Original Photo Credit: Keyvan Mahmudi
Original Photo Credit: Keyvan Mahmudi

A recent discovery in the Sahara desert by Italian archaeologists (and twin brothers)  Angelo and Alfredo Castiglioni, might prove to be the remains of the indomitable Persian army, lead by the Persian King Cambyses II, the son of Cyrus the Great, while attempting to cross the desert some 2,500 years ago.

The brothers having unearthed artifacts  like Bronze weapons, a silver bracelet, an earring, along with hundreds of human bones are confident in their findings. Talking to Discovery News, expedition member Dario Del Bufalo said, “We have found the first archaeological evidence of a story reported by the Greek historian Herodotus.”

Herodotus noted that Cambyses sent 50,000 soldiers “from Thebes to attack the Oasis of Siwa and destroy the oracle at the Temple of Amun after the priests there refused to legitimize his claim to Egypt.”  The 50,000 warriors were then said to be concealed and consigned to the grave by an annihilative sandstorm.

“A wind arose from the south, strong and deadly, bringing with it vast columns of whirling sand, which entirely covered up the troops and caused them wholly to disappear,” wrote Herodotus.

Over the years, the story of Cambyses’s lost army, lost its credibility since no remains were found. (Until now.) The Castiglioni brothers first came to the conclusion of finding the lost Persian army by sighting a massive rock, approximately 115 feet long, 5.9 feet in height, and 9.8 feet deep. Rock formations of this kind are not unlikely in the desert, however this particular rock was the only one of its kind in the area. Such natural formations occur in the desert, but this large rock was the only one in a large area.

“Its size and shape made it the perfect refuge in a sandstorm,” Castiglioni said.

While on the excavation Egyptian geologist, Aly Barakat, of Cairo University, uncovered a bronze dagger and several arrow tips. “We are talking of small items, but they are extremely important as they are the first Achaemenid objects, thus dating to Cambyses’ time, which have emerged from the desert sands in a location quite close to Siwa,” Castiglioni said.

In addition to Barakat’s discovery, the group caught sight of a silver bracelet, an earring, and a few spheres “which were likely part of a necklace.”

“An analysis of the earring, based on photographs, indicate that it certainly dates to the Achaemenid period. Both the earring and the spheres appear to be made of silver.” Says ancient jewelry aficionado Andrea Cagnetti.

The reason behind the vanished Persian army? The Castiglionis suggest that the soldiers ended up in khamseen (fifty in Arabic) on their trek.  Khamseen is believed to blow “at intervals for about 50 days” and is a heavy sandstorm made up of sand and dust from the deserts, with a speed up to 86.9 mph, with rapidly rising temperatures.

“Some soldiers found refuge under that natural shelter, other dispersed in various directions. Some might have reached the lake of Sitra, thus surviving,” Castiglioni said.

“In the desolate wilderness of the desert, we have found the most precise location where the tragedy occurred,” Del Bufalo adds.

The group notified the Geological Survey of Egypt and has since turned the precious goods in to the Egyptian authorities.

“We never heard back. I’m sure that the lost army is buried somewhere around the area we surveyed, perhaps under [16.4 feet] of sand.”

So, is it true?

Did the Castiglioni siblings solve the ancient mystery and find our ancestors?

Not according to Egyptologist and current Secretary General of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities, Dr. Zahi Hawass.

Dr. Hawass released the following statement in response to the claim by the Casitglionis: “I need to inform the public that recent reports published in newspapers, news agencies and TV news announcing that ‘twin brothers Angelo and Alfredo Castiglioni have unearthed remains of the Persian army of Cambyses,’ are unfounded and misleading.  The brothers are not heading any archaeological mission in Berenike Panchrysos at the small Bahrin Oasis near Siwa Oasis. This site has been excavated since 2002 by an Italian mission led by Dr. Paulo Gallo of Turin University. The Castiglioni brothers have not been granted permission by the SCA to excavate in Egypt, so anything they claim to find is not to be believed.”

We’re not sure which archaeologist to believe, but if the remains of Cambyses and his mighty warriors have really been found, then we cannot wait until they’re available for public viewing. (Even though it will probably be at a British or American museum and not an Iranian one.)

About Author

Sanaz Khalaj-Santos

Sanaz is Founder and Editor in Chief of Persianesque Magazine.