The oasis is in a military zone—where it is near impossible to organize private helicopter or balloon flights—so researchers use the kites, outfitted with remotely operated cameras, to help map one of Egypt’s richest, least-studied archaeological troves. A spectacular series of well-preserved Roman forts, possibly built on top of pharaonic ruins, speckle the oasis, 100 miles long and from 10 to 180 miles wide (160 kilometers long and from 15 to 300 kilometers wide). Many of the ruins have never been mapped; but looters have preyed on Kharga, and now archaeologists are racing to preserve it.
“You see these incredibly large, mud-brick walls about 50 feet (15 meters) tall rising out of sand dunes and rocky knolls,” says Corinna Rossi, a fellow in Egyptology at the University of Cambridge, in England, and co-director of the North Kharga Oasis Survey.
The standing remains of the fort of Ain el-Lebekha, in the Kharga Oasis, are more than 10 meters (30 feet) tall. To the north lies an impressive temple and a necropolis that contains some of the most elaborate tombs in the oasis.