Life at a Middle Kingdom Amethyst Mine: Archaeology of Site 5, Wadi el-Hudi

Description or Abstract

Ancient Egyptian jewelry is renowned for its beauty, and the purple amethyst jewels from Middle Kingdom royal and elite burials are particularly stunning. As a luxury item, the pharaoh and his administration seemed to have exerted a state monopoly on semi-precious stones like amethyst, yet many questions remain as to how this monopoly was managed and the lives of the miners engaged in back-breaking labor. In 2014 the Wadi el-Hudi Expedition, directed by Kate Liszka (California State University San Bernardino) and co-directed by Bryan Kraemer (Robert and Frances Fullerton Museum of Art) and Meredith Brand (The American University of Cairo), began to address these questions through surveying and excavating the Middle Kingdom amethyst mining settlements at Wadi el-Hudi in the Eastern Desert. In particular, the survey and excavations at Site 5, a hill top settlement with dry stone architecture built in the reign of Montuhotep IV and utilized for much of the Middle Kingdom, reveal considerable amounts of information about living and working at a mining site. Patterns of activity at Site 5 related to the administration and laborers can be seen in the plan of the settlement, the architecture of housing units, the flow of people and goods through the site, and the distributions of pottery and other artifacts, including animal bones. This talk explores the ways in which space was used by the inhabitants of Site 5 for distinct activities associated with settlement, amethyst processing, and administrative activities. Finally, this talk examines material culture and organic remains at Site 5 that demonstrate the site’s connections with supply chains from Middle and Lower Egypt and the Aswan area, as well as a degree of independent subsistence in the desert.


Ancient Egyptian, jewelry, Middle Kingdom, pharaoh archaeology, mine


Sociology, Egyptology & Anthropology Department

Performance Date

July 2021

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