Hansjoachim von der Esch

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Hansjoachim von der Esch (born 6 October 1899 in Mülheim – died 10 May 1976 in La Tour-de-Peilz) was a German explorer in Egypt and Libya.

Career as explorer[edit]

Esch had the academic degree of engineer. From 1929 to 1939 he worked representing a German enterprise in Egypt.[1] During this time he made several expeditions into the Libyan Desert and from 1934 to 1935 he accompanied the Hungarian explorer Laszlo Almasy on his motorized expeditions, who called him his "navigator". In 1934, he led a section of Almásy's expedition in the Gilf Kebir to the Uweinat mountain. Somewhat before, he discovered in Wadi Halfa the Magyarab tribe, which is supposed to be of Hungarian origin.

Esch undertook also several expeditions on his own, both by car and by camel train. His interest focussed not only on geographical measurements and cartography, but also on archaeology. North of Wadi Halfa he discovered ancient amethyst mines and interpreted some strange rock carvings nearby and series of ancient stone heaps as traces of the use of a dioptra for geodetics. Howard Carter acknowledged the discoveries but disagreed with Esch's interpretation of early geodetics.[2]

Later expeditions[edit]

Later on, Esch tried to trace the route taken by the Persian king Kambyses during his attempt to conquer the oasis of Siwa. He discovered a series of big stone heaps which he attributed to the Persian army and interpreted the remains of thousands of jars at the "pottery hill" of Abu Ballas, discovered in 1917, as a water depot for the army. Somewhat later, he tried to explore the zone with a camel train. After a successful test expedition with Senussi nomads, accompanied by the English explorer E. E. Evans-Pritchard, he learned that the British authorities of Egypt, in the wake of growing tensions between the UK and Germany, had issued orders to the Senussi not to put camels at the disposal of foreigners. That put an end to his expeditions in Egypt.[2] In 1941 he published his experiences as an explorer and his archaeological findings and theories in the book Weenak – die Karawane ruft (Leipzig, 1941). The title, a combination of Arabic and German, means, "Wherever You Are, The Caravan Calls." He also edited Almásy's books for publication in Germany.

Career as ambassador and later life[edit]

From 1952 to 1957, Esch was the German ambassador in Syria and from 1957 to 1960, he was ambassador in Morocco. He died in 1976.[1]

Chafetz expedition[edit]

From September 1983 to February 1984, Gary S. Chafetz, an American journalist and author, led an expedition—sponsored by Harvard University, The National Geographic Society, the Egyptian Geological Survey and Mining Authority, and the Ligabue Research Institute—that searched for the Lost Army of Cambyses. Chafetz—who is apparently the first person to translate the obscure book by von der Esch—based the location of his search on the six large cairns that von der Esch reported finding in April 1939. Chafetz's six-month search was conducted along the Egyptian-Libyan border in a remote 100-square-kilometer area of complex dunes immediately north northwest of the six von der Esch cairns, south west of the uninhabited Bahrein Oasis, and approximately 100 miles south east of Siwa (Amon) Oasis. The $250,000 expedition had at its disposal 20 Egyptian geologists and laborers, a National Geographic photographer, two Harvard Film Studies documentary filmmakers, three camels, an ultra-light aircraft, and ground-penetrating radar. The expedition discovered approximately 500 tumuli (Zoroastrian-style graves) but no artifacts. Several tumuli contained bone fragments. Thermoluminence later dated these fragments to 1,500 BCE, approximately 1000 years earlier than the Lost Army. A recumbent winged sphinx carved in oolitic limestone was also discovered in a cave in the uninhabited Sitra Oasis (between Bahrein and Siwa Oases), whose provenance appeared to be Persian. Chafetz was arrested when he returned to Cairo in February 1984 for "smuggling an airplane into Egypt," even though he had the written permission of the Egyptian Geological Survey and Mining Authority to bring the aircraft into the country. He was interrogated for 24 hours. The charges were dropped after he promised to donate the ultra-light to the Egyptian Government. The aircraft now sits in the Egyptian War Museum in Cairo.


  1. ^ a b Bundesarchiv
  2. ^ a b Hansjoachim von der Esch: Weenak – die Karawane ruft (Brockhaus 1941)