On arriving at our hotel in Tripoli we had two hours to ourselves before visiting various sites around the old city. Little were we to know that these few hours would be the last free time we had before returning home a week later. Our trip commenced with a visit to the arch of Marcus Aurelius. The restored arch is one of the few Roman remains within the city. It is impressive though now overshadowed by surrounding buildings. The imported marble is carved with designs such as Roman imperial armour and a barbarian family in chains. The arch was used as a cinema in the early days of the twentieth century. The former British consulate is nearby. A top room provided a vantage point for nineteenth century ambassadors to spy on ships arriving in the harbour. We wandered through the old town, along narrow streets following the old Roman pattern. In the early evening people were shopping and going about their business. For foreign visitors like ourselves this was pleasant as we were left unmolested by touts or salesmen unlike in other countries. The evening finished off with dinner in the revolving restaurant, a circular cupola on top of a tower block.
The next day our trip began
in earnest with a flight to the Fezzan city of Sabha. Our four wheel drives were
waiting for us on arrival. One desert vehicle looked the part with its goatskin
waterbottle swinging from the roof rack. Desert travel writers have often mentioned
these and I thought they were bags made from goat leather. This waterbottle however
was a whole goat. It was suspended from the roof-rack by the four legs. A loop of
cord prevented leakage from its rear end and the bound up neck was the waterspout.
Later in the trip I helped a driver decant some water the colour of brown soup into
Old Jarma has been recognised
as Garama, the Garamantian capital. The mud brick buildings seen today are from
the medieval and modern period. The historic town lies at depths of up to 5m below
the surface. David Mattingly took us through the excavations of first Mohammed Ayoub
in the 1960s, then those of Charles Daniels in 1969 and finally the work undertaken
by the Fezzan Project in 1997- 2001 in which he was closely involved.
We were now beset by delays.
Returning from the dunes a vehicle lost an exhaust which needed repairing and then
later our kitchen vehicle had a flat tyre. We ended up camping in the dunes near
Al Uwaynat setting up tents in the dark. It could have been a soulless camp except
our drivers had collected firewood and had a pleasant fire going.
Wadi Teshuinat is the largest
valley in the area and is the location of a great number of rock art sites. In a
very hectic half day we saw nine sites! Uan Afuda, a large spectacular natural cave
with a huge arched entrance, contains some faded paintings on one wall. The importance
of the site was described by Prof. Barker, as excavations revealed that the inhabitants
were living with Barbary sheep, having them penned up and feeding them grains (Late
Akakus phase 8935-8000BP). Uan Mahuggiag is another important site. Paintings cover
the shelter wall whilst excavations immediately in front provided pollen samples
revealing progressive environmental degradation between 7000 – 4000 BP, a
time period corresponding to an increase in pastoralism.
We left Wadi Teshuinat by
a large naturally eroded arch (and cave with a painted red rhinoceros) and headed
out across the Erg Uan Kasa to the Messak Settafet. Before leaving the mountain
area our route took us by a well which our drivers used as an opportunity to have
a last wash (once clean water had been pumped). Our route through the dunes had
been used many times in the ancient past as we crossed palaeo-lakes and found lithic
scatters present. A collection of grinding stones and mortars had been assembled
by previous dunes travellers.
A slight drama occurred on
our last night in the desert. Returning from El Awrer to camp in the sand dunes,
we were unable to find the kitchen vehicle which had gone on ahead to set up camp.
The prospect of a hungry night lay ahead of us as we pitched our tents. However
our drivers went out in further search parties and were able to find the cooks and
bring them back complete with cooked dinner to our camp. One driver disappeared
off again and returned later with a dead goat to be eaten by our Libyan crew. It
had been killed elsewhere as the drivers were aware of our sensibilities. During
dinner I noticed two drivers fiddling with something tied to the nearest vehicle’s
roof rack. It was the goat they were gutting and skinning. Luckily I’d finished
eating by this point! The goat meat, marinated in lemon juice, was barbecued on
the camp fire and tasted fine.
Our journey back to Sabha
took the rest of the afternoon. The effects of seismic survey tracks were evident
all over the Messak and the tracks were very dusty indeed. We passed through Germa
again and were able to see the remains of Garamantian royal tombs, the site split
in two by a metalled road providing access to the plateau for heavy vehicles.
The Treasure Act 1996 reformed
the old law on treasure, abolishing ‘treasure trove’ and making fresh
provisions in relation to treasure. Section 2 (1) of the 1996 Act empowers the Secretary
of State to designate as ‘treasure’ any class of object which he considers
to be of outstanding historical, archaeological or cultural importance.
Roger M Thomas
Linda Hurcombe has retired from the lists as editor of Past and is setting out on a new adventure. Her first child is imminent and I am sure that everyone will join in wishing her and Robin the very best of luck and lots of fun with their family.
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