Archaeology / Cultural Heritage / History

[Archaeology] [twocolumns]

Anthropology / Human Evolution / Linguistics

[Anthropology] [twocolumns]

Palaeontology / Palaeoclimate / Earth Sciences

[Palaeontology] [twocolumns]

Evolution / Genetics / Biology

[Evolution][twocolumns]

The crisis era in ancient Egypt led to a change in the sources of copper


Scientists have studied the composition of copper alloys from which ancient Egyptian funerary objects (mainly ushabti statuettes) were made after the end of the New Kingdom period at the turn of the 2nd-1st millennia BC. Results of the analysis showed that at this time the number of sources of copper available in Egypt had significantly decreased. Not only does this indicate a weakened economy that lost access to many metal resources, but it also helps to reconstruct the pattern of trade and exchange in the Middle East during the Early Iron Age. The study is reported in an article in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports.


The crisis era in ancient Egypt led to a change in the sources of copper
Credit: Shirly Ben-Dor Evian et al. 2021

In the twelfth century BC, during the reign of the kings of the twentieth dynasty, Egypt entered a period of protracted crisis of the central government. Under Ramses XI (approximately 1105-1078 B.C.), the last pharaoh of the New Kingdom, it turned into a civil war, which ended in the division of the country. In Upper Egypt, in Thebes, power was seized by the higher priesthood (Herihor, who stood at its head, even assumed the official royal title), in the north, where the power of the pharaoh was formally retained, the noble courtier Nesubanebjed, known from the work of Manetho under the name of Smendes, ascended. After the death of Ramses XI he became the founder of the new XXI dynasty.




Internal turmoil also led to the fall of the international status of Egypt. It is vividly illustrated in the famous literary source of the 11th century BC- the papyrus 'Travels of Unu-Amon' - which describes the misadventures of a priest sent under Ramses XI to the Phoenician Byblos to procure cedar. Unu-Amon faced disdain from the rulers of several cities, even though the cultural influence that Egypt had over the Levant for centuries persisted during this time of crisis. In the archaeology of the Near East, it is defined as the early Iron Age, but the traditions of cultural continuity from the previous Bronze Age were still quite strong.


The crisis era in ancient Egypt led to a change in the sources of copper
Lower Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula showing the most important cities at the turn of the
2nd-1st millennia BC and the copper mines in Wadi Faynan and the Timna Valley
[Credit: Shirly Ben-Dor Evian et al. 2021]

Egypt could no longer regain its former greatness, achieving only episodic successes, such as the military expedition of the founding pharaoh of the XXII dynasty Sheshonk l to Judea. Losing its influence over neighbouring countries, Egypt also lost access to sources of metal, primarily copper. During the period of the New Kingdom Egypt received copper from numerous mines located in different regions: in Sinai, in Nubia, in South-West Asia, in Cyprus. 


Meanwhile, among the artefacts that have come down from the era of the crisis (in Egyptology, it is called the Third Transitional Period), there are finds of bronze items. These include objects of funerary ritual. This means that the pharaohs still managed to get copper from some sources, although their numbers must have been noticeably reduced.


The crisis era in ancient Egypt led to a change in the sources of copper
Ushabti of Pharaoh Psusennes I (XXI dynasty, second half of 9th century BC)
[Credit: Shirly Ben-Dor Evian et al. 2021]

The crisis era in ancient Egypt led to a change in the sources of copper
Ushabti of Queen Mutnejemet, wife of Pharaoh Psusennes I
[Credit: Shirly Ben-Dor Evian et al. 2021]

The crisis era in ancient Egypt led to a change in the sources of copper
X-ray of the Ushabti of Queen Mutnejemet
[Credit: Shirly Ben-Dor Evian et al. 2021]

Israeli researchers led by archaeologist Shirley Ben-Dor Evian from Tel Aviv University have analyzed the composition of copper alloys from which artefacts found in tombs from the 11th to 8th centuries BC were cast. Scientists were interested in the content of lead, tin, arsenic, antimony and other impurities by which it is possible to establish from which deposit the copper originates. 




Samples were taken from six exhibits in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. These are four ushabti figurines from the tombs of Tanis (the capital of the XXI dynasty) and two objects of the eighth century: a figurine (possibly also ushabti) of Pharaoh Bakenraneph (Bokhoris) of the XXIV dynasty from Sais and a scarab bearing the name of Pharaoh Shabaki of the XXV (the so-called Kushite) Dynasty.


The crisis era in ancient Egypt led to a change in the sources of copper
Ushabti of the Warlord Wendjebenjedet during the reign of Psusennes I
[Credit: Shirly Ben-Dor Evian et al. 2021]

The crisis era in ancient Egypt led to a change in the sources of copper
Ushabti of the Warlord Wendjebenjedet during the reign of Psusennes I
[Credit: Shirly Ben-Dor Evian et al. 2021]

In order to identify places where there is no later contamination distorting the result, all the objects were examined under a stereomicroscope and subjected to X-rays. Scientists then determined the composition of the samples (30-70 milligrams each) using mass spectrometry and atomic emission spectral analysis. All measurements for each sample were made twice to exclude laboratory contamination.


It turned out that the ushabti of the XXI dynasty, made in the XI-X centuries BC, have a much lower lead content (from 0.21 to 0.79 percent) than the later objects (the scarab contains 3.87 and the Bakenraneph figurine contains 10.82 per cent). In terms of isotopic composition, the Tanis artifacts are close to copper from mines in the Wadi Fainan region and in the Timna valley, located on the border of the Sinai and the Arabian desert. 


The crisis era in ancient Egypt led to a change in the sources of copper
Figurine (possibly Ushabti) of Pharaoh Bakenraneph (Bokhoris), 8th century BC,
XXIV dynasty [Credit: Shirly Ben-Dor Evian et al. 2021]

The crisis era in ancient Egypt led to a change in the sources of copper
Scarab with Pharaoh Shabaki's throne name, 8th century BC, XXV dynasty
[Credit: Shirly Ben-Dor Evian et al. 2021]

The crisis era in ancient Egypt led to a change in the sources of copper
X-ray of a scarab bearing the name of King Shabaki
[Credit: Shirly Ben-Dor Evian et al. 2021]

Apparently the supply of metal from that area was quite stable, but the pharaohs did not receive copper from other sources at that time. Tin impurities - from 0.35 to 1.54 percent - most likely appeared in the metal from which the ushabti are cast, due to contamination of the crucibles. A similar phenomenon is familiar to archaeologists from studies of an earlier foundry of the New Kingdom era in Per-Ramses.




With regard to objects dating from the 8th century BC, the increased lead content in them can be interpreted as the result of deliberate alloying of copper with this metal, especially in the case of the figurine. Assuming that the lead content in the copper ore does not exceed two to five percent, the researchers tried to determine from the isotope ratio where the lead additive comes from. The most likely sources were deposits in Sardinia, in the Aegean region and on the southern Arabian Peninsula, while the least likely sources were in Egypt and Anatolia. 


The crisis era in ancient Egypt led to a change in the sources of copper
Lead isotope ratios in the examined artefacts and in copper from various deposits
(1-4 are Ushabti of the 11th century BC; 5,6 are objects of the 8th century BC)
[Credit: Shirly Ben-Dor Evian et al. 2021]

The crisis era in ancient Egypt led to a change in the sources of copper
Lead isotope ratios in eighth-century BC objects and in lead ores from
various deposits [Credit: Shirly Ben-Dor Evian et al. 2021]

The crisis era in ancient Egypt led to a change in the sources of copper
Lead isotope ratios in the examined artefacts and in previously
studied ancient Egyptian metal objects from different eras
[Credit: Shirly Ben-Dor Evian et al. 2021]

Consequently, at this time lead was delivered to Egypt from afar. Tin (which may have come from the crucible), arsenic and antimony were also found in the alloy of the figurine. The copper deposits of Wadi Faynan and the Timna Valley contain almost no such impurities, so it is likely that the copper comes from elsewhere. The composition of the alloy used to cast the scarab makes it impossible to judge the origin of its constituents with any certainty. Scientists nevertheless believe they also originate from different regions.


The results obtained show that the geography of the sources from which Egypt received such a sought-after resource as copper has changed over the two centuries of the crisis era. Apparently, the pharaohs during this time lost the use of the mines in the Timna Valley and in Wadi Faynan, but managed to find other ways to obtain the valuable commodity, not connected with the control of any particular deposit.


Author: Viner Andreeva | Source: N+1 [trsl. TANN; June 14, 2021]



Support The Archaeology News Network with a small donation!




TANN

Post A Comment
  • Blogger Comment using Blogger
  • Facebook Comment using Facebook
  • Disqus Comment using Disqus

No comments :


Exhibitions / Travel

[Exhibitions] [bsummary]

Natural Heritage / Environment / Wildlife

[Natural Heritage] [list]

Astronomy / Astrobiology / Space Exploration

[Universe] [list]