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snapshot in time

29 September 2015

At www.smithsonianmag.com/history/ancient-egypt-shipping-mining-farming-eco… … there is a marvelous snap shot in time from Old Kingdom Egypt. Archaeologists investigating some caves cut out of limestone geology in a remote part of the eastern desert, not far from the Red Sea, have come up with a bonanza. A few years ago we heard about the caves being used as storage for boats – but it seems these boats were very active in the economic life of Egypt. On the opposite shore of the Red Sea, in Sinai, were turquoise mines and the copper deposits of the Wadi el-Jarf. Copper was used to make metal to cut stone for the pyramids – and limestone blocks were used to build the pyramids. Another discovery in the caves were papyri rolls, and these have been translated. They are mainly economic in nature – a snapshot in time of dynasty 4 activities (and the drive to build the Great Pyramid of Khufu).

What is also obvious is that the eastern desert was not as arid and remote as it is nowadays. One papyri records the activities of a state official, Merer. He had a crew of 200 men working under him and they travelled into all corners of Egypt, picking up and delivering various goods. This included limestone blocks used to build the Great Pyramid, making reference to 'the noble Ankh-huf' the half brother of Khufu. It seems he was the overseer of the construction of the pyramid.

Prior to the discoveries the ancient Egyptians were regarded as somewhat parochial when it came to messing about in boats. They were known to sail up and down the Nile but it was thought they hardly ventured out to sea. Now it has become clear they were capable of maritime adventures, not just across the Red Sea but exploring the whole of that body of water and perhaps even venturing further.




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