Team Studies Ancient Mining Sites at Wadi el-Hudi, Egypt

Kate Liszka, Cotsen postdoctoral fellow in the Society of Fellows and lecturer in the Department of Art and Archaeology, led Princeton’s first archaeological expedition to Egypt. With financial support from the department, her team surveyed the area known as Wadi el-Hudi, 20 miles east of Aswan in Egypt’s rugged and arid Eastern Desert, where ancient Egyptians of the Middle Kingdom (ca. 2000–1700 B.C.E.) and the Roman period (ca. 4th century C.E.) mined purple amethyst for making jewelry.  Earlier surveys had recorded inscriptions and 14 sites, most of which included a mine and a settlement area for the workers. The inscriptions and surface artifacts reflect mining practices and document Egyptian-Nubian relations.

The archaeological sites at Wadi el-Hudi are so well-preserved—almost like time capsules—that Liszka and her team were able to identify areas of mining activity, administration, storage, and living spaces. They explored three previously known but little-studied sites.  Site 9 is an Egyptian-style fortress unique in being constructed of rough stones instead of the usual mud bricks.  The walls still stand to their original height of two meters, and the ancient workers left much of their mining debris and tools in place when they abandoned the settlement.

Site 5 is also a fortified settlement but is built on a steep hilltop that is incorporated into its design.  The exterior of the settlement is protected by an imposing stone wall.  A large wall in the interior separates administrative areas from housing and demonstrates the expedition leaders’ concerns with maintaining control over their mined amethyst as well as the perhaps even more precious stores of food and water.  Liszka’s team also located more than 50 inscriptions—testimonials left by the miners, their leaders, and soldiers—both in houses and along paths.

Along the mountaintop between those two sites is Site 6, a watch post for soldiers protecting the mining sites. A conglomeration of about 50 more soldiers’ inscriptions appears on the highest peak of the mountain. Liszka’s team also located and recorded several previously unknown inscriptions nearby.

Further work at Wadi el-Hudi is expected to produce more exciting results.

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