Social Approaches to an Industrial Past: The Archaeology and Anthropology of Mining

By A. Bernard Knapp; Vincent C. Pigott et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 15

Exploiting the desert frontier

The logistics and politics of ancient Egyptian mining expeditions

Ian Shaw

ABSTRACT

Attempts to study the nature and composition of Egyptian mining communities in the Middle Kingdom (c. 2040-1650 BC) are not common in Egyptology. Although a small number of epigraphic and historical studies have described and discussed briefly the personnel of Egyptian mining expeditions to remote areas, the wider question of the relationships between these mining encampments and pharaonic society as a whole has not been addressed. The overall aim is to understand the significance of mining expeditions in terms of the administration, organization and ideology of pharaonic society. (I) How important was the act of dispatching expeditions for such materials as gold, copper, galena, turquoise or amethyst, and how much of an economic risk did such tasks entail for the overall economy? In this context, the regularity and frequency of the expeditions to particular mines is an important factor, as is the impact of a royal monopoly on the procurement and distribution of certain materials. (2) To what extent were mining expeditions also military operations? The chapter will also discuss the strong links between the string of Egyptian twelfth-dynasty fortresses in Lower Nubia and the exploitation of the Nubian copper and gold resources. It is also necessary to consider the ways in which the desire for precious metals may have fuelled Egyptian ‘imperialism’ at this date. (3) How well adapted to the task were the individual members co-opted into such expeditions? Large numbers of workers were taken on in an ad hoc manner, i.e. in roughly the same manner as those employed on large-scale agricultural, hydraulic or constructional projects. There was, however, probably a nucleus of professional prospectors and miners, who would presumably have been employed by the Egyptian state on a more permanent basis. Archaeological sources provide glimpses of their likely origins and way of life.


INTRODUCTION

A small number of epigraphic and historical studies have described and analysed the personnel of the ancient Egyptian mining expeditions dispatched to remote areas in Nubia, Sinai and the Eastern and Western deserts, but the question of

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