The Land of Midian, by Richard F. Burton

Chapter III.

Breaking New Ground to Magháir Shu’ayb.

On January 9th we left ‘Aynúnah by the Hajj-road, and passed along the Quarry Hill visited during my first journey: the crest has old cuttings and new cuttings, the latter still worked for Bedawi headstones. The dwarf pillar with the mysterious cup is reflected by the Nubians, who hollow out the upper part of the stela to a depth of eight or ten inches without adding any ornament. Hence, perhaps, the Sawahíli custom of the inserted porcelain-plate.

After issuing from the stony and sandy gorge which forms the short cut, we regained the Hajj-road, and presently sighted a scene readily recognized. Fronting us, the northern horizon was formed by the azure wall of Tayyib Ism,32 the “Mountain of the Good Name,” backed by the far grander peaks of Jebel Mazhafah: the latter rises abruptly from the bluer Gulf of El–Akabah, and both trend to their culminating points inland or eastward. On our right followed the unpicturesque metalliferous heap of Jebel Zahd or ‘Aynúnah Mountain, whose Brèche de Roland seems to show from every angle; its chocolate-coloured heights contain, they say, furnaces and “Mashghal,” or ateliers, where the Marú (“quartz”) was worked for ore. In places it is backed by the pale azure peaks of Jebel el-Lauz. This “Mountain of Almonds” is said to take its name from the trees, probably bitter, which flourish there as within the convent-walls of St. Catherine, Sinai. They grow, I was told, high up in the clefts and valleys; and here, also, are furnaces both above and below. Of its white, sparkling, and crystallized marble, truly noble material, a tombstone was shown to me; and I afterwards secured a slab with a broken Arabic inscription, and a ball apparently used for rubbing down meal. The Lauz appears to be the highest mountain in Northern Midian-land; unfortunately, it is to be reached only viâ Sharaf, two long stations ahead, and I could not afford time for geographical research to the prejudice of mineralogical. Its nearer foot-hill is the Jebel Khulayf; and this feature contains, according to the Bedawin, seven wells or pits whose bottom cannot be seen. Between the “Almond Block” and its northern continuation, Jebel Munífah, we saw a gorge containing water, and sheltering at times a few tents of the ‘Amírát Arabs; in the same block we also heard of a Sarbút or rock said to be written over.

The regular cone of El–Maklá’ ends the prospect in the north-eastern direction. Looking westward, we see the ghastly bare and naked Secondary formation, the Rughám of the Bedawin, not to be confounded with Rukhám (“alabaster or saccharine marble”). We afterwards traced this main feature of the ‘Akabah Gulf as far south as the Wady Hamz. It is composed of the sulphates of lime — alabaster, gypsum, and the plaster with which the Tertiary basin of Paris supplies the world; and of the carbonates of lime — marble, chalk, kalkspar, shells, and eggs. The broken crests of the Jibál el-Hamrá, the red hills backing Makná,33 and the jagged black peaks of their eastern parallel, the Kalb el-Nakhlah, look like plutonic reefs or island-chains emerging from the Secondary sea. The latter, whose bleached and skeleton white is stained, here and there, by greenish-yellow sands, chlorite and serpentine, stands boldly out from the chaos of purpling mountains composing Sinai, and ending southwards in the azure knobs of three-headed Tirán Island. The country, in fact, altogether changed: quartz had disappeared, and chlorite had taken its place.

We passed the night at El-‘Usaylah, a Ghadir (or “hollow”) without drainage, which the sinking of water cakes with mud and covers with an irregular circle of salsolaceous trees, a patch of dark metallic green. This “‘Usaylah” is eaten by camels, but rejected by mules. Here our post reached us from Suez on the seventh day, having started on the 2nd inst. A dollar was offered to the Bedawi, who eyed the coin indignantly, declaring that it ought to be a ginni (guinea). I had also given him some tobacco, and repented, as usual, my generosity.

Next day we finished the last and larger part of the second pilgrim-stage from El–Muwaylah. Our Arabs had been “dodging;” and, much disappointed about converting a two days’ into a three days’ march, they punished us by feeding their camels on the road, and by not joining us till the evening. As before, there was no game till we approached the springs; yet tufts and scatters of tamarisks, Samur (Inga unguis) and Arák (Salvadora), looked capable of sheltering it. And now, beyond the level and monotonous Desert, we began to see our destination; — palms and tufty trees at the mouth of a masked Wady. This watercourse runs between a background of reddish-brown rock, the foot-hills and sub-ranges of the grand block, “El-Zánah,” to the north; and a foreground of pale-yellow, stark-naked gypsum, apparently tongue-shaped. Above the latter tower two sister-quoins of ruddy material, the Shigdawayn, to which a tale hangs.

Presently we fell into and ascended the great Wady ‘Afár, which begins in the Hismá, or Red Region, east of the double coast-range. After receiving a network of Secondary valleys that enable it to flow a torrent, as in France, every ten to twelve years, it falls into the Mínat el-‘Ayánát, a little port for native craft, which will presently be visited. We left this Wady at a bend, some two hundred metres wide, called the “Broad of the Jujube,” from one of the splendid secular trees that characterize North Midian. Near the camping-ground we shall find another veteran Zizyphus, whose three huge stems, springing from a single base, argue a green old age. Here both banks of the Fiumara are lined with courses of rough stone, mostly rounded and rolled boulders, evidently the ruins of the water-conduits which served to feed the rich growth of the lower ‘Afa’l. The vegetation of the gorge-mouth developed itself to dates and Daums, tamarisks and salsolaceæ, out of which scuttled a troop of startled gazelles. We turned the right-hand jamb of the “Gate,” and found ourselves at the water and camping-ground of Magháir Shu’ayb.

The general appearance of the station-basin is novel, characteristic, and not without its charms, especially when the sunset paints the plain with the red, red gold, and washes every barren peak with the tenderest, loveliest rosy pink. Under an intensely clear sapphire-coloured sky rises a distant rim of broken and chocolate-coloured trap-hills, set off by pale hillocks and white flats of gypsum, here and there crystallized by contact with the plutonics. The formation mostly stands up either in stiff cones or in long spines and ridges, whose perpendicular wall-like crests are impossible to climb. The snowy cliffs rest upon shoulders disposed at the “angle of rest,” and the prevailing dull drab-yellow of the base is mottled only where accidental fracture or fall exposes the glittering salt-like interior. The gashes in the flank made by wind and rain disclose the core — grey granite or sandstone coloured by manganese. The greater part of the old city was built of this alabaster-like34 material. When new, it must have been a scene in fairy-land; Time has now degraded it to the appearance and the consistence of crumbling salt. The quoin-shaped hills of the foreground, all uptilted and cliffing to the north, show the curious mauve and red tints of the many-coloured clays called in the Brazil Tauá. Even the palms are peculiar. Their tall, upright crests of lively green fronds, their dead-brown hangings, and their trunks charred black by the careless Bedawi, form a quaint contrast with the genteel, nattily dressed, and cockneyfied brooms of Egypt and the Hejaz. And that grandeur may not be wanting to the view, on the east rise the peak and pinnacles of the Almond Mountain (Jebel el-Lauz), whilst northwards the Jebel el-Za’nah, a huge dome, forms the horizon.

This place, evidently the capital of Madyan Proper, is the [Greek word] which Ptolemy (vi. 7) places amongst his “Mesogeian towns” in north lat. 28 degrees 15 minutes;35 and it deserves more than the two pages of description which Ruppell bestowed upon it.36 We will notice its natural features before proceeding to the remains of man. Here the Wady ‘Afár takes the name of “El–Badá.” Sweeping from west to east, it is deflected to a north-south line, roughly speaking, by the gate of the Shigdawayn, twin-hills standing nearly east and west of one another. Now become a broad, well-defined, tree-dotted bed, with stiff silt banks, here and there twenty to twenty-five feet high, it runs on a meridian for about a mile, including the palm-orchard and the camping-ground. It then turns the west end of the Jebel el-Safrá, a mass of gypsum on the left bank, and it bends to the east of south, having thus formed a figure of Z. After escaping from the imprisoning hills, the Fiumara bed, now about three-quarters of a mile broad, is bisected longitudinally by a long and broken lump of chloritic or serpentine sandstone; and rises in steps towards the right bank, upon which the pilgrims camp. Reaching the plain, the Wady flares out wildly, containing a number of riverine islands, temporary, but sometimes of considerable size. It retains sufficient moisture to support a clump of palms — that which we saw from afar; — it bends to the south-east, and, lastly, it trends seaward.

The “Water of Bada’” springs from the base of the hill El–Safrá, oozing out in trickling veins bedded in soft dark mud. It can be greatly increased by opening the fountains, and economized by a roofing of mat: we tried this plan, which only surprised the unready Arab. After swinging to the left bank and running for a few yards, it sinks in the sand; yet on both sides there are signs of labour, showing that, even of late years, the valley has seen better days. Long leats and watercourses have been cut in the clay, and are still lined with the white-flowered “Rijlah,” whose nutritive green leaf is eaten, raw or boiled, by the Fellahs of Egypt: the wild growth, however, is mostly bitter. On both sides are little square plots fenced against sheep and goats by a rude abattis of stripped and dead boughs, Jujube and acacia. Young dates have been planted in pits; some are burnt and others are torn; for the Bedawi, mischievous and destructive as the Cynocephalus, will neither work nor allow others to work. The ‘Ushash or frond-and-reed huts, much like huge birds’-nests, are scattered about in small groups everywhere except near the water. Wherever a collection of bones shows a hyena’s lair, the hunters have built a screen of dry stone.

In fact, Magháir Shu’ayb was spoken of as an Arab “Happy Valley.” But its owners, the Masá’íd, a spiritless tribe numbering about seventy tents, are protégés of the Tagaygát. This Huwayti clan is on bad terms with Khizr and ‘Brahim bin Makbúl; and the brother Shaykhs of the ‘Imrán, recognized by the Egyptian Government, claim the land where they have only the right of transit. Bedawi clans and sub-tribes always combine against stranger families; but when there is no foreign “war,” they amuse themselves with pilling and plundering, sabring and shooting one another. I believe that the palms were roasted to death by the ‘Imrán, although the Shaykhs assured me that the damage was done this year, by a careless Mas’údi when cooking his food. The tribe appears to be Egypto–Arab, like the Huwayta’t and the Ma’ázah, having congeners at Ghazzah (Gaze) and at Ras el-Wady, near Egyptian Tell el-Kebir. Consequently Rüppell is in error when he suspects that die Musaiti are ein Judenstamm. The unfortunates fled towards the sea and left the valley desolate about seven months ago. Their Shaykh is dead, and a certain Agíl bin Muhaysin, a greedy, foolish kind of fellow, mentioned during my First Journey, aspires to the dignity and the profit of chieftainship. He worried me till I named a dog after him, and then he disappeared.

The ruins, of large extent for North Midian, and equal to those of all the towns we have seen put together, begin with the palm-orchard on the left bank. The Jebel el-Safrá shows the foundations of what may have been the arx. It is a double quoin, the taller to the south, the lower to the north, and both bluff in the latter direction. The dip is about 45 degrees; the upper parts of the dorsa are scatters of white on brown-yellow stone; and below it, where the surface has given way, appear mauve-coloured strata, as if stained by manganese. Viewed in profile from the west, the site of El–Muttali’37, as the Arabs call the hauteville, becomes a tall, uptilted wedge; continued northwards by the smaller feature, and backed by a long sky-line, a high ridge of plaster, pale coloured with glittering points.

This isolated “Yellow Hill,” a “horse” in Icelandic parlance, rising about two hundred feet above the valley-sole, is separated by a deep, narrow gorge from the adjacent eastern range. The slopes, now water-torn and jagged, may formerly have declined in regular lines, and evidently all were built over to the crest like those of Syrian Safet. The foundations of walls and rock-cut steps are still found even on the far side of the eastern feature. The knifeback is covered with the foundations of what appears to be a fortified Laura or Palace; a straight street running north-south, with 5 degrees west (mag.). It serves as base for walls one metre and a half thick, opening upon it like rooms: of these we counted twenty on either side. At the northern end of the “horse,” which, like the southern, has been weathered to a mere spur, is a work composed of two semicircles fronting to the north and east. A bastion of well-built wall in three straight lines overhangs the perpendicular face of the eastern gorge: in two places there are signs of a similar defence to the south, but time and weather have eaten most of it away. The ground sounds hollow, and the feet sink in the crumbling heaps: evidently the whole building was of Rughám (gypsum); and in the process of decay it has become white as blocks of ice, here and there powdered with snow.

On the narrow, flat ledge, between the western base of this Safrá and the eastern side of the Bada’ valley, lie masses of ruin now become mere rubbish; bits of wall built with cut stone, and water-conduits of fine mortar containing, like that of the Pyramids, powdered brick and sometimes pebbles. We carried off a lump of sandstone bearing unintelligible marks, possibly intended for a man and a beast. We called it “St. George and the Dragon,” but the former is afoot — possibly the Bedawin stole his steed. There was a frustum or column-drum of fine white marble, hollowed to act as a mortar; like the Moslem headstone of the same material, it is attributed to the Jebel el-Lauz, where ancient quarries are talked of. There were also Makrákah (“rub-stones”) of close-grained red syenite, and fragments of the basalt handmills used for quartz-grinding. Part of a mortar was found, made of exceedingly light and porous lava.

South-east of the hauteville falls in the now rugged ravine, Khashm el-Muttalí, “Snout of the high” (town). It leads to the apex of the coralline formations, scattered over with fragments of gypsum, here amorphous, there crystalline or talc-like, and all dazzling white as powdered sugar. Signs of tent foundations and of buildings appear in impossible places; and the heights bear two Burj or “watchtowers,” one visible afar, and dominating from its mamelon the whole land. The return to the main valley descends by another narrow gorge further to the south-east, called Sha’b el-Darak, or “Strait of the Shield:” the tall, perpendicular, and overhanging walls, apparently threatening to fall, would act testudo to an Indian file of warriors. High up the right bank of this gut we saw a tree-trunk propped against a rock by way of a ladder for the treasure-seeker. The Sha’b-sole is flat, with occasional steps and overfalls of rock, polished like mirrors by the rain-torrents; the mouth shows remains of a masonry-dam some fourteen feet thick by twenty-one long; and immediately below it are the bases of buildings and watercourses.

Walking down the left bank of the great Wady, and between these secondary gorges that drain the “Yellow Hill,” we came upon a dwarf mound of dark earth and rubbish. This is the Siyághah (“mint and smiths’ quarter”), a place always to be sought, as Ba’lbak and Palmyra taught me. Remains of tall furnaces, now level with the ground, were scattered about; and Mr. Clarke, long trained to find antiques, brought back the first coins picked up in ancient Midian. The total gathered, here and in other parts of Magháir Shu’ayb, was 258, of which some two hundred were carried home untouched; the rest, treated with chloritic and other acids, came out well. One was a silver oval which may or may not have been a token. Eleven were thick discs, differing from the normal type; unfortunately the legends are illegible. The rest, inform bits of green stuff, copper and bronze, were glued together by decay, and apparently eaten out of all semblance of money until the verdigris of ages is removed.

All are cast like the Roman “as”, before B.C. 217, and some show the tail. The distinguishing feature is the human eye; not the outa of Horus,38 so well known to those who know the Pyramids, but the last trace of Athene’s profile. Two are Roman: a Nerva with S.C. on the reverse; and a Claudius Augustus, bearing by way of countermark a depressed oblong, of 20/100 by 14/100 (of inch), with a raised figure, erect, draped, and holding a sceptre or thyrsus. There is also a Constantius struck at Antioch. The gem of the little collection was a copper coin, thinly encrusted with silver, proving that even in those days the Midianites produced “smashers”: similarly, the Egyptian miners “did” the Pharaoh by inserting lead into hollowed gold. The obverse shows the owl in low relief, an animal rude as any counterfeit presentment of the [Greek words] ever found in Troy. It has the normal olive-branch, but without the terminating crescent (which, however, is not invariably present) on the proper right, whilst the left shows a poor imitation of the legend [Greek word] (NH). The silvering of the reverse has been so corroded that no signs of the goddess’s galeated head are visible. My friend, Mr. W. E. Hayns, of the Numismatic Society, came to the conclusion that it is a barbaric Midianitish imitation of the Greek tetradrachm, which in those days had universal currency, like the shilling and the franc. The curious bits of metal, which also bear the owl, may add to our knowledge of the Nabathaean coins, first described, I believe, by the learned Duc de Luynes.39

Another interesting “find” was a flat-bottomed, thick-walled clay crucible of small size (2 10/16 inches high by 2 4/16 inches across the mouth), exactly resembling the article picked up at Hamámát. The latter, however, contains a remnant of litharge, possibly showing that the old Egyptians worked the silver, which may have been supplied by the Colorado quartz.

I would here crave leave to make a short excursus to the ancient Ophirs of Egypt Proper, where, we are told by an inscription in the treasury of Ramses the Great (fourteen centuries before Christ), the gold and silver mines yielded per annum a total of 32,000,000 minæ = £90,000,000. Dr. H. Brugsch–Bey first drew attention to Hamámát, where, as he had learned from Diodorus (i. 49 — iii 12) and from the papyri, the precious metals had been extensively worked. The “Wells of Hama’ma’t” lie between Keneh on the Nile and Kusayr (Cosseir) on the Red Sea; and the land is held by the Abábdah Arabs, who have taken charge, from time immemorial, of the rich commercial caravans. The formation of the country much resembles that of Midian; and the metalliferous veins run from northeast to south-west. In Arabia, however, the filons are of unusual size; in Africa they are small, the terminating fibrils, as it were, of the Asiatic focus; while the Dark Continent lacks that wealth of iron which characterizes the opposite coast.

By the courtesy of Generals Stone and Purdy I was enabled, after return to Cairo in May, 1878, to inspect the collection. Admirably arranged in order of place, and poor as well disposed, it is, nevertheless, useful to students; and it was most interesting to us. The only novelty is asbestos produced in the schist: the raw material is now imported by the United States, and used for a variety of purposes. It is said to exist in Mount Sinai; we found none in Midian, where the schist formations are of great extent, probably because we did not look for it. The collection was made by Colonel Colston; and Mr. L. H. Mitchell, a mining engineer attached to the Egyptian Staff, spent several weeks spalling sundry tons of quartz. After finding a speck of gold, the work was considered to be done. General Stone, however, sensibly deprecated any attempt to exploit the minerals: the country lacks wood and water, and the expense of camel-transport from Hamámát to Kusayr, and thence in ships to Suez, would swallow up all the profits.

That Egypt was immensely rich in old days we know from several sources. Appian tells us that the treasury of Ptolemy Philadelphus contained 740,000 talents; and assuming with Ebers40 the Egyptian at half the Æginetan, we have the marvellous sum of £83,250,000. According to Diodorus (i. 62), the treasury of Rhampsinit, concerning which Herodotus (ii. 121, 122) heard a funny story from his interpreter, contained 4,000,000 talents, equal to at least £450,000,000. This rich king’s treasure-house has been found portrayed in the far-famed Temple of Medinat Habú: the mass of wealth, gold, silver, copper, and spices, is enormous; and, while the baser metals are in bars, the precious are stored in heaps, sacks, and vases.

The gold-mines of the old Coptos-plain, the modern Kobt, south of Keneh, are preserved to all time by the earliest known map. It has survived; whilst those of the Milesian Anaximander (B.C. 610–547), of Hekataeus (ob. B.C. 4 76), also from Miletus and called the “Father of Geography” (Ebers), and of Ptolemy the Pelusian are irretrievably lost. A papyrus in the Turin Museum contains a plan of the mineral region spoken of in two stelœ, those of Radesiyyah and Kuban, describing the supply of drinking-water introduced into the desert between Kuban and the Red Sea. Chabas41 has published a coloured facsimile of this map: the gold-containing mountains are tinted red, and the words “Tu en nub” (Mons aureus) are written over them in hieratics.

The only modern gold-workings of Egypt are in the Mudíriyyat (Nomos) of Famaka, the frontier town, better known as Fayzoghlú from its adjacent heights. The washings were visited lately (March, 1878) by my enterprising friend, Dr. P. Matteucci, and M. Gessi. In old days this local Cayenne had a very bad name; convicts were deported here with a frightful mortality. It is still a station for galley-slaves, and it has a considerable garrison, but we no longer hear of an abnormal fatality. The surface was much turned over by the compulsory miners, and European geologists and experts were sent to superintend them; at last the diggings did not pay and were abandoned. But the natives do by “rule of thumb,” despite their ignorance of mineralogy, without study of ground, and lacking co-ordination of labour, what the Government failed to do. They have not struck the chief vein’ if any exist; but, during the heavy rains of the Kharif (“autumn”) in the valley of the Túmát river, herds of slaves are sent yearly to wash gold, and they find sufficient to supply the only known coin — bars or ingots.

Beyond the Siyághah, the left bank is gashed by the ravines draining the south-eastern prolongation of the “Yellow Hill.” Water cuts through this rotten formation of rubbish like a knife into cheese; forming deep chasms, here narrow, there broad, with walls built up, as it were, of fragments, and ready to be levelled by the first rains. The lines of street and the outlines of tenements can be dimly traced, while revetments of rounded boulders show artificial watercourses and defences against the now dried-up stream. The breadth of this, the eastern settlement, varies with the extent of the ledge between the gypsum-hills and the sandy Wady; the length may be a kilometre. The best preserved traces of crowded building end with the south-eastern spur of the Jebel el-Safrá. Beyond them is a huge cemetery. The ancient graves are pits in the ground; a few still uncovered, the many yawning wide, and all of them ignoring orientation. Those of the moderns, on the contrary, front towards Meccah. The Bedawin of this country seem ever to prefer for their last homes the most ancient sites; they place the body in a pit, covered with a large slab or a heap of stones, but they never fill in the hollow, as is usual among Moslems, with earth. The arrangements suit equally well the hyena and the skull-collector; and thus I was able to make a fair collection of Bedawi crania.

At the south-eastern end of the outliers projected by the Jebel el-Safrá, where a gentle slope of red earth falls towards the valley-bank, is the only group of building of which any part is still standing. The site may be old, but the present ruins are distinctly mediæval, dating probably from the days of the Egyptian “Mameluke” Sultans. Beginning from below and to the south-west is a Hauz, or “cistern,” measuring twenty-six by nineteen and a half metres, with a depth of nine to ten feet. The material is cut sandstone, cemented outside with mortar containing the normal brick-crumbs and pebbles, and inside mixed with mud. At the north-eastern and south-western corners are retaining buttresses in two steps, exactly like those in the inland fort of El–Wijh; at the two other angles are flights of stairs, and the sole is a sheet of dried silt. To the south-east lies the remnant of a small circular furnace, and on the north-north-east a broken wall shows where stood the Bayt el-Saghir, or smaller reservoir. A narrow conduit of cut stone leads, with elaborate zigzags, towards two Sakiyah (“draw-wells”) hollowed in the gypsum. The Southern, an oval of five metres ten centimetres, is much dilapidated; and its crumbling throat is spanned by a worn-out arch of the surrounding Secondary rock. Close to the north-west is the other, revetted with cut stone, and measuring six metres in diameter. It is an elaborate affair; with a pointed arch and a regular keystone, circular Sadúd, or “walls for supporting the hauling-apparatus,” and minor reservoirs numbering three. On a detached hillock, a few paces to the north, stands the Fort which defended the establishment. The short walls of the parallelogram measure fifteen metres forty centimetres; and the long, eighteen metres sixty centimetres: the gate, choked by ruins, leads to a small hall, with a masked entrance opening to the right. There is a narrow room under the stone steps to the west, and two others occupy the eastern side. This Fort is to be restored for the better protection of pilgrims; and shortly after our departure an Egyptian engineer, Sulayman Effendi, came from Suez to inspect and report upon it.

According to local modern tradition this scatter of masonry was the original site of the settlement, called after the builder Bir el-Sa’idáni —“the Well of Sa’ídán.” For watering each caravan the proprietor demanded a camel by way of fee; at last a Maghribí, that is, a magician, refused to “part;” betook himself to the present camping ground, sank pits, and let loose the copious springs. The old wells then dried up, and the new sources gave to this section of the great Wady ‘Afál its actual name, Wady el-Badá—“of the innovation,” so hateful to the conservative savage. Hence Rüppell’s “Beden,” which would mean an ibex.

On the opposite or right bank of the broad and sandy bed, the traces of ancient buildings extend to a far greater distance, at least to two kilometres. They have been a continuous line of forts, cisterns, and tenements, still marked out by the bases of long thick walls; the material is mostly gypsum, leprous-white as the skin of Gehazi. But here, and indeed generally throughout Midian, the furious torrents, uncontrolled during long ages by the hand of man, have swept large gaps in the masses of homestead and public buildings. Again the ruins of this section are distributable into two kinds — the City of the Living, and the City of the Dead.

The former, of considerable extent, hugs the watercourse, and crowns all the natural spurs that buttress the bed. Beginning from the north lie two blocks of building considerable in extent: the southern, called by the Arabs El–Malká, is a broken parallelogram. Further down stream the bank is a vast strew of broken pottery; and one place, covered with glass fragments, was named by our soldiers El–Khammárah —“the tavern” or “the hotel.” As in ancient Etruria, so here, the people assemble after heavy rains to pick up what luck throws in the way. It is said that they often gather gold pieces, square as well as round, bearing by way of inscription “prayers” to the Apostle of Allah. Some of us, however, had a shrewd suspicion that the Tibr, or “pure gold-dust,” is still washed from the sands, and cast probably in rude moulds.

Behind, inland or westward of this southern town, lies the City of the Dead. Unlike the pitted graveyard to the north-east, the cemetery is wholly composed of catacombs, which the Bedawin call Magháir (“caves”) or Bíbán (“doors”). The sites are the sides and mouths of four little branch-valleys which cut through the hillocks representing the Wady-bank. The northernmost is known as Wady el-Khurayk, because it drains a height of that name: the others bear the generic term Wady el-Safrá, so called, like the hauteville hill, from the tawny-yellow colour of the rocks. The catacombs, fronting in all directions, because the makers were guided by convenience, not by ceremonial rule, are hollowed in the soft new sandstone underlying the snowy gypsum; and most of the façades show one or more horizontal lines of natural bead-work, rolled pebbles disposed parallelly by the natural action of water. In the most ruinous, the upper layer is a cornice of hard sandstone, stained yellow with iron and much creviced; the base, a soft conglomerate of the same material, is easily corroded; and the supernal part caves in upon the principle which is destroying Niagara. At each side of the doorways is a Mastabah (“stone bench”), also rock-hewn, and with triple steps. The door-jambs, which have hollowings for hinges and holes for bars, are much worn and often broken; they are rarely inclined inwards after the fashion of Egypt. A few have windows, or rather port-holes, flanking the single entrance. The peculiarities and the rare ornaments will be noticed when describing each receptacle; taken as a whole, they are evidently rude and barbarous forms of the artistic catacombs and tower-tombs that characterize Petra and Palmyra.

The “Magháir” may roughly be divided into four topical groups. These are — the northern outliers; the “Tombs of the Kings,” so called by ourselves because they distinguish themselves from all the others; the “buttressed caves” (two sets); and the southern outliers. The first mentioned begin with a ruin on the right jaw of the Khurayk gorge: it is dug in strata dipping, as usual, from north-west to south-east; it faces eastward, and the entrance declines to the south. All external appearance of a catacomb has disappeared; a rude porch, a frame of sticks and boughs, like the thatched eaves of a Bulgarian hut, stands outside, while inside signs of occupation appear in hearths and goat-dung, in smoky roof, and in rubbish-strewn floor. Over another ruin to the west are graffiti, of which copies from squeezes and photographs are here given: there are two loculi in the southern wall; and in the south-eastern corner is a pit, also sunk for a sarcophagus. A hill-side to the south of this cave shows another, dug in the Tauá or coloured sandstone, and apparently unfinished: part of it is sanded up, and its only yield, an Egyptian oil-jar of modern make, probably belonged to some pilgrim. Crossing the second dwarf gorge we find, on the right bank, a third large ruin of at least fourteen loculi; the hard upper reef, dipping at an angle of 30 degrees, and striking from north-west to southeast, fell in when the soft base was washed away by weather, and the anatomy of the graves is completely laid bare. Higher up the same Wady is a fourth Maghárah, also broken down: the stucco-coating still shows remnants of red paint; and the characters **— possibly Arab “Wasm,” or tribe-marks — are cut into an upright entrance-stone.

The precipitous left bank of the third gorge contains the three finest specimens, which deserve to be entitled the “Tombs of the Kings.” Of these, the two facing eastward are figured by Rüppell (p. 220) in the antiquated style of his day, with fanciful foreground and background.42 His sketch also places solid rock where the third and very dilapidated catacomb of this group, disposed at right angles, fronts southwards. Possibly the façades may once have been stuccoed and coloured; now they show the bare and pebble-banded sandstone.

The southernmost, which may be assumed as the type, has an upright door, flanked by a stone bench of three steps. Over the entrance is a defaced ornament which may have been the bust of a man: in Rüppell it is a kind of geometrical design. The frontage has two parallel horizontal lines, raised to represent cornices. Each bears a decoration resembling crenelles or Oriental ramparts broken into three steps; the lower set numbers eight, including the half ornaments at the corners, and the higher seven. The interior is a mixture of upright recesses, probably intended for the gods or demons; and of horizontal loculi, whose grooves show that they had lids. There is no symmetry in the niches, in the sarcophagi, or in the paths and passages threading the graves. The disposition will best be understood from the ground-plans drawn by the young Egyptian officers: their sketches of the façades are too careless and incorrect for use; but the want is supplied by the photographs of M. Lacaze.

Above these three “Tombs of the Kings” are many rock-cavities which may or may not have been sepulchral. Time has done his worst with them. We mounted the background of a quoin-shaped hill by a well-trodden path, leading to the remnants of a rude Burj (“watch-tower”), and to a semicircle of dry wall, garnished with a few sticks for hanging rags and tatters. The latter denotes the Musallat Shu’ayb, or praying-place of (prophet) Jethro; and here our Sayyid and our Shaykh took the opportunity of applying for temporal and eternal blessings. The height at the edge of the precipice which, cliffing to the north, showed a view of our camp and of Yubú and Shu’shú’ Islands, was in round numbers 450 feet (aner. 29.40 — 28.94). From this vantage-ground we could distinctly trace the line of the Wady Makná, beginning in a round basin at the western foot of the northern Shigd Mountain and its sub-range; while low rolling hills, along which we were to travel, separated it from the Wady Bada’-‘Afál to the south.

Two other important sets of catacombs, which I will call the “buttressed caves,” are pierced in the right flank of the same gorge, at the base of a little conical hill, quaintly capped with a finial of weathered rock. The material is the normal silicious gravel-grit, traversed and cloisonné by dykes of harder stone. Beginning at the south, we find a range of three, facing eastward and separated from one another by flying buttresses of natural rock. No. 1 has a window as well as a door. Next to it is a square with six open loculi ranged from north to south. No. 3 shows a peculiarity — two small pilasters of the rudest (Egyptian?) Doric, the only sign of ornamentation found inside the tombs; a small break in the south-western wall connects it with the northernmost loculus of No. 2. Furthest north are three bevel-holes, noting the beginning of a catacomb; and round the northern flank of the detached cone are six separate caves, all laid waste by the furious northern gales.

The second set is carved in the bluff eastern end of an adjoining reef that runs away from the Wady; it consists of four sepulchres with the normal buttresses. They somewhat resemble those of the Kings, but there are various differences. No. 2 from the south is flanked by pilasters with ram’s-horn capitals, barbarous forms of Ionic connected by three sets of triglyphs: the pavement is of slabs; there is an inner niche, and one of the corners has apparently been used as an oven. On a higher plane lies a sunken tomb, with a deep drop and foot-holes by way of ladder; outside it the rocky platform is hollowed, apparently for graves. The other three facades bear the crenelle ornaments; the two to the north show double lines of seven holes drilled deep into the plain surface above the door, as if a casing had been nailed on; while the northernmost yielded a fragmentary inscription on the southern wall. These are doubtless the “inscribed tablets on which the names of kings are engraved,” alluded to in the Jihan-numá of Haji Khahífah.43 Rounding the reef to the north, we found three catacombs in the worst condition: one of them showed holes drilled in the façade.

The southern outliers lie far down the Wady ‘Afál, facing east, and hewn in the left flank of a dwarf gulley which falls into the right bank not far from the site called by our men “the tavern.” The group numbers three, all cut in the normal sandstone, with the harder dykes which here stand up like ears. The principal item is the upper cave, small, square, and apparently still used by the Arabs: in the middle of the lintel is a lump looking like the mutilated capital of a column. The two lower caves show only traces.

There is a tradition that some years ago a Frank (Rüppell?), after removing his Arab guides, dug into the tombs, and found nothing but human hair. Several of the horizontal loculi contained the bones of men and beasts: I did not disturb them, as all appeared to be modern. The floors sounding hollow, gave my companions hopes of “finds;” but I had learned, after many a disappointment, how carefully the Bedawi ransack such places. We dug into four sepulchres, including the sunken catacomb and the (southern) inscribed tomb. Usually six inches of flooring led to the ground-rock; in the sarcophagi about eight inches of tamped earth was based upon nine feet of sand that ended at the bottom. The only results were mouldering bones, bits of marble and pottery, and dry seeds of the Kaff Maryam, the Rose of Jericho (Anastatica), which here feeds the partridges, and which in Egypt supplies children with medicine, and expectant mothers with a charm. As the plant is bibulous, opening to water and even to the breath, it is placed by the couch, and its movement shows what is to happen. The cave also yielded specimens of bats (Rhinopoma macrophyllum), with fat at the root of their spiky tails.

I have described at considerable length this ruined Madiáma, which is evidently the capital of Madyan Proper, ranking after Petra. In one point it is still what it was, a chief station upon the highway, then Nabatí, now Moslem, which led to the Ghor or Wady el-‘Arabah. But in all others how changed! “The traveller shall come; he that saw me in my beauty shall come: his eyes shall search the field; they shall not find me.”

32 Not Tayyibat Ism, as I wrongly wrote in “The Gold Mines of Midian,” misled by the Hydrographic Chart. None of the Bedawin could explain the origin of the flattering title.

33 “The Gold–Mines of Midian.” Chap. XII.

34 The so-called Oriental, stalactitic, or variegated alabaster of Upper Egypt was nowhere hit upon.

35 The Ptolemeian parallel is nearly right; the place must not be confounded with Modi’ana or Modouna (ibid.), a coast-settlement in north lat. 27 degrees 45’, between Onne and the Hippos Mons, Monte Cavallo.

36 I have no wish to criticize my able predecessor. His map, all things considered, is a marvel of accuracy; and the high praise of Wellsted (ii. 148) only does it justice.

37 The “Muttali” (high town) when small is termed a Burj, pyrgos, tower, Pergamus (?)

38 The Masháb or “camel-stick” of all Arabia is that carried by the Osiris (mummy), and its crook is originally the jackal-headed Anubis.

39 The collection has been submitted to Mr. R. Stanley Poole, who kindly offered them for inspection to the Numismatic Society of London (Nov. 21, 1878).

40 “Ægypten,” etc., p. 269, et seq.

41 “Les Inscriptions des Mines d’Or,” etc. Paris, 1862.

42 In Tafel viii. (p. 387), he has added some cursory notes on the Sepulcral–Monumente in dem Thale Beden.

43 Wellsted, vol. ii., appendix.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:36