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.