Analyses of queen Hetepheres' bracelets from her celebrated tomb in Giza reveals new information on silver, metallurgy and trade in Old Kingdom Egypt, c.2600 BC

Journal article


Sowada, Karin, Newman, Richard, Albarède, Francis, Davis, Gillan, Derrick, Michele R., Murphy, Timothy D. and Gore, Damian B.. (2023). Analyses of queen Hetepheres' bracelets from her celebrated tomb in Giza reveals new information on silver, metallurgy and trade in Old Kingdom Egypt, c.2600 BC. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports. 49, p. Article 103978. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jasrep.2023.103978
AuthorsSowada, Karin, Newman, Richard, Albarède, Francis, Davis, Gillan, Derrick, Michele R., Murphy, Timothy D. and Gore, Damian B.
Abstract

Egypt has no domestic silver ore sources and silver is rarely found in the Egyptian archaeological record until the Middle Bronze Age. Bracelets found in the tomb of queen Hetepheres I, mother of pyramid builder king Khufu (date of reign c. 2589–2566 BC), form the largest and most famous collection of silver artefacts from early Egypt, but they have not been analysed for decades. We analysed samples from the collection in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston using bulk XRF, micro-XRF, SEM-EDS, X-ray diffractometry and MC-ICP-MS to obtain elemental and mineralogical compositions and lead isotope ratios, to understand the nature and metallurgical treatment of the metal and identify the possible ore source. We found that the pieces consist of silver with trace copper, gold, lead and other elements. The minerals are silver, silver chloride and a possible trace of copper chloride. Surprisingly, the lead isotope ratios are consistent with ores from the Cyclades (Aegean islands, Greece), and to a lesser extent from Lavrion (Attica, Greece), and not partitioned from gold or electrum as previously surmised. Sources in Anatolia (Western Asia) can be excluded with a high degree of confidence. Imaging of a cross-section of a bracelet fragment reveals that the metal was repeatedly annealed and cold-hammered during creation of the artefacts. The results provide new information about silver ore sources, commodity exchange networks and metallurgy in Egypt during the Early Bronze Age.

KeywordsEgypt; Old Kingdom; trade; silver; metallurgy; elemental composition; lead isotopes
Year2023
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science: Reports
Journal citation49, p. Article 103978
PublisherElsevier Ltd
ISSN2352-409X
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jasrep.2023.103978
Scopus EID2-s2.0-85154038115
Open accessPublished as ‘gold’ (paid) open access
Page range1-15
FunderAustralian Research Council (ARC)
European Research Council (ERC)
Publisher's version
License
File Access Level
Open
Output statusPublished
Publication dates
Online01 May 2023
Publication process dates
Accepted17 Mar 2023
Deposited18 Jul 2023
ARC Funded ResearchThis output has been funded, wholly or partially, under the Australian Research Council Act 2001
Grant IDFT170100288
741454-SILVER-ERC-2016-ADG
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https://acuresearchbank.acu.edu.au/item/8z527/analyses-of-queen-hetepheres-bracelets-from-her-celebrated-tomb-in-giza-reveals-new-information-on-silver-metallurgy-and-trade-in-old-kingdom-egypt-c-2600-bc

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