Pharaonic

Pharaonic and Late Period

175_7549bContents

 

Early Dynastic

The Early Dynastic period overlaps with Naqada III, but follows unification and incorporates the first two Egyptian Dynasties.

Very few later Predynastic and Early Dynastic sites survive in the Eastern Desert beyond the Nile, and the relationship between the two areas is very difficult to analyze. 

A site found by George Murray in 1923, and described earlier on the Prehistoric page, was originally described by Reisner as Late Predynastic or Early Dynastic, but a date in the Badarian has more recently been proposed for it (Resch 1964).

Hoffman (1979) discusses invasion theories that have been proposed for this period as the result of interpretation of the label of the Pharaoh Den (the first king of the Fifth Dynasty), which was found at Abydos.  The King Den labels shows the king smiting a long-haired and bearded opponent who appears to be emerging from the mountains of the East, and the inscription reads “first occasion of smiting of the East” (Bomann and Young 1994).  This has sometimes been interpreted as a successful repulsion of an Eastern invasion (Hoffman 1979, p.246).  Hoffman, however, believes that the scene shown on the label instead “looks more like a first for control over access to the Nile than a Pharaonic invasion of the East” (p.246).  It seems clear that the interpretation of labels and palettes has many of the same problems as the interpretation of rock art. Bomann and Young suggest that “rulers or chiefs probably still resided in the Eastern Desert and were strong enough to challenge the developing urban communities in the Nile Valley” (1994, p.31) and believe that it is possible that although Den “was probably gaining control over routes in Upper Egypt and those leading to Sinai, he may have wished to control Middle Eastern Desert routes as well, such as the Wadis el-Tarfa and Asyuti.  Thus he or earlier kings were probably still clearing this remoter part of Egypt” (1994, p.31)

From 3050BC onwards (the beginning of the Dynatic period) metal processing began to develop and was refined on an ongoing basis.  There are representations from Old Kingdom mastaba tombs of metal working, including the tomb of Queen Meresankh III at Giza.

The earliest evidence of gold mining in the Eastern Desert comes from this time – both open cast and underground mining.  Gold was crushed with stone hammers to fine powder in the mining operation.  The Eastern Desert had a significant role in this socioeconomic development, providing essential routes from the Egyptian Nile to the Red Sea and the lands beyond, whilst its resources contributed to the culture and the economy of Egypt.

In the Eastern Desert, the quarry Gebel Manzal el Seyl, 200km from the Nile Valley, produced stone for funerary vessels dating from the first to third dynasties:  “Given the general absence of quarrying, one might suppose that the stones for most vessels were not quarried at all, but rather, were collected as loose blocks or boulders that were then carved.  This might well be true for some stone varieties but it was not the case for two of those widely used during the Early Dynastic Period:  tuff and tuffaceous limestone.  An extensive quarry for these stones was discovered . . . at Gebel Manzal el Seyl” (Harrell et al 2000, p.33).  The only other quarries known to be used at this time for vessel production are in the Faiyum (Umm al Sawan) and the Egyptian-Nubian border (Gebel el-Asr).  Gebel Manzal el-Seyl was the biggest of the three (Harrell 2000, p.232), consisting of a 3km long ridge up to 100m high  located on the south of the Wadi Mellaha.  A long way from the greatest known concentrations of rock art, this site is located in the northeastern part of the Eastern Desert.  It consists of around 200 excavations along a ridge in 39 quarrying areas (Harrell 2000; Harrell et all 2000, p.36).  The individual excavations are “mostly less than 5m across but those in the 5-10m range are common, and a few , all on the ridge crest, exceed 10m in maximum dimension” (Harrell et al 2000, p.36). The largest of the excavations is 50m across and the face was worked up to a height of 10 metres. The quarry excavations were linked together by a network of footpaths.  The excavations supplied a dark green banded calcerous tuff and a bluish tuffaceous limestone. Stone tools made from fine-grained and immensely strong dolerite, were used to work the rock, varying from large two-handed mauls and smaller ones that could have been managed with one hand and some of which were notched for the fitting of a wooden haft. There were apparently three steps in the extraction process (Harrell et al 2000, p.38-39):

  • A fracture-free rock mass of a size suitable for a vessel, which was extracted by plying natural fractures which surrounded it
  • A two-handed maul was used to loosen a block from the bedrock by pounding along a fracture
  • A one-handed or hafted maul was used to dress the block and to shape it into the form of a vessel. The blanks have been formed into shapes but have not been hollowed out. 

Around 15 Large and level areas were used as workshops for working the vessel blanks, and probably also served as storage areas (Harrell et al 2000, p.40).  The pre-preparation of these vessels was probably done mainly to ensure that only good quality material was transported back for further modification. Eleven vessel blanks have been inscribed with signs which may be analogous to the potter’s marks made on some ceramic vessels in the Predynastic and Early Dynastic.  The cylinders, bowls and dishes were apparently carved and polished in the Nile Valley.  Vessel blanks were probably taken to the Nile Valley by donkey, via networks of wadis that connected ultimately with the Nile.  There is no settlement or any other diagnostic material, but vessel fabrication proves the age, with vessel blanks littering the quarry, but most of them are found in 15 areas that appear to be quarry workshops (Harrell 2002, p.232). Pottery sherds have not been found, and Harrell et al (2000, p.41) suggest that this indicates the use of animal-skin bags to store and transport water).  No water storage or water sources have been found – if there was a well it must have been buried under sediments deposited by floods.  No remains of accommodation for quarry workers have been found, which “suggests that the quarrymen lived instead in either tents or brush shelters as modern-day Bedouin sometimes do” (Harrell et al 2000, p.41).

A second quarry to be used during the Early Dynastic, and afterwards, was located in the Wadi Hammamat.  The first stone quarried was a slightly metamorphosed sedimentary rock which varies from sandstone to siltstone (Harrell 2002, p.239).  They are grey to dark green and are often refereed to collectively as greywacke or metagreywacke.  These have often been misidentified as schist and slate and were known by the ancient Egyptians as “bekhen” or “bekheny” stone (Harrell 2002, p.239).  Some of the several hundred blanks are found in the excavation itself

In the Middle Eastern Desert, to the north of the Wadi Abu Had, copper and gold mines of Gebel Darah, El-Uruf and Mongul were mined during the Early Dynastic and Old Kingdom periods (Bomann and Young 1994, p.28).  Site WAH-29 in Wadi Abu Had, is associated with copper mining and the extraction of colourless crystal and purple amethystine quartz (Bomann and Young 1994; Harrell et al 2000), and dates to Dynasty 0 to the First Dynasty.

Evidence of the importance of these connections is demonstrable by a series of eastern imports: “In Naqada IIc-d and Naqada III, Near Eastern influence can be seen in Egypt I many fields:  certain pottery and stone vase forms, brick architecture and artistic motifs” (Majer 1992, p.230).  Cylinder seals provide one example of communications with the east – Elamite (Podzorski 1988) or Mesopotamian (Mark 1997) origins have both been suggested, but there is no dispute that they are certainly not indigenous in origin.  Connections could have been established either by caravan route or by boat.  As outlined elsewhere on this site, Marks (1997) sees a trade route via the Delta, not through the Eastern Desert.

Summary

The use of the Eastern Desert during the periods between Naqada I and the end of the First Dynasty is very poorly understood, but it seems likely the desert was no longer used as a significant part of the subsistence pattern.  Instead, subsistence strategies appear to have become centralized around rapidly developing urban areas or polities, with the desert employed for the extraction of stone.  The main east-west wadis were probably still used for connections between the Nile and the Red Sea.

Majer (1992, p. 231) sees the evolution of Egyptian states (followed by unification) as an issue of economic change.  Whereas in the Badarian exchange mechanisms apparently existed, these became formalized in both economic and social terms as a result of long distance contacts with more culturally complex regions, like Mesopotamia.  He sees a process by which an emerging Egyptian elite could secure a surplus that could be used to reinforce their position:  “A feedback loop was created that changed a potential for hierarchy into a reality.”  He suggests that it was not merely financial differentiation that created a stratified society, but manipulation of the appearance of that stratification via symbol and ritual.

 

Pharaonic

Introduction to Pharaonic archaeology in the Eastern Desert

The Eastern Desert, as barren and bleak as it may appear at first glance, has been of considerable economic importance to Egypt through the ages.  With its supply of raw materials (rocks and minerals) and its availability in earlier times for pasture, the Eastern Desert has contributed a great deal to the Nile Valley.

Unlike the Roman Emperors, who had virtually limitless resources and a vast Empire, the Pharaohs did not extract stone in large volumes, and had relatively small quarrying operations (Peacock 2000).

Few references are made to religious practices in the Eastern Desert during the Pharaonic period.  This is not an oversight.  The religion associated with the Eastern Desert is not well understood. During the Pharaonic Period, the deity Sopdu was apparently identified in the Nile Valley with the Eastern regions, but the deity is scarcely represented in the Eastern Desert itself and appears to have been more closely associated with the eastern Delta and the Sinai Peninsula. Instead,  Min, or Amun-Min was actually the dominant deity, with a number of shrines built in his honor, and numerous commemorative rock inscriptions mentioning and depicting him. Aufrere says that it was “under the aegis of the lioness deities, equated with the Eye of Horus, that travellers and caravan traders placed themselves.  In general, all desert exploitation, principally in the Eastern rather than the Western Desert, was under their protection” Aufrere DATE, p.210).  Later, during Ptolemaic and Roman times, the god Pan, who was often equate with the Egyptian god Min, was the frequently depicted in the Eastern Desert.  
 

Old Kingdom and First Intermediate

The Old Kingdom lasts from the 3rd Dynasty to the end of the 6th Dynasty, and was ruled from Memphis, south of Saqqara.  The Old Kingdom is remarkable particularly for the powerful rulers of the 3rd and 4th Dynasties.  The 3rd Dynasty inaugurated the pyramid building age (with the Step Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara), which reached its apex in the 4th Dynasty (most notably at the Giza plateau), but large numbers of elite mastaba tombs are equally remarkable for the quality and complexity of their internal organization and the amazingly detailed and beautiful art work.  The 4th Dynasty is also the time when the sun god Ra became the most important of the deities.  In the 5th Dynasty pyramids, and associated sun temples, were constructed for the Dynasty’s rulers in the vicintity of Abusir and Saqqara.  The pyramids still stand, but were infinitely inferior, in engineering and architectural terms, to their predecessors.  In the 6th Dynasty court and religious life were again focused on Saqqara, and the first Pyramid Texts date to this time.  The First Intermediate period is somewhat unclear, follows the reign of Pepi II and incorporates the 8th to 10th Dynasties.  Centralized royal control appears to have been substantially undermined at this time, but it seems that control was still mainly based in northern Egypt (Shaw and Nicholson 1995, p.100)

Apart from quarrying for siltstone to make palettes in the Predynastic, most of the quarrying carried out in Egypt too place during and after the Old Kingdom.  The best known quarries are those associated with inscriptions, but there are many lesser known examples flanking the Nile  and near the Faiyum Depression .  In the Old Kingdom the main stones quarried for were sandstone, limestone, granite, diorite, and some alabaster.  Mining activities also took place.  Lead ore (galena), for example, used to make eye makeup and amethyst were sourced from Red Sea sites.

Metal processing became increasingly important throughout the Old Kingdom.  Representations of metal working survive on Old Kingdom tomb walls (including the mastaba tomb of Queen Meresankh III).  Gold was mined during the Old Kingdom in the Eastern Desert, but only on a very sporadic basis (Klemm et al 2002, p.216).  It is more likely that military action against Nubia in the Old Kingdom was the main source of gold, which is certainly mentioned on Old Kingdom expedition reports.  Nubia had much richer resources in large concentrations (Baines and Malek 1980, p.21).  During the Old Kingdom there was a significant change in the design of mining tools and exploitation, resulting in improved efficiencies.  One-hand hammers replaced two-handled versions.  Klemm et al (2002) make the interesting point that the new tools were made for hand sizes smaller than the average recorded for Nile inhabitants at that time, and they suggest that Eastern Desert gold production was carried out by non-Egyptians and only organized by Egyptian personnel. 

Inscriptions and depictions have been  identified from the Old Kingdom particularly in the Wadi Hammamat.  To the south of Wadi Hammamat and north of Wadi Qash, the Wadi ‘Isa produced some previously unrecorded graffiti during the Quseir al-Qadim Project’s survey of winter of 1982-83 (Bell et al 1984).  Wadi ‘Isa is a north-south wadi, and the rock art is concentrated on both sides of a narrow granite-flanked section some 12km south of Wadi Hammamat road (Bell et al 1984, p.28).  As well as a series of animals including ostriches, gazelles and bovines, a Horus falcon and 10 hieroglyphic inscriptions were found, of which nine are late Old Kingdom private inscriptions and one is a Middle Kingdom cartouche.  It is suggested (Bell et al p.31) that these were left by different expeditions, with one individual, Neferu, apparently leaving his name on two separate occasions.

The Wadi ‘Isa Old Kingdom inscriptions are all brief and read as follows:

  • The expedition leader ‘Iri
  • The chamberlain and overseer of the scribes of the crew ‘Idi
  • The captain of the ship’s crew Inkaf
  • The captain of the ship’s crew Netjerhetepu
  • The general and oarsman of the king Neferu
  • Horus falcon, probably of Old Kingdom date
  • [The overseer] of (com)missions, general, and oarsman of the king Neferu
  • The senior scribe Minhaisht
  • The senior scribe Minhaishtef
  • The captain of the ship’s crew and senior overseer of scribes Fetekti

As Bell et al point out (1984, p.40) “It is quite noticeable that five of the seven individuals mentioned in the Wadi ‘Isa graffiti bear titles with a naval association”.  They also say that the range of titles is standard for Eastern Desert expeditions, and that comparable titles have been found in the Wadi Hammamat, along the Mersa Alam road, the Wadi Atalla and Bir Menih, as well as others.  An analysis of the names has led Bell et al to suggest that the people whose names have been carved into the wadi walls were based at Coptos (modern Qift), a city which assumed increasing importance during the Old Kingdom period:  “This city served not only as a base from which quarrying and trading expeditions to and through the Eastern Desert could set out but also as a type of frontier base for resisting the increasing pressure from the ‘Asiatic’ nomads” (Bell et al 1984 p.43).  Given its location as a north-south linkage between Wadi Hammamat and Wadi Qash, it is possible that the inscriptions were left by people leaving one east-west route in favour of the other, perhaps in order to avoid disputes or other problems.

Curiously, few Old Kingdom inscriptions are left near many of the Old Kingdom quarrying sites.  Bell et al suggest, instead, that the Old Kingdom inscriptions at Wadi ‘Isa, Wadi Hammamat and elsewhere may have been left both by traders using the Red Sea, and by patrols trying to chart the movements or control the desert nomads (1984, p.43). 

However, in the Wadi Hammamat, inscriptions directly associated with quarrying are found.  In the Old Kingdom and following periods, the Wadi Hammamat area was valued for its stone.  Known collectively as “bekhen”.  The geologist Rushdi Said says that this bekhen stone is in reality a breccia made up of a predominantly green matrix containing fragments of different kinds of rocks (Said 1999 WR). Harrell (WR) describes it as “metagraywacke sandstone and siltstone” that “is a beautiful greyish-green ornamental stone”.  The Wadi Hammamat was the only source of this stone.

Quarrying of stone was a highly organized activity. Teams of professional quarrying personnel, craftsmen, engineers and labourers, known as sementyou were sent to prospect for raw materials, returning with samples.  Stone could then be extracted for use in architecture and the manufacture of personal items, like sarcophagi.  Quarrying was seen as an honourable occupation.  Work was carried out in the winter, and appropriate stone was conveyed to the Nile Valley during the spring when flooding assisted the transportation of stone up river. 

Expeditions were expensive and labour intensive.  Few pharaohs sent more than one quarrying expedition during a reign.  However, due to the extraordinary nature of these expeditions, records were left in the Wadi Hammamat – inscriptions inscribed into the dark surfaces that flank the main wadi channel.  Most inscriptions report on the engineering works, and usually mention the Pharaoh responsible by name. 

Inscriptions made in the Eastern Desert during the Old Kingdom also include those left by travelers passing through, engaged on trade expeditions. Fattovich says that textual and iconographic data “stronly suggest that at the beginning of the Old Kingdom . . . maritime routes were established in the Red Sea, most likely in order to reach Sinai and Punt” (2005, p.15). He suggests that such expeditions would probably have taken place between July/August and January/Febuary “in order to exploit the summer dominant winds and surface currents southwards and their winter flow northwards” (Fattovich 2005, p.15).  An example on an expedition inscription is that left by Hennou, who headed a mission to Punt, with 3000 men.  Many inscriptions are dedicated to specific gods.  The most common is the god Min or Min-Amun, one of the most ancient of all the Egyptian deities, who was seen as a protector of workers.  Easily identified by twin feathered crown, false beard and ithyphallic stance, he was thought to ward off evil spirits.

One of the Old Kingdom inscriptions in the Wadi Hammamat comes from the Chief Architect of Pepi I, and reads (Reference: Breasted 1906  http://www.reshafim.org.il/ad/egypt/texts/hammamat.htm):

  • Year after //// //// ////
    Royal commission which the chief of all works of the king, sole companion, master-builder of the king, attached to the Double House, Merire-meriptah-onekh, carried out.
    Overseer of the administration of the divine offering, attached to the Double House, first under the king, judge, inferior scribe, Sesi.
    Scribe of the king’s records, Khenu.
    Judge attached to Nekhen, Khui.
    Treasurer of the god, Ihu.
    Treasurer of the god Ikhi.

Pepi I was the third king of the 6th Dynasty, whose throne name Meryre means “Beloved of Re”.  Pepi I initiated a number of trading and other expeditions.  One inscription at the Wadi Hammamat lists the names of the chief architect, master builders, artisans, scribes, treasurers and ship captains, who were engaged in quarrying to procure the stone for the decoration pyramid of Pepi I at Saqqara (Said 1999, WR).

One from the First Intermediate reads (Reference: Breasted 1906, and shown on http://www.reshafim.org.il/ad/egypt/texts/hammamat.htm):

  • Commission which the eldest king’s son, the treasurer of the god, commander of the army, Zaty, called Kenofer, executed.
    I was at the front of the people in the day of battle, I controlled the going in the day of attack, by my counsel. I was exalted above multitudes, I made this work of Imhotep with 1000 men of the palace, 100 quarrymen, 1200 [soldiers] and 50 [////]. His majesty sent this numerous troop from the court. I made this work while [////] in every [////], while his majesty gave 50 oxen and 200 asses every day.
    Palace-overseer, Intef.
    Scribe of the marine, Mereri.

Pepi I is the first pharaoh who is known to have given orders regarding the nomads who occupied the Eastern Desert, directing a local governor to round them up (Hobbs 1989 ,p.21).

Middle Kingdom and Second Intermediate

The Middle Kingdom was inaugurated by Mentuhotep II, who established the 11th Dynasty and ended with the end of the 13th Dynasty.  The 12th Dynasty was eastbalished by Amenemhat I, who may have been the vizier of the third and last ruler of the 11th Dynasty, Mentuhotep IV.  The main achievements of the 12th Dynasty were administrative and economic – the nomes were more clearly defined and the Faiyum Depression was developed for more intensive agricultural use – but Lower Nubia was also annexed gradually at this time, with a string of fortresses established under the reign of Senwosret III, and a channel excavated through the First Cataract at Aswan which would have allowed uninterrupted travel between Nubia and, via the Delta, the Mediterranean coast (Shaw and Nicholson 1995, p.186).  The 13th Dynasty seems to have been fairly consistent in most aspects with the 12th Dynasty, although it is characterized by numerous rulers in a relatively short period of time.  The 14th so-called 14th Dynasty consists of a series of minor rulers in the Delta who were probably contemporary with the 13th Dynasty. It may be due to this lack of continuity and growing instability that caused an increasing loss of control over Nubia, and permitted the invasion of the northern Delta by the Hyksos.  The Second Intermediate period, which followed, saw the division of Egypt into two areas – with the Hyksos holding the Nile Delta from a base at Avaris (the 16th Dynasty) and the Egyptian elite still holding Upper Egypt (the 17th Dynasty). Nubia seems to have been lost to Upper Egypt. 

Quarrying and mining were intensified and became more organized under the Middle Kingdom.  Administrators with titles such as “Treasurer of Gold”, “Administrator of the Southern Districts” and “Administrator of the Southern Narrow Doorway” were given responsibility over work teams in the Eastern Desert that may have been numbered in  thousands. Most of the workers were probably Bedouins, and skilled professionals and officials also accompanied and led expeditions, some of them very senior.  Shaw says that during the Middle Kingdom “judging from surviving inscriptions alone, at least 39 expeditions were sent to the turquoise mines in Sinai, 15 to the Wadi el-Hudi amethyst mines, and 13 to the Wadi Hammamat siltsonte/grewacke quarries” (Shaw 2002, p.244).

By the reign of Amenemhet I the village of Menat-Khufu near present day Beni Hasan in Middle Egypt became the administrative center for the northern area of the Eastern Desert. The “Supervisor of the Eastern Desert”, controlled the area from the southern Sinai to the Wadi Hammamat, a position needed to operate the large calcite and sandstone quarries, with responsibilities for planning and executing expeditions into the Desert.  In Beni Hasan is the burial site of the nomarchs of 16th Nome of Upper Egypt, the Oryx Nome. The Beni Hasan tomb of Administrator of the Eastern Desert Khnum-Hotep II, in the reign of Senwosret II, shows a donkey caravan transporting galena (for black eye makeup).  One of the mines was located on the Red Sea at Gebel el-Zeit, and was exploited through the Second Intermediate period into the New Kingdom as far as the reign as Ramesses III.

Sydney Aufrere (2002, p.207-213) has analysed the data from the tombs of Beni Hasan to gain a clearer insight into the role of the Administrator of the Eastern Desert, and particularly to determine if the exploitation of the Eastern Desert was one of the most important duties of the Oryx Nome administrators.  The nomarch Khnumhotep I held the title “Administrator of the Eastern Desert in Menat-Khufu”.  Menat-Khufu was the main city of the Oryx Nome, and this close affiliation of the Eastern Desert with the city’s name “suggests a link between this town and the desert” (p.210).  There is no obvious route from the nome into the Eastern Desert, except at the far south where the Via Hadriana, which ran from the Red Sea Coast near Gebel el-Zeit, ended.  Unfortunately there is no evidence that this route was used in the Middle Kingdom.  However, Aufrere’s analysis of an inscription in the Wadi Hammamat leads him to suggest that Menat-Khufu  “already occupied a strategic position with regard to the Eastern Desert during the Eleventh Dynasty” (2002, p.211). 

In the tomb of Khnumhotep following a convention first established in the Middle Kingdom for depicting actual scenes from real life (Snape 2007), there is a scene which describes the arrival of a tribe of 37 Asiatic Bedouin.  Aufrere suggests that this may have depicted a payment of tribute by occupants of southern Palestine, using the Eastern Desert tracks from the northeast to reach  the Nile (Aufrere 2002, p.211).

Under the reign of Mentuhotep II a chancellor named Meru controlled the Eastern Desert and the oases of the Western Desert, a post which Callender says “was much more significant than it had been during the Old Kingdom” (p.152).

Wadi ‘Isa, mentioned above in the context of Old Kingdom inscriptions, is a north-south wadi, and the inscriptions are concentrated on both sides of a narrow granite-flanked section some 12km south of Wadi Hammamat road (Bell et al 1984, p.28).  As well as a series of animals, a Horus falcon, and nine Old Kingdom hieroglyphic inscriptions there is a cartouche of Kheperkare Senwosret I.

New greywacke quarries in the Wadi Hammamat region were developed towards the end of the 11th Dynasty and during the 12th.   Gemstones, surface collected from Predynastic times onwards, were mined far more seriously during later times.  Middle Kingdom mining included amethyst extraction from Aswan and turquoises from Sinai.  Amethyst extracted in the Wadi el-Hudi, about thirty-five kilometers southeast of Aswan is associated with local expedition inscriptions date from the 11th to 13th Dynasties, including one from Seti I (Peacock 2000).  Of these activities Shaw says that the “procurement of siltstone from Wadi Hammamat appears to have been the steadiest and most consistent” (2002, p.244). 

Shaw goes on to say that during the Middle Kingdom there appears to have been no more than one expedition every five years to the turquoise mines at Sinai, the amethyst mines at Wadi el-Hudi and the siltstone quarries at Wadi Hammamat (2002, p.244).  Shaw says that there are only two exceptions:  Mentuhotep IV and Amenemhat IV, both of whom ruled at the end of a dynasty at a time of significant instability, and both of whom “undertook an amount of mining that was much hither than we would expect for the lengths of their reigns”. 

One of the Wadi Hammamat expeditions is recorded in some detail.  The Stela of Senwosret I indicates that around 17,000 men made up the workforce of one of these expeditions.  Amargi Hillier offers the following translation of one of the inscriptions from the Senwosret I expedition, which he suggests is a typical model of the type of inscription left by quarrying teams (Reference: Breasted 1906 and shown on  http://www.reshafim.org.il/ad/egypt/texts/hammamat.htm):

  • I came to the desert to obtain stone for His Majesty the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Kherperkare’ in the year 38, the fourth month of the flood, on the fourth day. I departed in peace during the fourth month of the flood, on the sixth day, with 80 blocks of stone drawn by 1500 and by 1000 men. I reached the Nile pier in the fourth month of the flood on the 20th day.

The first expedition of Senwosret I into Nubia at the beginning of the Middle Kingdom may well have been designed to extract more gold, an idea reinforced by inscriptions in the tomb of Ameni at Beni Hassan, who led three expeditions of the pharaoh.

Another dates to the reign of Mentuhotep II
(Reference: Breasted 1906 and shown on http://www.reshafim.org.il/ad/egypt/texts/hammamat.htm):

  • Year 8, first month of the third season (ninth month), day 3; his real favorite servant, who does all that he praises every day, wearer of the royal seal, [sole] com[panion], //// overseer of that which is and that which is not, overseer of the temples, overseer of the granary and White House, overseer of horn and hoof, chief of the six courts of justice, high-voiced in proclaiming the name of the king on the day of his warding off [////] who judges the prisoner according to his deserts //////////////////// (omitted lines containing titles) Satisfying the heart of the king as Keeper of the Door of the South; over the administration of the nomes of the South, chief treasurer ////////////. who quells the Haunebu, to whom the Two Lands come bowing down, to whom every office reports; wearer of the royal seal, sole companion, the steward, Henu says:
        [My lord, life prosperity], health! sent me to dispatch a ship to Punt to bring for him fresh myrrh from the sheiks over the Red Land, by reason of the fear of him in the highlands. Then I went forth from Coptos upon the road, which his majesty commanded me. There was with me an army of the South from //// of the Oxyrhyncus nome, the beginning thereof as far as Gebelen; the end thereof as far as [////], every office of the king’s house, those who were in town and field, united, came after me. The army [////] cleared the way before, overthrowing those hostile toward the king, the hunters and the children of the highlands were posted as the protection of my limbs. Every official body of his majesty was placed under my authority. They reported messengers to me, as one alone commanding, to whom many hearken.
        I went forth with an army of 3,000 men. I made the road a river, and the Red Land (desert) a stretch of field, for I gave a leathern bottle, a carrying pole, 2 jars of water and 20 loaves to each one among them every day. The asses were laden with sandals [//// //// //// ////].
        Now, I made 12 wells in the bush, and two wells in Idehet, 20 square cubits in one, and 31 [square] cubits in the other. I made another in Iheteb, 20 by 20 cubits on each side [//// //// //// ////].
        Then I reached the [Red] Sea; then I made this ship, and I dispatched it with everything, when I had made for it a great oblation of cattle, bulls and ibexes.
        Now, after my return from the (Red) Sea, I executed the command of his majesty, and I brought for him all the gifts, which I had found in the region of God’s Land. I returned through the [valley] of Hammamat, I brought for him august blocks for statues belonging to the temple. Never was brought down the like thereof for the king’s court; never was done the like of this by any king’s confidant sent out since the time of the god. I did this for the majesty of my lord because he so much loved me ////////////////////////..

Another inscription for the Wadi Hammamat is intriguing.  Dating to the end of the Eleventh Dynasty, it was left by an official named Se’ankh:  “This inscription . . . relates that this aged official was entrusted by his lord with a mission of organizing an expedition into the desert in order to found a settlement to be inhabited by young people” (2002, p.211).

Aufrere says that evidence from Beni Hasan tomb scenes indicates that the desert was used for hunting as well as mining and quarrying, and that this pattern is repeated in tombs of other nomes.

Gebel el-Zeit seems to have been the main source of galena during the Middle Kingdom, and may have been used before but were exploited intensively at this time, and were exhausted by the reign of Ramesses II in the New Kingdom (Bomann and Young 1994, p.29).  Bomann and Young say that it is “noteworthy that Gebel el-Zeit, near the Strait of Gubal and Wadi Abu Had, lies nearly opposite Minya (Menat Khufu), the seat of the sixteenth Upper Egyptian nome (1994, p.30).  Artefacts discovered at the galena mines included Tell el-Yahudiyeh ware, Pan grave sherds, and Syro-Palestinian cylinders suggesting either the presence of foreigners or contact with them.

The amethyst mines at Wadi el-Hudi are located in a geologically diverse region, within the southern section of the Arabo-Nubian massif, dominated by a large hill called the Gebel el-Hudi, which is the main source of ancient mining and quarrying expeditions (Shaw 2002, p.247).  There are three areas that were used during the Middle Kingdom, known as Site 5, Site 6 and Site 9.  Site 5 was probably opened first in the Eleventh Dynasty, and consists of “a low hill adjoining an amethyst mine and surmounted by the remains of a rough stone fortified enclosed containing about 40 dry-stone workmen’s shelters” (Shaw 2002, p.247). It bears similarities to Old Kingdom sites of the same type.  Site 6 is located on another hill and is distinguished by carved texts and images at its summit.  Site 9 appears to have been opened in the Twelfth Dynasty and includes a fortified dry-stone settlement (c.70x50m) associated with another two amethyst mines (Shaw 2002, p.247).  Unlike Site 5, Site 9 corresponds more closely to Nubian fortress forms.  Shaw suggests, on the basis of texts and ceramics, that there were two major phases of amethyst exploitation, represented by the different types of architecture at Sites 5 and 9, the latter perhaps being “an expression of new Egyptian attitudes both to quarrying expeditions and to Nubia”.  Lower Nubia had become an annex of Egypt from the reign of Senwosret I, and was controlled by a series of fortresses and watch towers in the Twelfth Dynasty: “The Twelfth Dynasty mining settlement at Wadi el-Hudi appears to have been affected by the new military style of organisation and bureaucracy that characterises most Egyptian activities during the period.  Quarriers were housed like colonists in a quasi-permanent settlement and the business of amethyst mining took on a more military air”  (Shaw 2002, p.248).

The Eastern Desert was also used as a through route from the Nile Valley to the Red Sea, as it was in most other periods.  It is thought that official expeditions transported pre-fabricated but unassembled boats from Koptos to the Red Sea port of Marsa Gawasis, via the Wadi Hammamat.  At the port, the boats were assembled and the expeditions proceeded by sea.  One of the commonly recorded destinations was Punt (Kitchen 2005).  The port of Marsa Gawasis, discovered in the 1970s and recently re-examined by Rodolfo Fattovich and Kathryn Bard between 2001 and 2004, has provided firm evidence for its use as a port during Middle Kingdom, with two periods of occupation – in the 12th and 13th Dynasties. It may also have been used during the First Intermediate period or the very late Old Kingdom.  Fattovich states that both the archaeology and epigraphy support an “indisputably” maritime function for this site (2005, p.19).  The port was probably located here for a number of reasons – a natural harbour is easily accessible from the sea via a chanel cut inot the coral reef, it provided a good natural shelter for ships, it was near to the Wadi Gawasis (only 1km to the north) which provided a direct route to the Nile Valley, playa lakes appear to have been formed which would have provided fresh water, and local raw materials could be employed for copper smelting and pottery manufacture whilst local half plant wre used for making rope (Fattovich 2005). The settlement has produced evidence to suggest how different parts of Marsa Gawasis were used.  Components include storage rooms which held both cargo and the materials needed for shipping expeditions, temporary shelters, some with hearths, ceremonial monuments and tumuli, functional areas for metal working and pottery manufacture, and workshop where limestone anchors were made and lithic tools were manufactured.    The anchors seem to have had both practical and ceremonial purposes:  “In particular, the anchors were placed in front of the entry of the shrines, and broken anchors were buried inside them, most likely as a votive deposit, suggesting that the shrines and possibly some of the tumuli were memoirs of naval expeditions, which were recorded in the small stelae usually associated with these structures” (Fattovich 2005, p.19).  Boat building and operational materials included Lebanese cedar for manufacturing sea-worthy boats, and halfa leaves used to make rope.  On the basis of inscriptions on stelae and ostraca, Sayed identified the site at Marsa Gawasis as the Pharaonic port S3ww, from which expeditions were sent to Punt.  The stela of Antefoker dating to the reigns of Senusret I records 3756 men sent to the port fore an expedition to Punt.  Unfortunately there is only scarce data for long distance trade.

The earliest mention of the Medjay dates to this time.  The nomads of the Eastern Desert are mentioned for the first time in the Semnah Dispatches in the reign of Ammenemes III.    In the 12th Dynasty tomb chapel at Meir a frieze shows Medjay tribesmen herding cattle, supervised by Egyptian overseers (Berg 1998 WR).  

Finally, Aufrere concludes that “Theoretically or religiously speaking, each nome was linked to an aspect of the traditional desert economy, and most of these links can still be observed in the late religious texts” (2002, p.211).

 

New Kingdom

At the end of the Second Intermediate period the Hyksos were expelled from Egypt under the leadership of Ahmose, the first Pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty.  The Egyptian empire was expanded into S.W. Asia and Nubia was once again brought under Egyptian control, bringing new economic opportunities to Egypt.  The 18th Dynasty had a capital in Thebes and was quite clearly a period of enormous wealth, albeit interrupted by the Amarna period, when the Pharaoh Akehnaten established both a new religion and a new capital on a temporary basis, before the old order was re-established.  The succeeding 19th Dynasty, with a new capital in the Delta at Piramesse (Qantir), was a period of great military activity with campaigns taking place far beyond the borders of modern Egypt. The 20th Dynasty was a period of instability, with Egypt having to defend itself against military challenges.  The end of the New Kingdom is somewhat unclear, but sees the succession of Smendes from Ramesses XI as first Pharaoh of the 21st Dynasty.  Smendes ruled from Tanis, but the 22nd Dynasty was established with the reign of the first of the Libyan rulers, Sheshonq I.  The Libyans appear to have had control over most of Egypt at this time, with a period of retreat in the face of brief Nubian incursions which established the 24th Dynasty.  His withdrawal resulted in the establishment of the Late Period.

Another religious temple is the Speos Artemidos, a rock cut shrine 3km from Beni Hasan in a small wadi.  The shrine probably dates tot he Middle Kingdom, but it is most commonly associated with teh new Kingdom and hte New Kingdom.  It was dedicated to the lion goddess Pakhet, who was an aspect of Hathor.  The facade of the shrine consists of four pillars cut into the rock with a central doorway.  the entrance opens into a hall with four pillars decorated with hieroglyphs and damaged reliefs.  The most important inscription was left during the reign of Hatshepsut, and describes the stabilizing effect of the reign of Hatshepsut following the chaos of the Hyksos rulers.  The following translation is available on the following page, adapted from Allen 2002
http://www.ancientneareast.net/texts/egyptian/speos_artemidos.html:  

    So listen, all you elite and multitude of commoners: I have done this by the plan of my mind. (36) I do not sleep forgetting, (but) have made form what was ruined. For I have raised up what was dismembered beginning (37) from the time when the Asiatics were in the midst of the Delta, (in) Avaris, with vagrants in their midst, (38) toppling what had been made. They ruled without the Sun, and he did not act by god’s decree down to my (own) uraeus-incarnation. (Now) I am set (39) on the Sun’s thrones, having been foretold from ages of years as one born to take possession. I am come as Horus, the sole (40) uraeus spitting fire at my enemies. I have banished the gods’ abomination, the earth removing their footprints.

Other scenes, texts and cartouches date to the reigns of Tuthmosis III and Seti I, and there is graffiti from later periods.  A temple near to the Speos Artemidos, called the Speos Batn el-Bakarah, is located near to the Speos Artemidos, and was dedicated to Pakhet, apparently by Hatshepsut and her daughter, although ti was decorated during the reign of Alexander.  Both temples probably had more to do with the Nile than the Eastern Desert.  The small wadi in which they were located does not appear to have been used as a through-route to elsewhere.  However, their presence in the Eastern Desert indicates a respect for the deserts.

The data for the New Kingdom, as with other Dynastic periods is fragmented, based on what is known about expeditions into and through the desert.

Kanais Temple, located on the south side of a wadi, a tiny temple dedicated to Seti I, located near a number of rock art sites.  It consists of a portico of stone blocks extending into a cliff overhang, with the inner sanctum carved into the rock face.  The roof is supported by four columns.  The inner sanctum is sealed at the moment to protect it, but the walls of the temple itself display scenes of Set I smiting defeating captives, and making an offering to Amun Ra (Rohl 2000, p.15-16).

By the New Kingdom, the main routes within Egypt and leading beyond her borders were well established.  this provided a network for trade, communication and industry.  Bomann and Young say that these “include Tell Abu Sefa to el-Arish (the ‘Way of Hours’). the wadi Tumilat, the Wadi Gasus to Safaga, the Wadi Hammamat to Quseir and the Wadi Abbad to Berenice”, and they add that a main route during the New Kingdom on the border of Middle Egypt was the Wadi Araba “whose estuary opens into the Gulf of Suez at Safarana, opposite Abu Zenima on the west coast of Sinai (1994, p.28).  They also point out that the negative evidence within the Middle Eastern Desert is of interest, with no major routes crossing from the Nile Valley to the coast – it was not until the Roman period that the Via Hadriana linked Middle Egypt and the Red Sea (Bowmann and Young 1994, p.28).  Probably the most famous use of the Wadi Hammamat as a through-route to the Red Sea is recorded at Deir el Bahri, where Hatshepsut’s text describing her expedition to Punt (land of the Gods) is recorded.  Judging by the products, including ebony, baboons, spices and gold) together with the images of Red Sea and Indian Ocean fish in the sea, the land of Punt could have been located in East Africa or South Arabia (Kitchen 2005).

The most remarkable piece of evidence from the New Kingdom relating to the Eastern Desert is a map.  The Mine Papyrus, or the Turin Papyrus, dating to the Ramesside Period is the earliest known geological and topographical map, and is the only surviving topographic map of Egypt and shows 15km of the Wadi Hammamat.   It was made in c.1150BC by the “Scribe of the Tomb” Amenakhte, prepared for an expedition by Ramesses IV of the 20th Dynasty to obtain bekhen stone for construction of statues, and was found in Amenakhte’s family tomb in Deir el Medineh.  A stela commemorating the final expedition in Year 3 of Ramesses IV’s six year reign, known as CM12, was left at the quarry: “According to the inscription, this included 8,362 men, which makes it the largest recorded quarrying expedition to Wadi Hammamat after one about 800 years earlier during the Middle Kingdom’s 12th Dynasty. It is almost certainly for Ramesses IV’s big expedition that the map was made, but what purpose it served is unclear. It could not have been a road map showing the way to the quarry because it only covers a small area with the 75 km between Wadi Hammamat and the Nile Valley excluded. Most likely, it was drawn as a visual record of the expedition to be viewed by either Ramesses IV or Ramessenakhte, the High Priest of Amun in Thebes, who organized the expedition for the king” (Harrell WR). One of the hieratic comments on the temple reads “A wooden statue of Ramesses IV is to be carved, and ornamented with a kilt of gold, and a grown of lapis lazuli.  It is to be placed in the mortuary temple of Ramesses II in the Chapel of Hathor for the purpose of establishing a cult for the worship of Ramesses VI”.  The scale of the map is not consistent and varies between 100m and 50m to the cm.  Amongst the details shown on the map are the confluence of the Wadi Hammamat with the wadis Atalla and el-Sid, the bekhen and the gold mine quarries at Bir Umm Fawakhir with the associated settlement, the temple to Amun, a stela honouring Seti I of the Nineteenth Dynasty, a water reservoir and the well at the confluence with the Wadi el-Sid, different rock and wadi gravel types.  Many features are highlighted in hieratic, and the map accurately shows the distribution of rock types.  Images of the map are available on Wikipedia at the following addresses (click on the images to see them in more detail):
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:TurinPapyrus1.jpg (left hand part) and
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:TurinPapyrus2.jpg (right hand part)
An helpful interpretative drawing of the papyrus can be found at:
http://www.henry-davis.com/MAPS/Ancient%20Web%20Pages/102A.html

Copper working was improved in the New Kingdom.  Ramesside innovations include shafter furnaces made of brick, improving upon older ground-dug ball furnaces.  This enabled temperatures of c.1200 degrees centigrade, used with bellows, to intensify the heat (Scheel 1989, p.15).  Eastern Desert sources inlcude Wadi Araba east of Beni Suef, northwest Berenice and the area east of Quban.

Gold mining techniques were improved in the New Kingdom, with bronze chisels used to separate out gold containing quartz from the host rocks, allowing them to follow promising ore-shoots.  Pillars carved out of the rock support some of the tunnels.  The maximum depth of shafts was c.30m probably due to oxygen restrictions.  There was a huge success in location new mines, which must have been based on informed knowledge about the Eastern Desert’s geology.  Sites located in the 18th Dynasty probably include el-Sid, Bir Umm Fawakhir, and Barramiya.  Gold mining seems to have collapsed in the Eastern Desert at the end of the Rammeside period, and seems only to have resumed under the Ptolemies.  Nubian sites, however, remained in use.

During the New Kingdom almost all of the important gold mining sites in the Eastern Desert (and Nubia) were found and exploited in the Eighteenth Dynasty in a 140 year period between the reigns of Tuthmosis III and Amenhotep IV (Klemm 2002, 215). The discoveries were made by prospectors who “must have had detailed knowledge of the complicated multi-staged geological and petrographical conditions favouring the formation of gold quartz vein system” (p.217).  Although gold nuggets may have been collected from surface wadi beds from the Predynastic  period (Klemm 2002, p.216), full scale mining operations took the form of both open cast mining and underground trenches. Revolutionary innovations include new tools, including an oval millstone fitted with a rubbing stone “with which a much faster and more efficient grinding of the gold-containing quartz ore to a powder-fine fraction was possible” (Klemm et al 2002, p.216).  Other improvements including the introduction of bronze chisels which allowed more effective selection of gold-bearing quartz from the barren rock.

Gold mining was carried out intensively for the first time in the New Kingdom (Klemm et al 2002, p.216)The main focus of gold mining in the Egyptian Eastern Desert was in the Wadi Sid, though more than sixty ancient gold mines have been documented in the Eastern Desert. They include sites in the Wadi Semna, the Wadi Hammamat, and in the southern region at Wadi Barramiya, Dunqash, Wadi el-Hudi and elsewhere, mostly occupying a band of land from Safaga/Qena int he north to a line midway betweeen Aswan and Edfu to the Red Sea coast. During the New Kingdom, green diorite, graywacke and granite were mined, as was serpentine, especially in the Wadi Atalla. The larger quarry area of the Wadi Hammamat and its gold deposits were administered from the town of Thebes during the New Kingdom. Klemm et al (2002) suggest that the fact that many of the New Kingdom gold mining settlements are unprotected indicates that “no serious danger to the Egyptian miners and to their supply infrastructure was present in the Eastern Desert of Egypt” (Klemm 2002, p.216).  Gold mining settlements consisted of 2-roomed houses made of dry stone with a front terrace, without any protective enclosing walls. Gold production collapsed at the end of the Ramesside period (Klemm et al 2002, p.218).

Although amethyst was mined at three sites at Wadi el-Hudi during the Middle Kingdom, it appears to have been used quite rarely in the New Kingdom  “perhaps suggesting that it had become difficult to obtain” (Shaw 2002, p.249).

An unusual white marble found only in veins in the Eastern Desert mountains was exploited at Gebel Rockham.  As well as standard calcite it includes brucite, which makes it unique.  All items made from this fabric date to the 18th dynasty.

There was also softer stone, such as steatite, which was used for the small Pharaonic scarabs, amulets and figurines.

The galena mine at Wadi el-Zeit, established during the Middle Kingdom, was exploited at least until the reign of Ramesses II (Bomann and Young 1994, p.29), and galena mining continued to take place in the Eastern Desert at least under Ramesses VII and IX (Kitchen 2005, p.13)

One of the big gaps in knowledge is our understanding of the settlement of the Eastern Desert itself, after the Prehistoric period, by people who may have been resident there all year round, leading nomadic lifestyles similar to that of the modern Bedouin. Contemporary documentation is very poor with respect to the desert inhabitants. Two legendary groups are the Medjay and the Blemmyes. The Medjay, popularized in the recent Mummy films, are regarded by some authorities as the descendants of the first pastoral nomads, but are not clearly well understood. Kitchen says that the word “Medjay” was “A term used by the Egyptians for the sparse and mobile population  of the eastern desert between the Nile and the Red Sea, all the way from middle Upper Egypt into north-easetrnmost Suydan” (2005, p.10).  Kitchen goes on to say that the term was probably used to describe a number of ethnic groups.  In the north an interchangeable word, “Aamu” (meaning Asiatics) was used to describe the Semitic inhabitants of Sinai and Levant.  Kitchen suggests that the Semitic speaking nomads penetrated the Eastern Desert tot he level of Wadi Hammamat (2005, p.10). In the south were “broadly African / ‘Hamitic’ peoples” who are described as cattle herders and are thought to be analogous to various Beja groups Kitchen, 2005, p.10).  As said above, they are mentioned for the first time in the Semnah Dispatches in the reign of Ammenemes III.    In the 12th Dynasty tomb chapel at Meir a frieze shows Medjay tribesmen herding cattle, supervised by Egyptian overseers (Berg 1998 WR).  Berg suggests that at some point “the relationship of the Medjay with the Egyptians began to include commercial and military ventures too . . . . Mining resulted in such extensive recruitment of Medjay into the Egyptian army that by the time of the New Kingdom in the late second millennium, some 500 years after the Semnah Dispatches, an entire army corps was called ‘Medjay’” (Berg 1998, WR). More is known about the Blemmyes during the Graeco-Roman period.

 

Late Period

The activities of the Saite Pharaohs in the Eastern Desert are not well documented. Amasis restored an older Min shrine in Wadi Hammamat and in Wadi Barramiya. There was a cult site in Wadi Hammamat, described as a rock-cut temple of Nektanebo I Stela from the 26th Dynasty were located in the Wadi Gausu, near the harbor.

During the First Persian Occupation which lasted from about 525 to 405 BC, economic contacts between the Nile Valley and Persia were maintained, in part across the Wadi Hammamat and at the Egyptian harbors on the Red Sea. 

A quarry in the Eastern Desert at Wadi Rod el-Garra is thought to have been established at this time to extract dolerite-porphyry with greenish crystals in fine-grained green-black fabric.  A very small quarry area of 15x5m and 2m deep provided the material of unfinished shrines.  Their unusual shape dates them to the 26th-30th Dynasty (the Persian Invasion).  Five huts next to the sites were rectangular and made of stone.  Iron tools were used at the site (Harrell 2002, p.240-241).

The Persian pharaoh Darius I is on record as having sent six expeditions to Wadi Hammamat, where he renewed greywacke quarrying.  Other inscriptions from Persian rulers include names of Cambyses, Darius I, Xerxes I and Artaxerxes I (Said 1999).

There was apparently no gold mining in the desert at this period (Klemm 2002, p.217).

As in the New Kingdom, Shaw points out that whilst amethyst was mined at three sites at Wadi el-Hudi during the Middle Kingdom, it appears to have been used quite rarely in the New Kingdom perhaps suggesting that amethyst was now difficult to obtain (Shaw 2002, p.249).


Summary

It is quite clear that during the Pharaonic period the desert was used for the extraction of valued natural resources, and as a route between the Nile and the Red Sea.  Commemorative inscriptions left by expeditions provide an insight into how important these expeditions were, and what sort of status they conferred on the expedition leaders and members.  Religious dedications also exist, and the temple at Kanais indicates that a need existed for religious provision.

The use of the Eastern Desert for the extraction of mineral resources and stone was of considerable importance to the Pharaohs and their replacements.  The combination of the rich Nile Valley land, which enabled fullscale mixed agriculture, and the mineral wealth that the desert resources in both Egypt and Nubia provided Egypt enabled her to trade, to develop a rich economy which conferred wealth upon an elite, to become a political and military power, and to accessorize its religion in an extravagant way, with priests, elaborate temples and tombs.  The combination of agricultural land and mineral resources clearly provided Egypt with the foundations with which she evolved into a unified state and a vibrant civilization.

Gold mining was probably sporadic in the Old and Middle Kingdoms in the Eastern Desert “making it doubtful whether even the relatively meager finds of gold artefacts of these periods could have originated from only the Eastern Desert mining sites (Klemm et al 2002, p.216).  In the New Kingdom gold mining activities in the Eastern Desert were intensified, particularly in the Eighteenth Dynasty, but seem to have collapsed entirely after the Ramesside period, being restricted to Nubia.

Ian Shaw makes the interesting point that like military campaigns, mining and quarrying expeditions could have been “exploited to reinforce centralised political control.  On a symbolic level, they could demonstrate the king’s control over the most far-flung regions, and on a socio-political level they enabled the king to obtain the precious materials that would allow him to reward his high officials appropriately” (2002, p.244).  Shaw suggests that the importance of quarrying and mining in this role might overturn the conventional view that it proliferated only in times of political stability, because expeditions of this type might well have been used to promote the authority of regimes that were facing political or socio-economic pressures and could have been sent in even greater numbers than in stable times (2002, p.244).

Having said that, it is difficult to develop a clear idea of what sort of relationship the Nile’s inhabitants had with the Eastern Desert beyond communication networks and industry.  There are passing comments within documents to suggest that there was a  Bedouin-type presence at this time, and it is implied by the mention of a military presence to protect expeditions, quarrying and mining activities and key routes in the Eastern Desert.  However, beyond these observations I have been unable to establish a clear picture of who these people were and how they lived.

Overall, the picture that emerges of the Eastern Desert during the 3000 years of Pharaonic rulers is very fragmented.  A pattern of probable Bedouin occupation and official expeditions for quarrying, mining appear to be the main uses of the deserts, with trade expeditions passing through.   Monuments, wells and inscriptions left behind supported and recorded these activities.

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Copyright Andie Byrnes 2007