Abu Ballas (Pottery Hill)

In 1917 Ball & Moore came upon a cache of pottery vessels piled against the side of a conspicious hill, some 250 kilometres to the south-west of Dakhla. They named the spot Pottery Hill, and later John Ball guided Prince Kemal el Din to this spot in 1924, who in turn named it Abu Ballas ("the father of pots"), and this name stuck.

When the early explorers visited the site, there were about 300 complete pots and amphorae at the depot, though most were broken or had man-made holes in them supporting the theory that this was the water cache referred to by the Dakhla natives, which they destroyed when pursuing the "black raiders" a few years before Rohlfs recorded the story in 1874. The existence of this depot one third of the way to Kufra led Almásy to speculate that there had to be another depot or well two thirds of the way, most probably the unknown Zarzura oasis. (In fact the Gilf wadis are two thirds of the way, and there was an an intermittent well at Wadi Abd el Melik, proving Almásy's logic correct.) Unfortunately by now all the complete pots have been taken or broken, and all that remains at the site is a pile of broken shards at the foot of the hill. The photos below were taken in 1998 & 2000, by now even less remains.

During his 1926 visit, Prince Kemal el Din found some engravings half way up the rocky hill, which he published together with the sites he found at Karkur Talh in Revue Scientifique Illustre. The cow suckling a calf, the gazelle hunter and a large indistinct human figure all seem to belong to the historic periods, having more in common with rock art near the Nile valley than the Gilf-Uweinat area. On the other hill a few hundred metres away, Giancarlo Negro noted a curious engraving on a boulder at the foot of the hill, possibly showing a falling meteorite (?).

A re-examination of Abu Ballas by Rudolph Kuper and his team revealed a small cave in the side of the hill, near the engravings. The clearing of the cave is ongoing, no results are published yet. A further startling discovery made by the HBI team was the age of some of the pottery at Abu Ballas: thermoluminescence dating yielded a date of 1500 bc! This early date puts the whole context of the cache in a different light. What was previously considered to be the water depot of the Tibu raiders (who may well have reused some of the post for this purpose), all of a sudden it seems to be evidence for an extensive trade network traversing the desert in Pharaonic times. Other new discoveries in the region also point towards the existence of the "Abu Ballas trail" in use in ancient times.