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African Association of Women Geoscientists Field Trip


Northern Faiyum Desert and the Basalt Quarries of Widan el-Faras: one-day field trip


The Northern Faiyum Desert borders the Faiyum Depression, located approximately 60 km south-west of Cairo in the Western Desert. The quarry landscape of the Northern Faiyum Desert comprises a major basalt quarry, Widan el-Faras, which was at the epicentre of a revolution to large-scale ornamental stone quarrying associated with the ‘Pyramid Age’of the Egyptian Old Kingdom (3rd millennium BC).  The Widan el-Faras basalt quarries were the source of stone used on the mortuary temple floors and walls of  4th and 5th Dynasty (c. 2575 – 2323 BC) pyramid complexes at Giza and Abu Sir.  The tholeiitic flood basalt consists of several individual lava flows, of early Oligocene age, that cap the Gebel Qatrani escarpment at approximately 300 m asl.  The quarries, located along the rim of the escarpment, present bench-like extractions on top of dark scree slopes created by natural weathering and quarry waste presenting one of the most dramatic desert landscapes in Egypt.


The one-day field trip to Widan el-Faras will start at the terminus of one of the world’s oldest paved quarry roads that connected the basalt quarries with the shores of ancient Lake Moeris at Qasr el-Sagha.  After a brief visit to the temple at Qasr el-Sagha and investigation of the road terminus at a quay, the trip will follow the 11 km long road over a series of escarpments to view the range of local materials used in its  construction, such as fossilised wood, sandstone and mudstone.  A small encampment and enigmatic series of basalt stone circles at the entrance to the quarries will also be visited before ascending the Gebel Qatrani escarpment to view the basalt quarries.  If time allows, a visit may also be made the Old Kingdom gypsum quarries at Umm es-Sawan, 20 km north-east of Widan el-Faras, the site of an intensive stone vessel industry.



The basalt quarries of Widan el-Faras, Northern Faiyum Desert, Egypt



Section of the ancient paved quarry road (foreground); the peaks of Widan el-Faras and basalt quarries (background, right)



Section of the ancient quarry road (centre line) looking towards its terminus at Qasr el-Sagha