The Vanishing Army
According to the Greek historian Herodotus, Cambyses, the son of Cyrus the Great, sent 50,000 soldiers from Thebes to attack the Oasis of Siwa and destroy the oracle at the Temple of Amun. At some point during their march, the mighty Persian army was said to have been overcome by a sandstorm in the Egyptian desert. No one has ever found evidence of the army's remains. But now, some 2,500 years later, researchers claim they have found the place in the western Sahara desert where Cambyses' army met its fate.
On the Trail
Two top Italian archaeologists claim to have found striking evidence of the army's traces. Twin brothers Angelo and Alfredo Castiglioni are famous for their discovery 20 years ago of the ancient Egyptian "city of gold" Berenike Panchrysos. Alfredo is shown here in the foreground, along with researcher, Aly Barakat. The Castiglioni brothers based their search on the theory that Cambyses' army took a different route through the desert than previously believed. They hypothesized the army took a westerly route to Gilf El Kebir, passing through the Wadi Abd el Melik, and then headed north toward Siwa.
A Desert Well
Among the first evidence they found were desiccated water sources and artificial wells made of hundreds of water pots buried in the sand. The team believes these water sources could have provided key drinking water for the massive army.
The Temple of Amun
The Castiglionis calculated that not far from the water cache, some 62 miles south of Siwa, ancient maps had erroneously located the temple of Amun, shown here. The soldiers may have believed they were reaching their destination, but instead they found the hot, strong, unpredictable southeasterly wind that blows from the Sahara desert over Egypt.
It was here that the research team found a mass grave with hundreds of bleached bones and skulls. Could they be the remains of Cambyses' lost army?
Some artifacts found in the area suggest the find could be the army's remains. The team recovered relics of ancient warfare, including this bronze dagger dating to Cambyses' time.
They also found several arrow tips, again dating to the time when Cambyses' army set off on its fateful mission.
Horse Bit Among the remains, the team found a horse bit, identical to one appearing in a depiction of an ancient Persian horse.
Horse Bit, as Seen in Depiction Here is where the recovered horse bit may have been used. It is superimposed over this 6th-5th century B.C. bas-relief of a Persian soldier on horseback from the Apadana (audience hall) at Persepolis.
Earring Persian soldiers often wore jewelry, including earrings, like the one shown here, which the team found near the remains in the Sahara Desert. The researcher is also holding a few beads, which were likely part of a necklace worn by a soldier.
Earring on Soldier This bas-relief of a Persian soldier, also from the Apadana at Persepolis, shows a very similar earring to the one found in the desert. Are these artifacts enough to confirm the team's claims of finding the long-lost army? The team communicated their findings to the Geological Survey of Egypt and gave the recovered objects to Egyptian authorities. It may take the confirmation of Egyptian authorities to validate the claim. So far the Italian team has not heard back from them.