ARCE-DC Washington: Who’s Getting Amethyst in Ancient Egypt?

Presented by: Dr. Kate Liszka

  • 1 pm ETARCE-DC
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Lecture Information

Four thousand years ago, amethyst was extremely rare and precious. Because it had religious connotations and was one of the only natural sources of the color purple, amethyst was sought after greatly, by everyone. Throughout most of the ancient Egyptian Middle Kingdom (c. 2000-1700 BCE), the king commissioned large expeditions of more than 1,000 people to mine amethyst at Wadi el-Hudi and Dihmit South.

Soldiers guarded the workers around the clock there. Bureaucrats tracked every piece of raw amethyst. Prospectors continued to seek out other veins of the stone nearby. And donkey caravans of raw amethyst were sent to the royal treasury to be turned into breathtaking jewelry. The king then gifted these rare wonders as objects of prestige to his family, his courtiers, and his international allies.

However, the pharaoh’s expeditions did not have a monopoly on amethyst mining. Other small groups of people including pastoral nomads and Nubians also mined amethyst. Site 21 was located only two kilometers from large Egyptian amethyst mines, but it was worked frequently throughout the Middle Kingdom by various groups of desert Nubians. Their amethyst entered an informal economy, and as treasured items for the afterlife, such pieces made their way into the tombs of non-elite Pan-Grave, C-Group, and Kerma Nubians.

Amethyst apparently was so important it was worth sneaking around the Egyptian state to acquire it.

Speaker Bio

Kate Liszka is the Benson and Pamela Harer Fellow in Egyptology and Professor of History at California State University, San Bernardino. Along with Meredith Brand and Bryan Kraemer, she has directed the Wadi el-Hudi Expedition to the Eastern Desert. Since 2014, they have discovered and analyzed the intricacies of amethyst mining in the Eastern Desert both at Wadi el-Hudi and at Dihmit South. Dr. Liszka earned a PhD from the University of Pennsylvania. From 2012 to 2015 she was a Cotsen Postdoctoral Fellow in the Society of Fellows at Princeton University.