3300-year-old Stele Reveals Well Drilling Event In Egypt’s Desert

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Egypt is famous for its beautiful ancient monuments and mummies whether it is a pyramid of Giza, mummy of the influential prophetess of antinopolis or temple of Luxor. People in ancient Egypt were carving all the important events over the walls in the Hieroglyphic script. Today when the modern human has successfully deciphered Hieroglyphic script (Hieroglyphic script was deciphered through Rosetta Stone just like Cuneiform script was deciphered through Behistun inscription), so many discoveries have done on ancient Egyptian culture. By translating an ancient stele which was created in the reign of Ramesses II also known as Ramesses the Great, we got to know about the extraordinary event of drilling of the well in the desert that occurred before 3300 years before.

The inscription of Quban can be regarded as one of the most precious artifacts that have been discovered in the 19th century.

This beautiful granite stele, of which the lower right part is missing, was discovered in 1842 in Quban, the old Baky, about 120 km south of Aswan. It is dated year third of the reign of Ramses II, which corresponds precisely to the year 1277 BC. The king was 21 years old at that time.

The Quban stele, at the beginning of his reign, constitutes an essential testimony to the royal ideology. The pharaoh is presented as overcoming an obstacle never overcome before: that the water supply for expeditions to the Akayta gold mines. In doing so, Ramses II takes up a theme already exploited under the reign of his father Seti I, as the reports of the inscription of the temple of Kanais.

Temple of Kanais
Temple of Kanais

What testing it is, a road without water!” How do travelers manage to remove dryness from their throat? Who quenches their thirst, when the country is so far away and the desert so vast? Woe to the thirsty man in this country! Well I will take care of them, I’ll give them a way to survive, and they’ll celebrate my name in the future and years to come, and the next generations will praise me for my valor because it is I who have shown compassion and kindness to travelers! (The king discovered a water point) 

Inscription of the Temple of Kanaïs

Stele of Quban teaches us that even Seti I first had undertaken, in vain, the drilling of a well on the road to Akayta. But Ramses II succeeded. The well dug at his command was found by the Russian teams which explored the region of Wadi Allaqi, during the construction of the big dam, before he was drowned under the waters of Lake Nasser.

You will surprise by knowing the visa process in ancient Mesopotamia which has found over a clay tablet

Details on the Stele

This beautiful granite stele honors an exceptional event. In the upper part, Ramses II makes an offering and fumigation respectively to the gods Min of Coptos and Horus of Baky. 

In the lower register, a hieroglyphic text of 38 lines informs us that Ramses II, in the year 3 of his reign, decided to drill a well supplying water with the desert road which ended in the gold mines of Wadi Allaqi. 

He realized that men and beasts that crisscrossed this road were dying of thirst and, consequently, no longer brought back gold. The viceroy of Nubia directed the digging work on the instructions of the king, work which was a great success since the water gushes from a depth of 12 cubits.

This stele constitutes an essential testimony to the royal Ramesside ideology, the king being presented as overcoming an obstacle never overcome before: that of the water supply of the expeditions carried out towards the gold mines of Akayta.

Cartridges of Ramses II

Titulature Pharaoh consists of five names (see 1 st line of the pillar) of which the latter two are included in a cartridge (hieroglyphic symbol, elongated [oval] form and closed by a node, which contains the name of a pharaoh and has the function of protecting his name): his name of king of Upper and Lower Egypt (or coronation name), here “Ousermaâtrê Setepenrê”, and his name of “Son of Rê” (or birth name), here “Ramses Méryamon”.

Representations on the Top Left

Ramses II made an offering of two vases-nou (or globular wine vases) to the god Min of Coptos. He is clothed with the attributes of the pharaoh: crown- khepresh, uraeus, Loincloth, bull’s tail, and sandals.

Representations on the Right

Ramses II presents incense to the god Horus of Baky. He is clothed with the attributes of the pharaoh: crown- khepresh, uraeus, Loincloth, bull’s tail, and sandals.

Horus de Baky is a hieracocephalic (falcon-headed) god who presides over the Nubian site where this commemorative stele was found, namely the Quban.

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Event of Drilling

Below translation has taken from the translation Stèle royale de Ramsès II
dite « Stèle de Kouban ». The line to line hieroglyphic translation was done by Bernard Mathieu, the doctor in Egyptology. A total of 38 lines is present on the stele. The important lines which describe the event of drilling has taken here.

Line 8

wa m nn (ny) hrw xpr (= w) jst Hm = f xms (= w) Hr bHdw n (y) Dam xaw m sSd Sw.ty
Hr sxA.t xAs.wt jnn (wt) nwb jm = sn Hr wAwA sxrw n (y) Sd

One fine day, His Majesty, who sat on the throne ( behedu ) of Electrum and appeared with the dried headband and the two feathers, began to think of the countries from which gold is brought and reflect on the purpose of drilling

Line 9

Xnm.yt Hr wA.wt osn.wt Hr mw
m-xt sDm=tw r-Dd jw wn nwb aSA Hr xAs.t JkAyt xr wA.t=s osn=tj Hr mw r-jor
jr Sm(w) nhy m

wells on difficult roads due to (lack of) water, after hearing: “There is a lot of gold in the Akayta region, but its route is extremely difficult because of (the lack of water. If

Line 23

xpr(w) Dr Ra
Dd~jn Hm=f n wr.w j.pn mAa.t ø (2 sp) Dd(w)=tn nb(.t) dHw.w(=j)
bw ø Sd=w mw Hr xAs.t tn Dr rk nTr mj Ddw=tn
jnk wbA(w)=j Xnm.t jm Hr rd.t mw ra nb mj

His Majesty then replied to these greats: “It’s absolutely right, whatever you say, my subjects. Water has not been extracted from this country since the time of the god, as you (they) say. I’m going to drill a well there to give water every day like in [Upper and Lower Egypt where the river flows (?)]

Line 32

 xpr (= w) m-mjt] .t Dd (w) .t ~ n Hm = kmr (A) = f Ds = f
pr ~ n mw jm = s Hr 12 mH jw 4 mH jm = sn m mDw.t

[… Sovereign, my lord…, everything happened in accordance with] what Your Majesty had said with his own mouth. Water came out twelve cubits, to a depth of four cubits


An extraordinary masterpiece of art that tells us the whole story of the well drilling in the extreme desert. This will be called the very balanced thinking of a king to advance his kingdom. If people continue to die thirsty, then it will be difficult to get the gold and Ramses were well aware about this. Now that well has sunk under Nasir Lake. But do not know how many years the passengers must have quenched their thirst with that water.

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