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Tourists to Look for Ancient Persian Army


News Category:


 14 February 2004



Tourists traversing Egypt's desert may solve a mystery that has puzzled archaeologists for centuries: what happened to the 50,000-man Persian army of Emperor Cambyses.

Set up by tourist operator Aqua Sun Desert, the Cambyses project will comb the desert sands using four-wheel-drive vehicles packed with paying tourists eager to find the remains of the lost army swallowed in a sandstorm in 524 B.C., according to the account of the ancient Greek historian Herodotus.

"The project is approved by the Ministry of Tourism after the agreement of Ministry of Antiquities. Any evidence will have to be reported to the authorities," Hisham Nessim, manager of Aqua Sun Desert, told Discovery News.

Running between 10 and 22 days, the desert safari expeditions will follow a special route in the Western Desert, one of the world's most beautiful and inhospitable deserts.

Particular attention will be given to an area not far from the Siwa oasis near the Libyan boarder, where four years ago a team of Egyptian geologists stumbled on bits of metal resembling weapons, as well as fragments of human bones.

First thrilled by the news, scholars then reacted with skepticism. "As nothing was published and no pictures released it is hard to tell whether those were the remains of the lost army. Skeletons can belong to anyone, and without a thorough anthropological study, or any accompanying artifacts, it is hard to judge these allegations," Egyptologist Salima Ikram of the American University in Cairo told Discovery News.

Herodotus reported that after the Persian occupation of Egypt in 525 B.C., Cambyses, the son of Cyrus the Great, sent 50,000 soldiers west from Thebes to attack the Oasis of Siwa and destroy the oracle at the Temple of Amun, who, according to legend, would have predicted his death.

After walking for seven days in the desert, the army got to El-Khargeh, presumably intending to follow the caravan route via the Dakhla Oasis and Farafra Oasis to Siwa. But after they left El-Khargeh, they were never seen again.

"As they were at their midday meal, a wind arose from the south, strong and deadly, bringing with it vast columns of whirling sand, which entirely covered up the troops and caused them wholly to disappear," Herodotus wrote.

The sandstorm was probably caused by the khamsin — the hot, strong, unpredictable southeasterly wind that blows from the Sahara desert over Egypt.

Nessim will continue the Cambyses expeditions for the next five years. "If we discover anything about the lost army, it will be the discovery of the century," he said.

According to Ikram, there might be a chance that tourists find something in the desert. "There is a lot there. Whether or not it has anything to do with the Persians in Egypt is unpredictable. More likely not, but who knows," Ikram said.



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