The Wilderness of Zin

C. Leonard Woolley and T. E. Lawrence

1914-1915 AD



(The Wilderness of Zin, Woolley and Lawrence, 1914-1915 AD)

I. Ain Kadeis

Below the Negeb proper, and divided from it on the west by a broad depression, is a mass of steep white hills, grouped in a cluster of peaks and ridges that have different names among the different Arab tribes, and from different sides. The westernmost part of the range (on the map called Jebel um Hashim) runs down from the central height in a spur called Jebel el Ain, and afterwards in a long broken chain of less notable hills extending to Jebel Muweilleh, a flinty peak some miles within the Egyptian border. This chain of foothills is important geographically, in that it divides two water-systems. To the north of it is a running-together of wadies into a plain about Kossaima, and to the south of it is another running-together of wadies to simulate a second plain, which modern writers have called the plain of Ain Kadeis (Plate X). This second plain is held in by considerable hills: on the east is Jebel el Ain, a rugged bow of cliffs in limestone and flint, with only one possible way over it; on the north is the watershed already mentioned, a procession of pointed hills; on the west and south there are no steep places, but rows of inconspicuous ridges, slowly adding up to a modest height. Looked at from these boundaries the contours of the lower ground fall flat, whereas in reality the whole surface is irregular, running up here and there into tolerable hills, and all seamed with stony torrent-beds. The soil is sandy, between stones, and there are only rare traces of ancient cultivation. The Arabs - husband-men here without hope - still plough each winter a little of the further wady beds, and in wet years reap a harvest. But Ain Kadeis is the only water of the district, and that a spring on the westward slopes of the great mountain far up the Wady Ain Kadeis.

The name Kadeis (Kadeis, in Hejazi Arabic, is a scoop or bailer used in the bath for purification. The Sinai Arabs use such scoops (of wood) to lift up water from a shallow well. It does not mean `holy', as Trumbull and other writers have assumed.) was so reminiscent of Kadesh-Barnea of the Israelites, that as soon as it was recorded of a spring it naturally loomed up in western eyes with an importance inexplicable locally. The Arabs know nothing of a plain of Ain Kadeis: to them the name is that of a water-spring in a small valley called after it, and the great area of low land outside the mouth of this valley is not a plain at all, or connected with its tributary wady in any way by name. Yet one party of travellers after another set out, either from Syria or from Egypt, with this obscure water-hole as their avowed object. Ain Kadeis is too small to water the flocks of other than the few poor families who live near it, and, as we found, too remote from all roads to come to the notice of such Arab guides as live at any distance. But this native ignorance was interpreted as deep-seated policy, and so foreigners came to believe that the spring had remained, from the time of Moses, still a holy place (we do not really know whether even Moses thought it holy) - some great head of water in an oasis too beautiful and too precious to be disclosed to Christian eyes. Its Arabs took on a sinister character: they became by degrees inhospitable, sullen, fanatical, treacherous, bloody. And yet all the time, had the world but known it, the place had been seen, measured, and described by Palmer on his visit in 1870, (Desert of the Exodus, ii, 350.) with his usual minute accuracy and vividness. The account given by Rowlands, who was the first to see the spring in 1842, while mainly recording his personal emotions, tallied well enough with Palmer's in essentials; and there the matter would have ended, but that a Mr. H. C. Trumbull, an American, spent a single hour at the spring in 1882, and wrote round his visit a very large book. with fantastic descriptions of the valley (We need not give measurements of the valley. They have been published admirably by Professor George L. Robinson, McCormick Seminary, Chicago, in articles in the Biblical World in 1901 and 1910. He gives a plan of the valley and springs, with photographs. His whole description is so clear and accurate that it may well be regarded as final. The account in the Homiletic Review of April and May, 1914, by Professor Coborn of Alleghany Coll., Meadville, Pa., is not worth discussion. In the Revue Biblique for July, 1906, the French Benedictines have done work as good as Professor Robinson's in accuracy and authority. In Z.D.P.V., vol 37, part i, Dr. Kuhtreiber describes his visit made in March, 1912. His is the fullest and best account of Ain Kadeis in print, and' we regret that ours was written before we saw his article. We supplement him, however, in some details. Dr. Musil, in his heavy book on Edom (ii, pp. 176 - 181) gives good photographs of the valley, and a very poor description. Of older writers one should mention Holland, who is faithful, and in particular the second letter of Rowlands. He was astonished at Trumbull's discovery, and, though in old age, set out at once to Egypt, visited Kadeis, and wrote him a simple account of his trip, published in the P.E.E Quarterly for July, 1884.) and wells. The work, however, was plausible, and has unfortunately been accepted by biblical geographers (e.g., Hastings' Bible Dictionary, art. Kadesh-Barnea.) as the authority on the district. As for the remainder of Trumbull's book, it is full of varied argument, often irrelevant, some philology, and a large confrontation of the views of everyone, good or bad, who had mentioned Kadesh-Barnea throughout the ages. His account, which we had with us at Ain Kadeis, says (Kadesh-Barnea pp. 272, ff.): "It was a marvellous sight! Out from the barren and desolate stretch of the burning desert waste we had come into an oasis of verdure and beauty... A carpet of grass covered the ground. Fig trees laden with fruit nearly ripe enough for eating were along the shelter of the southern hill-sides. Shrubs and flowers showed themselves in variety and profusion. Running water gurgled under the waving grass.... A circular well, stoned up from the bottom with time-worn limestone blocks, was the first receptacle of the water... the mouth of this well was only about three feet in diameter, and the water came to within three or four feet of the top. A little distance westerly from this well and down the slope was a second well, stoned up much like the first, but of greater diameter.... A basin or pool of water larger than either of the wells, but not stoned up like them, was seemingly the principal watering place. It was a short distance south-westerly from the second well.... Another and yet larger pool, lower down the slope, was supplied with water by a stream which rippled and cascaded along its narrow bed from the upper pool; and yet beyond this, westward, the water gurgled away under the grass... and finally lost itself in the parching wady....There was a New England look to this oasis, (On this compare our photographs.) especially in the flowers, and grass, and weeds.... Bees were humming there, and birds were flitting from tree to tree.... As we came into the wady we had started up a rabbit, and had seen larks and quails. It was, in fact, hard to realize that we were in the desert, or even near it. The delicious repose of the spot after our journey over the arid gravel waste under the blazing mid-day sun was most refreshing.... Our Arabs seemed to feel the soothing influences of the place, and to have lost all fear of the Azazmeh. After a brief rest on the grass they all stripped and plunged into the lower and larger pool for a bath."

A note by Dr. Trumbull should in justice to him be reprinted with this extract of the text. He said: `In writing up this description from my hurried notes made on the spot, I find room for question at one or two points, as to the distance and bearings of the several wells and pools one from another, but I give the facts at these points as accurately as I can recall them.'

As a general comment we can only say that this account is as minutely accurate in its measurements as it is inaccurate in its descriptive matter. The valley of Ain Kadeis is unusually naked, even among the valleys of the south country. At its mouth it is a broad, flood-torn wilderness of stone, about which a torrent-bed twists from side to side, shallow and spreading in the longer stretches, but cut twelve or fifteen feet deep through limestone shingle at the bends. In the side of the valley are the last remains of rough terrace-walling, and near by, a little to the north of the wady entrance on the sand-hills, we found ancient remains. There were eight poor ring-graves, some sherds of Byzantine pottery, and a few rough stone foundations that might in courtesy be called a farmhouse. These late Christian remains seemed to us probably to mark the highest level of the population of old Kadeis. (Though Mr. Pickering Clarke, in the REE Quarterly for October, 1883, says `the city itself was possibly a Hittite shrine ... from a city so important the whole dis-trict round would take its name.' We will not print comments on this.)

After the entrance the valley quickly draws in and becomes, if possible, more stony than before. On each side the hills are very steep and bare, and shine painfully white in the glare of the sun. There is nowhere any green place, or any smooth ground, until the actual spring is reached; instead, great polished boulders have rolled off the cliff-sides into the stream bed, and at times half block the water channel with their huge bulk. In and out of such as these, over small and slippery stones, up and down the steep torrent bank leads the rough track to the wells. In all its length the Wady Ain Kadeis is a most unmitigated desert.

The springs themselves are made up of two or three water-holes under a cliff (Plate XI). From these flow out steady trickles of water, very good and sweet (`like sugar' say the Arabs), constant throughout winter and summer. They unite in a tiny stream which runs under the rocks, forming occasional pools, for about a hundred yards, and then comes to a stagnant and smelly end beneath a mighty boulder. The flow of water is a plentiful one for the needs of the few nomad households that now are the miserable population of the valley. Certainly they could not water there at one time all their little flocks for lack of room (our men brought our camels two by two), but in this dry country the smallest running water is a precious thing, and so Wady Kadeis, in spite of its lack of pasture and of smooth ground for camping, has always two or three families living in its side-ravines, and the local Arabs have profited by the opportunity of constant water to establish a graveyard on a hillock near at hand (Plate XII, z). The goats of these Arabs, and their camels, continually driven to the well, have formed round it a patch of manure heavy enough to hide the boulders underneath, and to give root-hold to a little grass. This tiny plot, existing on sufferance of the winter floods, is the verdure that in Trumbull's eyes blotted out the sterile slopes around: just as the fig trees, from which his patience presently expected ripe figs, are two or three stunted roots of the uneatable wild sort, growing under cover of some larger boulders in the torrent-bed round a corner below the springs. The biggest of these bushes has old gnarled branches growing to more than a man's height, but the others are difficult to find. (Professor Coburn finds food for thobght in the saying of his Arab that no man had ever planted those trees.) (Plate XII, I).

Trumbull celebrates particularly the flowers of the valley, but they are only the common bloom of all the dry country, which flourish for the few days after rain till the sun's heat cuts them down. While they last, one who peers between the rocks throughout all Sinai will see a garden in what from a few feet off is blasted wilderness. Ain Kadeis, with its running water, is, of course, a little richer than most places at such times. Lastly, the pool into which Trumbull's Arabs, after stripping, plunged so rashly to have a bath, is only about a foot or eighteen inches deep, and full of very large and sharp stones. Our guide also washed his feet in it.

II. Muweilleh and Kossaima

The chain of foothills, insisted upon in the beginning of this chapter as the watershed between the northern and the southern plains, is crossed by many paths. One or more ascends each saddle between the peaks, and runs out into the northern plain between the mouth of Wady el Ain and Jebel Muweilleh. These roads are very easy ones, and the largest, which leads down direct upon Kossaima, has on its southern slope the footings of a ring-booth or two, and a few ring-graves of uncertain date. There is another path, more difficult, which passes from the valley of Ain Kadeis over the spur of Jebel el Ain, and descends into Wady el Ain not far from the mouth of Wady Ain el Guderat. The hills between the roads are striking little peaks, steep and sharp for the most part, curiously eaten out and furrowed by the sand-blast and the winter rains, very white, sometimes capped with a point of harder limestone scarped like a pyramid, sometimes rounded into huge half-drums, like clustered organ-pipes eighty or a hundred feet high.

The northern plain is a great contrast to its neighbour on the south. About Wady Ain Kadeis stretch great wastes of dry watercourses, winding among the sand-hills, and for the whole district there is only the petty spring of Ain Kadeis remote in a difficult valley. On the north of the watershed there are certainly some sandy stretches, and stony parts where limestone ribs and knolls crop out of the flat; but much of the country is earth capable of ploughing, and some of it quite fertile tilth. In place of the solitary Ain Kadeis are Ain Muweilleh, in a soft wady bed; Ain Kossaima, a plentiful running of water in the sand; and Ain Guderat, a great spring, not set in a dung-heap like Ain Kadeis, or sand-choked like all other Negeb springs, but bursting straight from the rock, and running down a deep green valley of lush grass in swift irrigation channels, or in a long tree-shaded succession of quiet pools many feet deep. This plain about Kossaima (which also seems to have no one local name) runs from Muweilleh on the west to the foot of the great pass of Ras Seram on the east. In fortunate years it might be very fruitful; and in the worst seasons its crops cannot entirely fail, thanks to the irrigated valley of Ain el Guderat - the only large stretch of corn-land under running water which we saw in all the southern waste. These exceptional advantages, which make this plain the only readily-habitable spot in the desert, seem from the remains in it to have been as obvious to its old-time rulers as to the British administrators of Sinai today.

Ain Muweilleh (The name Muweilleh means a salty place. The description is a correct one. Vol.) is a convenient starting-point in a description of the particular features of the district in detail. It and its hills are the western limits of the good land, and anciently it must have been the most thronged spring, since the old inland route from Egypt runs under the cliff-edge of Jebel Mushrag to the watery and climbs up the wady bank just beyond on its straight way to Ras Seram. On the east side a low limestone shelf borders the valley, and upon it lie a few rude ruins of an early period, to be discussed more particularly later on when we come to treat of the allied remains at Kossaima and in Wady Guderat. Below this limestone shelf and between its steep edge and the flint screes of Jebel

Mushrag is penned the wady, a broad sandy bed full of deep-rooted tamarisk trees. The drinking water is little more than a group of shallow pools, green with slime, in the sandy bottom, which is sodden and slippery with the heavy damp for many yards around. The place is peculiarly unattractive, but at the same time very wet, and near it must have been a constant camping ground. It cannot, however, have had any large or settled population, since the possible plough-land is limited to the wady bed, and is sufficient only for the needs of an inconsiderable village.

In passing from Muweilleh to Kossaima the great road to Syria is left to the north, and a smaller track, tending steadily uphill, leads in about an hour to this, the second spring of the northern plain. In Palmer's day Kossaima seems to have been a very barren spot, (Photographs of Kossaima, before Bramley, are to be found in Musil's Fdom, vol. ii, pp. 183, 185.) but the Sinai Government, when establishing a police post here, dug out the spring, and cemented about it a basin with a long canal to take the overflow (a stream as big as Ain Kadeis) to a drinking trough and reservoir. Below the reservoir the soldiers have made a garden in which are palm trees and fruits. The plain for a very wide space about the water-head is covered with great beds of rushes, and white with salt. The government post consists of two or three stone-built houses on little limestone hummocks above the spring. Beyond them on the north are some early graves, discussed in Chapter II with the other graves we found.

III. Ain el Guderat

From Kossaima the path to Ain el Guderat leads at first over a plain of flat soil dotted with small bushes as far as the mouth of Wady el Ain, and then up this great wady for about a mile to the sharp turn on the left which leads into the tributary valley of Wady Ain el Guderat, called also locally Wady el Ain for saving of breath. The flat soil of the Kossaima plain is sand in summer, and very treacherous mud after rain. The Arabs plough some part of it each autumn, and when the rain is plentiful their crops are splendid, but if there is no rain they lose their labour for that year. The extent of clear soil hereabout makes this one of the most important plough-lands of the neighbourhood. It is now not fully cultivated, since the needs of its present scanty population are satisfied with a little part; but there is room enough for the work of many men. Wady el Ain the greater is rather stony, but with here and there patches of clear ground, reputed better than the plain outside for the amount of moisture always present in the soil. Nearly every winter this wady runs down in a little flood, and very often in its upper course one can find water in the water-holes (themail).

The smaller valley, Wady Ain el Guderat, opens unpromisingly from Wady el Ain on the east. The usual road cuts across low banks of limestone dust and chippings, like giant rubbish heaps, which extend from the north side of the tributary valley to beyond its middle. After them comes the rough mouth of the water-course, and beyond again, going southward, hummocky ground of crumbled limestone. This debris of floods in the entrance explains how travellers looking for Ain el Guderat have gone up and down the main Wady el Ain without seeing any traces of it. It is quite a narrow valley, edged by hill slopes so precipitous and lofty that it may well be called a gorge. On the south the wall of these limestone steeps is for a great way unbroken, falling at times in a sheer drop of a hundred feet to the soft grass of the meadowst beneath. On the north it is a little more open, in that there are two or three places where side valleys run in, and offer difficult ways to the Arabs when they want to pass out directly northward to Ras Seram and Syria. On the west, across the main Wady el Ain, the view is cut off abruptly by the knife edge of Jebel el Ain, with a stone heap on the crest of it. To the east is the heart of the hills (Plate XIV). These cliff-boundaries shelter the valley from the sun of the morning and evening, and enclose it in an air of remoteness and quiet somewhat spoiled by the resonant echoes they throw back.

When first seen from the foothills of the mouth the lower part of the valley appears green or yellow with the crop according to the season, and has goodly acacia trees standing at intervals along its edge. The soil is many feet deep, and of very clean earth, a little light perhaps, but wonderfully good for Sinai. From the fading out of the cultivated land at the mouth to the source of the water may be two miles or so, and the width of the bottom varies from one hundred to four hundred yards. The watercourse in the middle is not, as in all other valleys of the hills, a sprawling moraine of loose boulders, but is a clear channel, cut five to fifteen feet into the ground, steep banked, and generally from three to ten yards in width. It thus wastes only an inconsiderable part of the valley space, and its depth gives it content enough to carry off all ordinary floods without damage to the fields on each side. An occasional great flood may sweep the whole place, leveling trees and washing out the soil, as happened two years ago; but normally the lower reaches of the torrent-bed are dry except when it is raining, or when the cultivators, having finished the watering of their land, turn the stream of their little canals back into the proper bed.

Each side of the valley is marked off sharply from the hill slopes by a line of large broom bushes, as great as trees, which push their roots into the abandoned ditches of two old irrigation channels. That on the south side is only a dug ditch, winding along the contour of the hills, till it comes to an end in a great Byzantine reservoir situated in the very mouth of the valley, at the junction of its south side with the east side of Wady el Ain. The reservoir is a great work, four-square, and about twenty yards each way, built in the usual style of the precise Greek masonry, laid in line, and it still preserves in one corner the opening of the sluice, which let out its water as required to gardens on the flat land round the elbow of the hills. The reservoir is, however, now long abandoned, half filled with earth and stones, and its conduit is only useful to the rethem trees. (It is perhaps worth noting that Trumbull (Kadesh-Barnea p. 280) suggests that Moses may have mistaken this Christian reservoir for Hazar-Addar of Numbers xxxiv, 4.) The northern aqueduct is carried up higher, and is built of masonry and very poor mortar; it is nearly all destroyed, and, therefore, very difficult to trace. It may also have gone to Wady el Ain, but more probably it was made only to bring water to a little Byzantine village whose remains yet exist in a bay of the northern slope, near the beginning of the outer foothills. The present waterways are only ephemeral, a deeper furrow among the crops, as such canals must always be, made each spring and destroyed each winter in the Arab yearly interchange of plough and fallow.

The plough-land is broadest on the north side of the stream-bed, and on this side also are the threshing floor and corn pits of the Guderat tribe, in front of the ruins of the Byzantine village mentioned above. Behind them, up a valley, the main road goes out to Ras Seram; east of them the valley draws in suddenly; and in the very throat of it lies a small tell, or mound of ruins, blocking up the road (Plate XIII). Against one side of this mound grows a spreading acacia tree; under the other runs the torrent, and round about are heaps of small building stones and pottery and ashes. Round the bend the valley opens out into a splendid field, with some large trees along the stream, and beyond this again are more fields, up to the dam across the water, in which the irrigation ditches have their start. The Arabs do not care to cultivate above this point, and so the winding valley floor is filled by a dense thicket of reeds, in the midst of which the stream, now in long pools eight feet deep, edged with flags and bulrushes, moves more slowly. The spring proper (Ain el Guderat means the spring of the earthenware kettles, or small spouted pots. Whether it refers to the rush of water, in contrast to the slow welling up of Ain Kadeis, or to actual pottery, we know not. The French fathers (Revue Biblique, July, 1906) call it Ain el Mufjer. The spring is sometimes called el Mufjer locally, to distinguish its force: but this is not a proper name.) is yet half a mile higher, where a buttress of limestone runs into the valley (Plate XV). From the foot of it the water gushes out strongly in three little spouts thick as a man's arm, from deep, narrow fissures in the rock. The noise of the falling water, the Arabs say, is so great that a man cannot hear himself speak; perhaps, for the water's sake, they use a gentler utterance than their wont. The plain of reeds goes far above the spring, and the land is still moist. Indeed, five minutes' walk higher up is a built aqueduct of stone and lime leading out of the hill-side and running across the valley. It probably points to another, but now forgotten, spring which watered these upper fields.

IV. The Antiquities of the Kossaima District

In the valley of Ain el Guderat are remains of many periods of occupation. The latest are the Arab graves of the Guderat tribe on the top of the little tell, and the excavated Arab corn-pits at the foot of the Ras Seram road. There are other Mohammedan graves - old ones - below the great Byzantine reservoir in the valley-mouth, which are set in a medley of walls running about the platform below the reservoir. There may have been buildings here, but more probably they are only conduits and retaining walls of terraces in an irrigation scheme; it would be a very good site for water-gardens, and probably on the abandonment of these the Arab conquerors took the ground as a suitable graveyard. The tombs are only rings and ovals of stones very roughly arranged; on some stones were varieties of tribe-marks, and there was one little stone of the flat disk type, common in Byzantine cemeteries, with a rude cross scratched on it. Facing this cemetery, across the valley, is a large underground corn-store of the ordinary bell shape, but lined with rubble masonry all the way up.

Of Byzantine remains the reservoir already described is by far the largest and most important; it and the conduits on each side of the valley prove that in the Byzantine time not only was the whole of the valley-bed proper in cultivation, but work was extended beyond, over what is now the waste land of Wady el Ain. The Greek population must therefore have been more numerous than the present owners of the valley, or have been assured of a larger market for their produce. One can well imagine that in years of drought Ain el Guderat fed all the saints of Central Sinai.

The Byzantine village on the north side of the valley, at the spot where the road to Ras Seram runs into it, is a collection of very simple huts. The remains now visible are those of from fifteen to twenty poor small houses, built in unshaped rubble. The plans of them are not very apparent, for the Guderat tribesmen have dug out their corn-pits among them, and, as their threshing floor is just below, they usually, for a few weeks in each year, move their camp to the old village site, and pile up its stones in a fresh arrangement every time along the back and side curtains of their tents. None the less, the foundations are certainly Byzantine, for the ground all about is red with the hard ribbed pottery of Gaza make, peculiar to Christian ruins everywhere in this part of Sinai. There is no permanent settlement of Arabs in the valley, through their fear of the climate. It is believed that anyone who lies there in summer (whether man pr beast) will be attacked by an intermittent fever of peculiar strength; indeed, even the cooked meat of animals which have fed in the valley is declared dangerous by the local authorities in hygiene. As a matter of fact, the large deep pools of the upper river must be admirable breeding-places for mosquitoes. Starting above this Byzantine village, and running eastward along the hill-top, there is one of the long and puzzling walls which, like those elsewhere in the Negeb, appear to start and go on and end so aimlessly. It is a wall of dry stone, perhaps three-quarters of a mile long in all, and still perfectly preserved. It has been piled up very carelessly, from two to three feet thick, and from three to five feet high. It runs reasonably directly along the hill, never at the crest, but always a little way down the valley slope; it crosses gullies on the hill-side, without varying its height or taking any regard of them; in one place it is broken by plain openings, flanked internally by a square enclosure, a few feet each way, like a pound, or a temporary shelter. Its purpose is mysterious. Being on the downward slope of the hill it would not keep anyone out, and, besides, it runs only from one side-wady to another, and so would not really protect anything. It cannot be meant to keep human beings enclosed, for any child that could crawl would overpass it; nor would it pen any sheep or goat. The only Arab animal that would find such an erection impassable would be a camel, and, perhaps, the wall is the monument of some tribe's exasperation in herding camels. The beasts have a perverse habit of wandering up a steep hill-side and becoming incurably lost, and this wall, if supported by fences across the valley at its two ends, would prevent their escape entirely. The present Guderat tribe disclaim all responsibility for the work; but they are comparatively new-comers in the district.

When walking across the valley of Ain el Guderat between the Byzantine reservoir and the village site, we picked up near the torrent bed some pieces of terra sigillata, the haematite-stained polished pottery of Roman period. The only fragment of recognizable shape seemed to be that of a cup of a very late type. There was also, however, a piece of one of the shallow round-bottomed cups or little bowls of haematitic ware, with classical ornament moulded in relief on the outside, which occur plentifully in North Syria in deposits of the 2nd and 1st centuries B.c. These pottery fragments had almost certainly been brought by water to their present position, and we could find no traces of the site of the Hellenistic settlement from which they probably came.

However, all the rest of Northern Sinai can show ruins and remains as good as these. The great interest of Guderat is in its tell, (First recorded by Dr. Kuhtreiber, in Z.D.P. V., vol. 37, part i.) which seems to contain a ruin of a period not represented elsewhere in the Negeb, save in the but ruins of Muweilleh, the graves at Kossaima, and, perhaps, in the little guard-houses at Bir Birein and Raheiba on the great road between Hebron and Egypt. Tell Ain el Guderat is by far the most important of these, since its walls stand ten feet high, its ground plan is intelligible, and its pottery bears witness to greater wealth and refinement than we suspected in the other places.

The tell is a little mound about 200 feet long and 120 feet broad, fairly regular in shape, and stands now in a heap from twelve to fifteen feet high above the corn-fields. The sides are very steep, and at first the whole thing looks only like a pile of round water-worn pebbles and ashes, without system. This, however, is seen not to be so as soon as one digs anywhere. The water-worn stones then appear as the filling of walls faced, not certainly with ashlar, but with limestone blocks selected off the hill-sides with regard to their squareness of shape and convenience of size for loading on a camel and for laying (Fig. 8). The design of the building was a long rectangle, with square towers of slight sally at the four corners, and a small tower in the middle of each face. The walls were built hugely thick to a height of ten feet above the ground, when their solidity seems to have ceased, and they became mere shells of built stone, with a series of rooms or corridors in their thicknesses. The walls are faced with well-laid blocks, some as much as three feet long, but all thin and light; the filling is of river pebbles, large rough stones, and mud. Between the towers the wall seems to have been sloped out in a talus, which near its base lines up with the outer faces of the towers; from that point it was carried down vertically for perhaps two or three courses to the ground. In our view the plan of the building is superior to its execution.

Fig. 8: Fortress at Ain el Guderat

We dug into one of the rooms on the top of the wall and found that its sides were standing a yard or more high, and from this, and from a good deal of surface-scratching while following walls, we have ventured to reconstruct tentatively the whole building as described. It demands, of course, far more thorough investigation than we gave it, with our two or three men, in the three days we were able to spare. Captain A. W Jennings-Bramley, Governor of Sinai, was good enough to grant us an emergency permission for the sondages which we undertook.

So far as the western half of the fort is concerned, a single row of chambers in the wall top, and the tower rooms, seem to have been the only accommodation provided. The ground level within the high walls of this half was very low, full of soft dust and quite clear of any indication of walls. The depth of it is, perhaps, only six or seven feet. The eastern half is, however, a sort of platform, level with the present top of the enceinte, and with obvious signs of party walls that crossed and recrossed it, making a complex of chambers. We had no time to ascertain to what depth these inner walls descended; probably the whole end of the fort is banked up, since otherwise they would be from twelve to fifteen feet high. Outside the main wall of the fort on this eastern side was a low tongue of land bearing traces of less important buildings. We could see no signs of a gateway leading into the fort, though such presumably exists.

As seen on paper, the plan might recall that of the great fort at Abda; actually its style of construction distinguishes the building altogether from any Byzantine-Christian or Arab work that we have seen elsewhere. The plan again is not unlike that of some Egyptian forts of the XIIth and XVIIIth Dynasties; the material is different, for the mud-brick of the Nile valley was an impossibility in the Sinaitic desert, but the parallel is perhaps not insignificant. A better indication of date is given by the pottery. There was not much of this upon the surface; light ashes, rubble and building-stones from the fallen walls and lumps of clay, that may have formed the roof, had buried everything; but in the little room which we cleared and in the debris of the sides of the mound we found any quantity of broken sherds. There were both wheel-made and hand-made wares, but the Egyptian types for which we first hoped failed us altogether: the pottery was purely Syrian. Many large vessels were of a greenish grey clay, turned on the wheel, not unlike the `gulla' wares of the Nile, but not to be identified as such. One piece of a cup or tumbler in strongly ribbed reddish clay, which might by Egyptian analogy be late, has parallels in Syria that date back to the tenth or twelfth centuries B.c. There were fairly numerous sherds of the line-burnished haematitic ware (hand-made) which occurred also in the guard-houses of the Darb el Shur and have been, in South Palestine, assigned by Macalister to the Second Semitic period (perhaps rather they belong to the whole period 1800 - 900 B.C.).

Some fragments of fine painted pottery, at first sight closely resembling some Cypriote fabrics, might belong (also on the analogy of South Palestinian sites) to the end of the second millennium B.C. Together with these, there were fragments of rough hand-made wares, thin-walled, of gritty clay burnt very hard in an open hearth, which are identical with those found in the graves at the mouth of Wady el Ain el Guderat, in the ring-graves of Kossaima, and in the but dwellings by the Muweilleh springs.

The evidence furnished by our brief scratching of the soil is not enough to fix the date of the building with any accuracy. It enables us, however, to say that we have here in the neck of the wady, commanding the finest water-supply in all the desert, a building which from the thickness of its walls may well have been a fort, of Syrian or Semitic, not of Egyptian origin. It is connected in culture and probably in date with the early hut-settlements and graves that cluster round the other water-sources of the district. It was occupied for a comparatively brief period, in the latter part of the second or the beginning of the first millennium before our era. Various tempting theories lie obvious to hand, but only thorough excavation can profitably solve the character of what is beyond question an interesting and important site.

In the valley of Ain el Guderat we found a worked flint. It may of course have been a prehistoric one, and, if so, the place would be distinguished as the only Stone Age site we noted in our part of Sinai: but more probably it is of Arab manufacture and comparatively modern. The tribesman is a great maker of flints, and Ain el Guderat, with its flocks and herds, is a place where they must use many flints each year. Another unpromising object is a cave in the south wall of the valley: it is a very simple hole, hewn in the cliff-face about three hundred yards above the tell. Its mouth lies about a hundred feet above the ground, and is reached by an easy path. The cliff is of very soft stone, and so the roof has scaled in large masses which bury the floor deep in chalk and dust. The opening of the cave is very nearly its greatest width: it seems once to have had side chambers like a Byzantine tomb, but there is no evidence at all of early date. The Arabs say that it was dug to extract salt from the rock.

The early graves of the Guderat valley are treated by themselves in Chapter 11, p. 30. Historically the point of importance in connection with them is that their pottery is that of the tell (except for the lack of painted ware) and that of the Kossaima graves combined. They thus provide a useful link between the various remains of the Kossaima district. The graves at Kossaima also are described in full in the chapter dealing with burials (Chapter II, p. 29 - 30), and from them one may presume a small rude settlement in Kossaima also at the Guderat period. We were not successful in finding any house ruins there: they may have been destroyed, or we may have missed them; but the point is unimportant as we found plenty of dwelling-houses and a few graves of exactly the same type at Muweilleh. The ruins there, r close to the water-pools and the small cave described by Palmer, appear to be those of a little village containing perhaps thirty `houses' of a temporary character. The houses are very small, some rectangular, some circular or semicircular. They are now represented by very low heaps of large pebbles, so few in number that they must nearly all have been like the but of our guide from Ras Seram. His house, which he had furnished with a coffee-pot (for making shrub-coffee) and a water-skin, was a crescent of piled-up stones, three or four courses high, caulked with tamarisk leaves, and topped with tamarisk boughs to keep off the wind. He had rested a few branches horizontally across the wall, anchoring them with stones, to provide himself with the luxury of a roof: if he was cold he lit a fire between the horns of the crescent. The only huts at Muweillah not like this were two or three more magnificent rectangular ones, belonging to those fortunate owners who had a tent-cloth to roof them in. The pottery about the settlement was almost entirely the roughest hand-made type of the district. There were only two or three sherds of the finer wheel-made wares.

The castle of Ain el Guderat is so enormously better than the remains about it that one is inclined to ascribe its erection to some outside agency. It is as much above the huts of Muweilleh as the police station of Kossaima is above the but of our old guide from Ras Seram. On the other hand, of course, there is no land and no water at Muweilleh that would justify a large village, The Rev. Caleb Hauser, in the P.E.F. Quarterly of April, 1908, does not agree with us here. He identifies this Muweilleh with the biblical Makkelath, and the Latin Mohaila, the military station in the Notitia. In Christian times, he says, it must have been the seat of an archbishopric, since Palmer found there traces of Christian occupation. His first point is etymology, in which we are incompetent; in regard to his second there are no material classical remains to make probable a Roman post. As for the Christian remains, Palmer, whom he quotes, in describing them, is carefully exact upon the two insignificant and widely separated holes in the chalk which still exist, each with a little cross in red painted on the wall. (Pere Janssen, in the Revue, Biblique for July, 1906, has drawn plans of these caves.) All Sinai, Palestine, and Syria are littered with similar remains. And there is no reason why these particular caves should have ever contained an archbishop. There was probably another Muweilleh below Aila on the road to Sinai. It is, unfortunately, a very common Arab place-name.

V. Kadesh-Barnea

It would perhaps be improper to close this chapter without any reference to the vexed question of Kadesh-Barnea. The unfortunate vagueness of the Pentateuch geographically, and its lack of synthesis historically, cause the end of all such controversies to be a deeper confusion than the beginning: therefore, so far as possible, we have kept out of our pages any reference to the barren literature of today which wrangles over indeterminable Bible sites. In most cases the strife is about a Hebrew name, and its possible reappearance in a modern Arab form. That glib catchword `The Unchanging East' has blinded writers to the continual ebb and flow of the inhabitants of the desert. It is hopeless to look for an Arab tribe which has held its present dira for more than a very few generations: and to expect continuity of name, as in settled districts in Syria, is vanity. A second factor to be remembered is that the Jews were an unscientific people, anxious only to get through the inhospitable desert as soon as might be. Research into local nomenclature is today very difficult among the tribesmen; and it is not likely that' Moses was more patient and painstaking than a modern surveyor. Probably, as often as not, the Israelites named for themselves their own camps, or unconsciously confounded a native name in their carelessness.

At the same time, by good or ill fortune, the problem of Kadesh-Barnea is a little narrower and a little more documented than most. We are told that the Jews left Ezion-Geber, and went to the Wilderness of Zin, which is Kadesh; and that the latter touched on the boundaries of Edom. We know where Ezion-Geber was, more or less, and where Edom was; though there is not the faintest light upon her boundaries. Somewhere between these points the children of Israel seem to have spent nearly forty years. We have no safe clue as to the numbers of the tribes, nor do we know their social condition; and this capital ignorance qualifies all discussion as to how they were disposed. There must, however, have been at least some thousands of them. They may have been genuine nomads, scattering to all the corners of the desert in groups of two or three tents, in which case Moses was an even better organizer than we knew, to gather his people again and launch them against Palestine as a disciplined army; or they may have been a tribal group keeping to one district and moving a mile or two in this direction or in that as they devoured the pasture. If this second view be accepted, then it is definitely our opinion that only in the Kossaima district are to be found enough water and green stuffs to maintain so large a tribe for so long, and that therefore the Wilderness of Zin and Kadesh-Barnea must be the country of Ain el Guderat, Kossaima, Muweilleh, and Ain Kadeis. The similarity between the names Kadeis and Kadesh need not be a mere coincidence, for the former is just as likely to be of ancient as of recent origin. The extension by the Israelites of what is now the name of a small isolated valley to a whole district can be explained by the fact that travellers coming from Akaba would happen first on the low country at that valley's mouth, a country less detestable than the wastes they had just left, and might easily, as strangers, call the whole plain after their first watering-place. On the other hand, the assumption, necessary to our minds, that the place-name was extended to a district embracing other and better water-sources, undermines the identification of Ain Kadeis valley as the scene of events related as happening at Kadesh. These may have taken place anywhere in the Kossaima neighbourhood. We are told that at one well in Kadesh the Israelites found the water insufficient - and if there were more than twenty families of them, and the spring were the present Ain Kadeis, then their complaints must be considered moderate. Thereupon Moses produced the water of Meribah, so called to distinguish it from the first well. Certainly it is useless to look for this copious fount in the barren gorge of Ain Kadeis, unless we suppose that it dried up as miraculously as it appeared. At a later date Moses, writing to the King of Edom, described Kadesh as `a city in the uttermost of thy border' (Numbers xx, 16). The word `city' is a vague one, and probably only means a settlement, perhaps a district, like the modern Arabic beled which is used to mean town, village, district, or country. In the former sense it might be used of such hut-settlements as those of Muweilleh and Kossaima; but would most temptingly apply to the fortress of Ain Guderat, should we assume - we cannot prove it - that the fort was already built when Moses came.

Strategically the Kossaima district agrees well with what we know of Kadesh-Barnea. The Darb el Shur, the road of their forefathers, stretching westwards before the eyes of the mutinous Israelites, suggested an easy return to Egypt (Numbers xiv, 4); the same road runs northwards to Hebron, whither the spies went up to view the Land of Promise (Numbers xiii, 21). From the south runs up the main road from Elath, one of the stations on the Exodus route. Westwards there is a choice of roads; one can go either through Bit Hafir and the Abda district by what is now called the Darb el Sultan, the King's Highway, into the Araba, or by way of Wady Lussan, a little to the south, to Bit Mayein, (Very carefully examined by Pere Jaussen in the Revue Biblique, July, 1906, with a sketch map, and a good description of the way.) and thence by the Jerafi wady system to sundry roads leading into the Araba directly in front of Jebel Harun, the traditional Mount Hor. To choose today out of the innumerable hills of the country one particular peak to be the scene of Aaron's burial shows, perhaps, an uncatholic mind; but as long as the tradition of Jebel Harun passes muster, so long the existence of recognized roadways between the mountain and the Kossaima plain must influence our judgment. These roads running out to north, south, east and west - all directions in which journeys were planned or made from Kadesh-Barnea - together with its abundance of water and wide stretch of tolerable soil, distinguish the Kossaima plain from any other district in the Southern Desert, and may well mark it out as the headquarters of the Israelites during their forty years of discipline.


By Steve Rudd: Contact the author for comments, input or corrections.


Click to View