Welcome to my weekly series “Designing from Bones”, using archaeology and the artifacts of human history to find and design stories. Join me today as we visit the Forest of Sand.
No, not a triple scoop of vanilla topped with slices of fresh strawberry and chocolate drizzle (although that would be welcome here), but rather the dry wasteland of the desert.
Deserts exist for a number of reasons. Some lie in the rainless shadow of a mountain range. Others are host to salt flats that resist the growth of living things. Still others are frozen into compliance by the freezing wind of the arctic. The one we will visit today has a far different past.
A vast desert lies across the northern portion of Africa that over the course of millions of years has transformed from a sea into large forest ringed lakes. From arable land and eventually to desert. Throughout this wasteland can be found the bones of marine dinosaurs and whales bearing sun-bleached testament to the changing nature of our global environment.
Satellites scouring this barren forest of sand have discovered a wealth of archaeological treasure. So much that it is currently impossible to explore it all. No less than 17 buried pyramids, 1000 tombs and 3000 settlements have been found using this high tech exploration method.
Can you see the potential that is held in the stretches of this once thriving desert?
A Tale of the Desert Sands.
Join me by the fire, as the temperatures descend from a blazing 120F towards the freezing chill of night. As the darkness draws in as close as the firelight will allow, gather close as we share meat and wine.
Listen well as we follow our treasure seeker, our hero, wandering the Forest of Sand. A place where the clever riddles of the Sphinx wait to trap the unwary soul into eternal servitude to Pharaoh. A place where the weak dare not tread.
Our hero came here because he was told there was a treasure worth risking life for. A magical lamp that grants power or a golden sarcophagus to bring uncountable wealth. Perhaps a lost technology or the secrets of ancient magics long lost in the swirling sands. Regardless, it is worth more to our hero than life, and he is driven to find it.
After days of feeling his brain boil in the slow-cooker of his own skull a shadow falls across our hero. He turns to see what the source of this brief cooling is and finds himself staring into the face of a wall of sand. A sandstorm and nowhere to hide but a single outcrop of rock in the distance.
He runs but the storm is faster and soon the belligerent grains of sand nettle at every inch of exposed flesh and vision blurs, yet his course holds true and he reaches the outcrop. The rocks are a small comfort as he presses against them to gain relief. His fingers feel the sand-smoothed limestone, separated by perfectly straight lines. He turns and examines the pile, limestone formed Egyptian concrete and the blocks are fitted together with precision. Could this be the place he sought?
As his hands rove the surface of the weathered wall they carve sand from a long indentation, a symbol of Anubis. His heart races with anticipation as he presses hard against the rock, pushing it through and opening a hole large enough to crawl through. Uncaring of the foul scent from within our hero flees the storm and enters the tomb.
Beyond the wall.
Within the desert lie countless tales and from this tomb a thousand can be told. What brought our hero here and what will they find beyond the wall lies in the mind of each storyteller.
Being a tomb, of course, there will be the dead. Whether they live or not is up to you. Will there be traps? Magical script to confuse or protect? Or will we find robotic insects that seek the heat of the living desiring to quench it with the cold of death?
If a treasure lies within then it there must be a guardian, after all, what self-respecting tomb would be without this important feature? Will we find a fallen Pharaoh unwilling to part with his bounty? Perhaps something more ancient inhabits the depths of the tomb, waiting for the seals to be broken and flesh made ready for its appetites.
Our tomb can be placed in the depths of space. Think about Stargate for a moment and the potential becomes clear. Yet instead of a master race will we instead find the alien remnants of a fallen civilization. What secrets will these relics hold and what dangers will they present to human explorers or to the society they return these treasures to?
So ends our tale as I pluck a scorpion from your shoulder and roast it over the fire. I hope you have enjoyed our visit to the Forest of Sands.
What visions do you see living among the ever-shifting dunes? Have any interesting desert tales you’d like to share?
Looking for more great ideas and information on writing? Check out my previous “Designing from Bones” entries.