The exploitation of mineral resources in southwest Sinai meant that a series of temporary campsites were set up attached to mining and quarrying sites, but none can be regarded as significant permanent settlements, with the possible exception of the impressive Middle Kingdom temple complex at Serabit el-Khadim and the small Old Kingdom fortlet at Ras Budran. The situation in northern Sinai was rather different, especially along the well-established ‘Ways of Horus’ route between the northeastern Nile Delta and the southern Levant.
Although the existence of a chain of forts and fort-towns along this route has long been known, not least through the illustration of these fortified settlements and their adjacent water sources on the northern wall of the hypostyle hall at Karnak, which shows Seti I travelling between them, their archaeological reality has only become obvious from the 1980s onwards with the work of Eliezer Oren at Bir el-Abd and Haruba, James Hoffmeier at Tell el-Borg and Mohammed abd el-Maqsoud at Tell Heboua.
The last-named site is the most substantial and refers to a cluster of fortified settlements around a lagoon at the easternmost extent of the Nile Delta, occupied from the Second Intermediate to the Ramesside Periods. Excavations here have revealed that this was the location of ancient Tjaru, which seems to have functioned as a major mustering point for Egyptian military campaigns into the Levant.
The main purpose of the ‘Ways of Horus’ centres further east was to provision Egyptian armies (and possibly also merchant caravans) travelling across this difficult environment. Although badly destroyed, Tell el-Borg was a fort whose defences included a deep brick-lined moat. Haruba consists of a series of small sites clustered around a central fort and administrative centre, including a workshop for the production of pottery. Bir el-Abd likewise had a small central fort, but also an artificial water reservoir and a series of grain silos, which are estimated to have held c. 44,600 litres (9,810 gallons) of grain.
The movement of the Mediterranean coastline has resulted in the important New Kingdom ‘Ways of Horus’ fortress-town of Tell Heboua being left in the middle of a flat, salty plain. Tara Todras-Whitehill/X01969/Reuters/Corbis.