About the project
The Dakhleh Oasis Project (DOP) is a long-term regional study of the interaction between environmental changes and human activity in the closed area of the Dakhleh Oasis, Western Desert of Egypt, but including the larger area of the Palaeoasis. The study includes all the time since the first incursion of humans in the Middle Pleistocene, perhaps 400,000 years ago, down to the 21st century oasis farmers, and all the human activity and all the changing environmental conditions for which there is evidence within the time period.
To achieve such an assessment, it is necessary to gather data on the modern environment and all past environmental conditions. The environment is seen as one of the most important influences on all human activity. The evidence for this is sought in the geological, geomorphological, the botanical and the faunal records. These data are collected by various field workers, specialists in their particular fields, who ultimately will provide a consensus of the environmental history of the region. The DOP environmentalists to date are Professor R. F. Giegengack, Jr., Dr. Jennifer Smith, Professor C. S. Churcher, Dr. Ursula Thanheiser and Mag. Johannes Walter. Formerly, there have also been Professor J. C. Ritchie and Professor I. A. Brookes.
The activities of humans within these environmental settings must be investigated by a wide range of expertise. The settling and development of cultural evolution within the oasis area, the expansion into and from other Saharan regions and, of course, connections with the Nile Valley are all of interest. These studies are performed by geoarchaeologists, Old Stone Age African specialists, Holocene-Neolithic archaeologists, historical periods specialists – Pharaonic, Ptolemaic-Roman-Christian archaeologists, Islamic archaeologists; by physical anthropologists, and by linguists.
So far, no social or cultural anthropologists have participated in the DOP. These investigators include Professor M. R. Kleindienst, Dr. M. M. A. McDonald, Dr. C. A. Hope, Professor A. J. Mills, Professor F. Leemhuis, Dr. O. E. Kaper, Professor R. S. Bagnall, Professor J. E. Molto, Professor M. Woidich, Professor K. A. Worp, Professor I. Gardner, and a great number of field assistants and experts brought into the project to study specific specialized aspects of our finds.
To understand both the cultural evolution and the environmental changes and their interdependence properly, the oasis has to be studied in great local detail, as well as in a much wider context of northeastern Africa. The general trends, both cultural and natural, throughout the Sahara, and Nile Valley and the eastern and central Sahara as well as locally in the oasis itself must be understood to place the Dakhleh Oasis in its proper setting. Because the Dakhleh Oasis is both an isolated unit and a microcosm of much wider trends, the study is important.
No such large oasis area of the eastern Sahara has yet been so broadly examined and in such great detail. What occurs in the Dakhleh Oasis, will in all probability also occur in other places, with local variations. For example, because of human interference and natural destruction, early adaptation in the Nile Valley is imperfectly understood. The Dakhleh Oasis is isolated but not too distant from the Nile, is subject to many of the same but a much less complex group of influences, and the DOP will be able to shed light on such a problem area.
Through an understanding of the cultural development in the oasis, and in the variety of ways people have had to adapt and accomodate themselves to their changing world, and also how they have influenced or created change in their world, it should become easier to understand the present-day problems of life in an hyper-arid environment, with fertile soils but with a finite water supply. Past solutions and mistakes and results can often better inform mankind. This in turn will inform development agencies for future planning and programs in such regions.
The Dakhleh Oasis lies some 800 km SSE of Cairo, surrounded by the wastes of the eastern Sahara, centered at 25o 30’N and 29o 07’E. The oasis is some 80 km west to east and 25 km maximum wide. The population (in 2002) is about 75,000. The local economy is based in agriculture, and there are no known mineral or other viable resources.
The capital is at Mut, which has been the main town since at least the Eighteenth Dynasty, about 1,500 BCE. Before then, the site of ‘Ain Asil at Balat in eastern Dakhleh had been the seat of the government, since 2,500 BCE, and before that the less settled Neolithic and earlier populations inhabited the area. The Dakhleh Oasis has had a continuity of settlement for about the last 8,000 years but only since 2,500 BCE has it been politically tied to the Nile region. Climatic trends and events that can be discerned in most of the eastern Sahara are also seen at Dakhleh.
The first European traveller to ‘discover’ the Dakhleh Oasis was Sir Archibald Edmonstone, in 1819. He was followed by several other early travellers, but it was not until 1908 that the first egyptologist, Herbert Winlock visited the oasis and noted its monuments in a systematic manner. Only in the 1950s was any real interest taken, first by Dr. Ahmed Fakhry, and in the late 1970s an expedition of the Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale and the Dakhleh Oasis Project each began detailed studies in the oasis.
The Dakhleh Oasis Project has been conducting this wide study since 1978, supported by a number of universities and organizations. Among these have been Monash University, The University of Durham, the University of Toronto, Columbia University, The Royal Ontario Museum, the Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities, the American Research Centre in Egypt, the Egyptology Society of Victoria, The Dakhleh Trust, as well as the many institutions of the various participating scholars which support individuals. Support for the DOP is governmental, institutional, corporate and individual and is invited at all times.
The results of the DOP fieldwork are published as quickly as possible, in order that they enter the public domain without delay. The Bibliography of titles generated by the Project members can be found here on the DOP publications page. It will give the reader access to all our research and reporting.
Anthony J. Mills
Dakhleh Oasis Project