it our of the desert.

Very tough going this afternoon cover only 60 kms in 3 hours.

Military Land cruiser gets stuck worse than I have ever seen before buried up the axles half way up the springs took 8 men  4 sand ladders over an hour to extract.  In fact it was one of those so bad we didn’t take photos sort of moments….  Fatigue is setting in and tempers are running short between the jeeps and the land cruiser which is shooting ahead to find a path between the dunes but it often losing sight of the rest of the team causing anxiety when the path is lost.

It is amazing in the middle of all of this nothing-ness how quickly one can get separated and lost from each other.

After 272 kms of sometimes difficult dune driving  we stop for the day

End of a long day…..
17 April 2012
Great Sand Sea Camp Seven

N 26.59.137 E 26.34.158

Morning over our camp site

Breaking camp for the day

Mid afternoon the clutch linkage on the Ford finally gives up the ghost.   We can no longer get full clutch engagement.  Rick decides to shorten the cable by hack sawing the bolt.  I stand by nodding knowing indicating that is exactly what I would have recommended we do had Rick not brought it up first.  In one of the most elegant field fixes I have seen’ Rick and Tarek fabricate a new clutch linkage out of a screwdriver.
I suspect this after market part will be on this jeep 20 years from now..

The new clutch linkage
A new lesson learned on this trip, always check the jerry cans before you pour.  We have vehicles running both petrol and diesel.  Whereas in the states one might expect to find brightly colored cans differentiating the two out here things are a bit more relaxed.

No harm done luckily today but always sniff or taste  before you pour  Benzene will give you that sharp smell with a hint of asphalt where as diesel has a more mellow aged texture in ones mouth

Back on the road in the Great Sand Sea we identified a 5 x 5kms search area around a natural formation called Pillar Rock or Sakhret al-Amud.


Image courtesy Google Earth & GEOEYE
We selected this site for study specifically because it is well known and reasonably easy for travellers to reach hence improving the odds that there would be things to find. Besides the 3 m high Limestone formation which the high resolution satellite imagery shows many 4×4 tracks converging on, there were a number of other targets scattered amongst the dunes which did not appear to have recent tracks. While we would have been very pleased to make a new discovery in this area, our primary purpose was to use this search grid to calibrate what we were seeing in the imagery with what was actually out in the field. Of the 19 targets in this search area we were able to ground truth 7. Of these we located 5 targets out of 6 locations identified and classified. What we found in this area was the mundane detritus of modern desert life: oil barrels & tires. However even these results were valuable to us as we quickly began to differentiate a tire from a barrel.
Barrel or Tire? Turns out it was a tire
We began to see patterns in the pixilated colors which assist us in identifying man-made objects from the natural colors found in the desert sedimentary and igneous rocks.
From what we have learned from this experiment and our success at the Gara Marai site, we are more confident we can apply this technology on a future expedition where we will search for evidence ancient trade routes across the desert linking Pharonic Egypt to civilizations in what are now Chad and the Sudan. Specifically we will be looking for water jar depots and remains of square shaped rest houses like those Carlo Bergmann has found every 25 kms along the Abu Ballas Trail between Dakhla, and Jebal ‘Uweinat. If found this evidence will add to our knowledge of where the people of the Nile valley may have first migrated from.
Given the size of the search area in question we shall also need to employ crowd sourcing technologies to efficiently analyze the volume of imagery we will need to study.
Back in the Great Sand Sea, the weather has begun to deteriorate dramatically.  The wind is blowing steady at 20-30 and it has gotten uncomfortably hot. We are in the Ajaj which is the hot wind which can get up April and May.  We had planned on stopping at a location thought to be where Pat Clayton surveyed in 1941  but conditions have gotten so bad we decide to abandon this effort.
66 kms further north we come to a place called Russian Well.  In the 1970’s or 1980’s the Soviets sent teams out drilling for Oil.  In this case the found water.  Now abandoned, Russian Well is a haunting place made more so by the howling winds.  As this well is less than 100kms from the Libyan border our Major Sherif is concerned about us camping near the well so we move about a kilometer east behind some dunes to make camp.  Through out the evening the wind picks up and the temp continues to rise. Very uncomfortable.

18 April 2012

Russian Well Camp Eight

N 29.10.673 E 25.29.466

Horrible Night. The “Ajaj” a very hot wind from the South was bad but we had arranged our camp so that we were at least partly protected by the vehicles. Around 11pm a strong northerly wind came in bringing very cold temperatures and for the rest of the night we were caught in a swirling vortex of these to weather systems fighting for dominance.  Even the guys in tents said they were inundated with sand.  Those of us sleeping outside did the best we could to find shelter but in the end, I just wrapped my jacket around my head and rode out the night.

Navigating by GPS through the sand storm
Even though no one got any sleep last night we were keen to get moving if just to get away from this place.  We had 133 kms to Siwa Oasis due north and we ran off those last kilometers with the north wind in our face the entire trip.
Needless to say not many pictures were taken today.
In preparations for a future expedition, I had hoped that we would be able to spend time south east for Siwa oasis familiarizing ourselves with the terrain where previous explorers have searched for the Lost Army of Cambyses. Due to losing three days because of the late  arrival of the jeeps to Alexandria Port, and now the sand storm reducing viz to almost nil, this effort had to be abandoned.

It is easy to see how Cambyses’ Army could have gotten lost if they had suffered through a week of this. Reading about the Khamazine(2)  in a book from the comfort of your home is one thing, feeling its energy sapping, debilitating, disorientating affects day after day brought us one step closer to understanding Almasy’s and Rolf’s descriptions of how harsh and hostile this environment can be.

Thursday, 19 April 2012
Siwa Oasis
After 16 days, the expedition successfully reaches Siwa Oasis tired but on schedule. Siwa is a wonderful place, well documented in travel books.

Sadly back to civilization

Tarek Abd El Fatah, Jason Paterniti, Islam Samir in Siwa

Time for repairs at a local garage

Driving through the date groves of old Siwa

High Street, Siwa

Chassis repurposed for Siwa architecture
Allah and Esso co-existing
Siwa has become more popular with tourists in recent years but still maintains a wonderful laid lack back charm kind of like a relaxed Marrakesh. The tourists we met all seemed very respectful and blend into the scheme rather than burst through it. Siwans who are of Berber, stock have a friendly confidence and there is none of the transactional tourist/merchant vibe that you find in most other destinations. Our most vivid recollections of the town must be the strong contrast of noise and flys from what we were used to in the desert. The streets are total chaos, everyone makes his or her way how ever suits and young boys who can’t be more than 5 drive donkey carts and motor cycles around heavy lorries. Somehow it all works.
21& 22 April 2012

Siwa Oasis
Left Siwa at 9am travelled 560 kms over the mostly uninteresting road to Alexandria. Spent the night at a hotel on the Med.  Its somewhat difficult to process so much water after the miles of sand we have crossed.

The Pyramids in view mean our Expedition is over..

On the morning of the 22nd we travel the last 226 kms from Alex back to Cairo which brings completes our expedition in which we have travelled over 3,769 kms 1,591 kms of which were off-road through the desert and Great Sand Sea.
24 April 2012

Giza, Egypt

We say goodbye to our team and now good friends the Ford & Willy’s jeeps as Toby and John draw the short stick to take them one last time back to Alex where they were sealed back into their container for their slow boat return to the UK for a well deserved tune up and rest….

Toby and his  Jeeps heading back home to England…
(1) Information provied by John Carroll from an article by Jim Patch which appeared in “After the Battle”
(2) The origin of the word Khamazine is unclear, perhaps it comes from the Arabic word for “five” as a storm can last for 5 days, or it could be a variant on the Arabic word for “Thursday” as storms have coincidentally started on Thursdays…


• Dr. Albert Lin & Dr Nathan Ricklin from the University of California San Diego for processing the imagery for the expedition

• GeoEye for donating imagery
• Tor Henderson from, for assisting us with acquiring the GeoEye imagery

• Logistical support provided by Mr. Rami Siag: