History

Archeological investigations of the prehistoric past, the findings of bones and flint tools show evidence of the presence of human life in the desert as far as 200 000 years ago.

Strange prehistoric structures were found, the ‘Desert Kites’. These odd configurations of stone walls built triangular with the tip leading downhill were presumably used to entrap gazelles.

The Nawamis, roofed rooms with an opening to the west are understood to be ancient burial chambers of the early Bronze Age. Nawamis, some of them in an excellent state, are found in different areas. Maybe this indicates that nomads were using these places for ceremonies or resting places during their journeys.

Tribal people mainly settled in the area around St. Catherine mining copper and turquoise. Among them were tribes mentioned in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic books known to us as Horites (mountain people), Rephaim (Giants), Edomites (descendants of Esau), Amalekites (nomadic people), Medianites (nomads from the Arabian Peninsula).

During the Timna Culture (3500 BC) the population increased as the mining and melting of copper and turquoise flourished.

During the first Dynasty of the Pharaohs the profitable trade of copper and turquoise already began. A bas-relief, discovered in Wadi Maghara, portraying Pharaoh Sekhemkhet (2600 BC) indicates the so far earliest presence of Egyptian Pharaohs in Sinai.

Labor camps were set up near the site of the mines. Copper and turquoise were brought down an ancient track to the port of Markha near Abu Zneima. From there the minerals were loaded onto ships and transported to Egypt.

In the 12th Dynasty the magnificent temple dedicated to the Goddess Hathor, the Lady of Turquoise, Love and Joy, was built in Serabit Al Khadem (the Heights of the Servants).

At some point of this period an extraordinary event took place. Laborers scribbled symbols on the walls translating the pictures of the hieroglyphic alphabet into consonantal sounds. It evolved into the Proto-Sinaitic alphabet from which the Semitic languages derived.

Many rocks with graffiti on are found out of Nabatean times during the 2nd and 3rd century AD and Roman and Byzantine inscriptions.

The Bible

Since the reign of Tuthmosis III, Hebrews were living in Egypt. The exodus of the Hebrew people, known as Apirou, took probably place during the reign of Ramses II (1290 - 1224 BC).

One can only speculate about the reasons of the exodus. Most likely difficult economic circumstances in form of high taxes and compulsory labor were the reasons for an exodus into a land of milk and honey. Apart from biblical sources there is no historical evidence; ancient Egyptian papyri hardly mention the Hebrews (or other minorities living in Egypt).

However, in the 3rd century hermits who sought refuge and seclusion in the high mountain range of the St. Catherine region developed the idea of Mt. Sinai being the place where Moses had received the 10 Commandments. By the 19th century Sinai became popular among researchers and adventurous explorer, who began to trace the exact sites of the exodus based on documentary evidence and geographic characteristics.

According to a majority of researchers, somewhere between Suez and the Bitter Lakes the crossing could have taken place and the tribes then traveled towards Ayun Mussa (Spring of Moses).

Other biblical sites were made out Elim (Wadi Garandel) with the sulfur springs of Hammam Pharaoh, the wilderness of Sin (Markha, the ancient port of Abu Zneima), Rephedim (Wadi Feiran, Pharaoh of the book of Exodus). Gebel Serbal in Wadi Feiran was recognized as the Mount of the Ten Commandments by the early Christian authorities. Also Kadesh Barnea, today Ain Gedeirat, in the northeast is supposed to be Mt. Horeb according to its location. The oldest Bedouin settlements are found in this area known to them as Moses Valley.

Others favor the northern route as the possible way the Israelites could have taken. ‘Yam Saf’ -the sea of reeds- was in fact the lakes along the Mediterranean coast between Port Said and Al Arish. The numerous presences of reeds fit the biblical description. The Tamarisk trees producing a gum known as manna are plenty in the north, while only few in the south. Quails are more common here than in southern Sinai. Names of places are found in their old names similar to biblical ones: Arish [Alush], Kadeish Barnea [Kades], Libnah [Libni].

The event of the exodus could have taken place in Sinai and it could have not. If it did, it is just one of many miracles of the mysterious and fascinating Sinai.