Zerzura Wadis
Wadi Hamra entrance
The "Zerzura Wadis" of Wadi Talh, Wadi Abd el Melik and Wadi Hamra were claimed by Hungarian explorer Lazlo Almasy to the three fertile valleys associated with the fabled Zerzura Oasis, which had been written about and sought after for almost a century before they were finally discovered in 1932.

Today, these valleys are dried and desiccated. But even in the 1930s when they were first seen from the air, they described as being "green" valleys with the remains of Tibu huts seen. The increasing aridity of this part of the Sahara has meant that even these valleys - which may have been a welcome stop-over for camel herders wandering back and forth between Kufra Oasis in Libya to Dakhla Oasis in Egypt in times past - have now dried up.

To the left, is the entrance to Wadi Hamra, the "Red Valley". A line of acacia trees and small shrubs still mark out the line of an underground watercourse.

Pot remains
Despite the Martian landscape, there is plenty to see that you would never find on Mars. Here is the fragments of a pot found in Wadi Abd el Melik with some charcoal remains of a campsite. It was sat in the sand in the middle of the valley floor and could have been laying there for thousands of years.

The hole in the pot was probably for passing a rope through so that the pot could be suspended over a fire. There are numerous paintings called 'domestic scenes' to be found in ancient rocky shelters, particularly in the Jebel Uweinat area, which show a pot suspended over a fire. They were evidently the focus of family life when prehistoric man lived here five or six thousand years ago, which was the last time that there was significant rainfall in this area.

Bagnold cave
Prehistoric man liked to decorate his abode in much the same way we do today. The painted cows below, found at the entrance to a shelter in Wadi Abd el Melik, (valley of the servant of the king) were found by Ralph Bagnold in 1933.

In contrast to the Gilf a little further South, or Uweinat, there are not many paintings in the Zerzura valleys area. But the area is quite rich in pecked engravings.

Paint pigments
The ochre pigments for their paintings can be readily found just laying about. When ground to a powder and mixed with a binding agent - possibly saliva or even plain water - the pigments remain very durable when applied to the local sandstone. Ochre is "... a hydrated oxide of iron permeating a siliceous base which is free from added impurities and added coloring matter." There is a surprising palette of colours for ochre, ranging from brilliant white, through golden yellows, oranges, reds, earthy browns and deep blacks.

Pecked engravings
Small, crude, pecked engravings similar to this abound in the Zerzura wadis. Cows are very common, as these were a pastoral people. However, we also see giraffes and antelope and - very occasionally - elephant. These are the last animals to survive in an area which is gradually turning from savannah into desert as the rainfall diminishes.

Balanites Aegyptiaca
Nearby, a small grove of three Balanites Aegyptiaca trees still manage to find enough water far below the shimmering heat on the surface. These trees are veritable living pharmacopeia as practically every part of the tree has some medicinal value. The bark is noted as being poisonous to molluscs and is often planted near rivers to kill the snails carrying schistosomiasis. Perhaps, in times past, they were planted here deliberately as a living medicine chest. The small orange fruits have stones very similar to olive pits. This has led to the speculation that olive stones found in 1906 by W.J. Harding King in the crops of birds flying from the South West towards Dakhla were in fact from these trees.

Wadi Talh tumulus
Very recently, what is assumed to be a burial tumulus was discovered in Wadi Talh (acacia valley) The central mound of stones is, perhaps, six feet high, with a vertical slab sitting at the apex. Surrounding the central mound is a complex array of stone circles, cairns and lines of stones which may have some archaeoastronomical significance. There is, for example, a line of stones running from the central mound at an azimuth of about 70 degrees, (not in this picture), which would be the azimuth of mid-summer sunrise.
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