A first phase of the project, dubbed NKOS I, ran for five years from 2001 to 2004. It focused on the northern portions of ancient caravan routes and on the late Roman installations that dot the area. Because of the amount and variety of archaeological material that was found in the western area, NKOS started a second phase of research, which concentrated on the exploration of the ancient caravan routes leading west towards Dakhla, NKOS II, This is scheduled to last least three years (2005-2007).
The northern area of Kharga contains archaeological sites dating from the prehistoric period to the nineteenth century AD. The most unexpected and startling of the remains in Kharga are the forts of the Roman period, mentioned in passing by early travellers and geologists, and never properly investigated. In addition to the forts, the Prehistoric sites are numerous and significant, but the millennia that separate the prehistoric sites from the Roman forts are scarcely documented.
As the area of the survey is enormous, and the state of preservation of the remains uneven, a variety of techniques are used by NKOS to locate and document the sites. The areas around the visible archaeological remains are explored on foot, whilst four-wheel vehicles are employed for the large-scale exploration of the surroundings. The position of isolated features (such as cairns marking the ancient routes) are recorded by means of a Global Positioning Systems (GPS). A theodolite survey is carried out for areas with a particular concentration of archaeological remains, and architectural features such as buildings or tombs are recorded in detail to a smaller scale. Aerial photography is not only used to document the overall appearance of the sites, but also to identify and record ancient irrigation systems and areas of cultivation. The research is completed with the collection and analysis of ceramics, small objects, archaeobotanic and archaeozoological samples.
NKOS is not only producing a map of the area, but is also trying to understand the relationship between the different sites through the millennia, as well as the ancient environment that shaped the oasis's history. Beside its agricultural wealth, in antiquity the oasis was most significant also for its strategic location in the Western Desert. Kharga acted as a major crossroad linking Egypt, Sudan, Libya, Central and Western Africa. As early as the Old Kingdom, the Darb el-Arbain - the Road of the Forty Days between Middle Egypt and the Sudan - gained a certain importance as an alternative route to travellers and traders who wished or were forced to avoid the Nile Valley. This route was also important for strategic reasons - as the Egyptians learned in the Second Intermediate Period when the Hyksos-Nubian alliance tried to bypass the Nile Valley via the oases.
When the Romans conquered Egypt, Upper Egypt became part of the southern frontier of their empire. After a serious crisis during the third century when the empire suffered several devastating attacks from barbarians and nomads, at the beginning of the fourth century AD, the emperor Diocletian launched a program of reinforcement of the fortifications along the frontiers of the whole empire. Kharga was clearly identified as an important way of penetration into the Roman territory, and a series of military installations were built at the junction between the north-south Darb el-Arbain and the east-west routes leading to Dakhla and to the Valley. The remains of these fortifications are the most visible and best preserved antiquities of the Kharga Oasis. It is possible that at least some of these forts are located on the sites of their pharaonic predecessors, but only excavation can determine this. NKOS has also located settlements and sacred areas that accompanied these military installations.
The main archaeological sites that are being investigated by NKOS are (from north to south): Ain Gib, Qasr el-Sumayra, Ain el-Lebekha, Muhammed Tuleib, Ain el-Tarakwa, Ain el-Dabashiya and then going westward Umm el-Dabadib and Ain Amur.