Field of Science

A 3,000 Year Old Geological Map

According to ancient historians, gold in the kingdom of Egypt was as common as is sand in the desert. It´s true that Egypt exported for centuries large quantities, and even the Romans mined gold in Egypt (last attempts for gold mining were done in the 1950s). However, where the ancient mines were once located became forgotten over time.
Archaeologist Rosemarie and Dietrich Klemm discovered in the 1980s the lost mines following an ancient "geological" map. Discovered near modern Luxor (ancient Thebes) between 1814 and 1821, the papyrus/map was brought to Italy and is today hosted in the collection of the Museum of Egyptian History in Turin. The Turin papyrus dates back to 1,150 BC and  was prepared for an expedition led by Ramesses IV.

Reconstructed map of the Turin papyrus, image source. Pinkish-red= gold-bearing rocks, dark-green= rocks for construction.
Modern interpretation of geology , red=Hammamat-fm sandstone and volcanics, blue= Atalla-Serpentinite, yellow & green= Fawakhir-Granite.

The map shows the landscape around an unknown oasis. Inscriptions describe the "Mountain of the Gold”, the “Mountain of the Silver”, but also the location of the “Village of the Miners”, the "Temple of Amun", the streets to the (Red-) Sea and a street to Ta-menti (an unknown locality). The different colors of the map are inspired by the real colors of the rocks, reddish feldspar-granite (Fawakhir-Granite), dark Atalla-Serpentinite and Hammamat-Formation, and yellow for the sand of the desert. A dry river runs down the entire valley, eroding and transprting the rocks, as shown by the pebbles in different colors. A quarry of bekhen stone, a blue-green sandstone used to carve statues, is shown, as are many mines for gold. The most important indication was the location of a well near the village. Thanks to this well, archaeologists identified the area shown on the map. The ancient mountains of gold and silver are situated in the Wadi Hammamat, near Bir-Um-Fawakhir, an ancient miner settlement, almost 100km east of Luxor. Following the indications of the map into the field, the archaeologist discovered ancient signs of mining, like 50m long tunnels following quartz veins. The important veins are shown as lines in the Turin map. The gold is found as tiny fragments in the massive quartz, almost invisible to the naked eye. That ancient Egyptians found it, is a impressive evidence for their (emprical) geological knowledge. Already in 3,200 BC professional geological prospectors, called “sementi“, searched for deposits and veins of gold, to meet the demand of the divine pharao. Tutankhamun’s tomb alone was filled with more than 500 items, many made of pure gold. Following the veins into the mountain, the miners extracted the rock, crushing it, and washing the heavy gold out. Large deposits of quartz sand, the remains of the crushed rocks, still today testimony the hard work done by the ancient miners.

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