Culture Magazine

Metals in Egypt

By Egyking
It might be supposed that the introduction and use of the various metals in Egypt had been sufficiently dealt with in original works and compilations ; but frequent mis-statements that are met with show that a summary of the matter is needed. Dating will be referred here entirely to Egyptian dynasties, to avoid the confusion that has arisen from arbitrary shortening of periods. Copper is the earliest metal of which we know anything in Egypt.
Metals in Egypt
Metals in Egypt
It occurs in the oldest prehistoric burials of Sequence Date 30, while gold, silver, and lead have not been yet found before their appearance in the beginning of the second prehistoric age, S.D. 42. The nearest important source of copper was in Sinai, where 100,000 tons of copper slag, in the Wady Nasb alone, shows what a large industry was carried on there. Later, the more distant source of the North Syrian mines yielded a supply to Egypt, as seen in the tribute from Alashiya or Asi ; probably still later in origin was the overseas supply from Cyprus, which Dussaud does not place till after the 1st dynasty. Unfortunately there are very few analyses of metal and of ores in different neighbouring countries for comparison with those in Egypt. At least we may note that a piece of prehistoric copper contained r55 per cent, zinc and only "38 of tin (Naqadeh), while no zinc occurs in Cypriote copper tools.
Copper was certainly very scarce at first, as only small pins are found, with the top turned over in a roll, probably to secure it by a string (Fig. i). Such a pin was found with a body buried in a goat skin, without any linen, of the earliest type of burial. The harpoon (Figs. 2, 3) and small chisel of copper both came into use in the first prehistoric age. The metal became commoner continuouslj^ during the second prehistoric age, as shown by the increasing size of the tools ; the adzes and, lastly, axes came in, reaching the full weight of later times at the close of the prehistoric . In drawing conclusions we must not presume that we have all the means of judging; our material is extremely imperfect, as we repeatedly find that only a single example of some form is known to us.
Only three Egyptian prehistoric copper daggers are known (Naqadeh and El Amrah) ; only one prehistoric copper spear-head has been found (Tarkhan). The copper helmets of early Babylonia (Enneatum) and of Crete (Haghia Triada) are only known from sculptures, and, without these, we should never have suspected that such forms were at all early. The archaeological record is as imperfect as the geological, and whole classes of products have dropped out of knowledge. Hence it is only when we have a large amount of remains in our hands of one age that we can suppose that we have any fair idea about it. The first dynasty marks the greatest size of copper tools. The largest knife and largest adze (12! inches) are of that age (Fig. 4, Tarkhan) ; even the great adze (12 .inches), which a boat builder is shown using at Meydum {Meduin xi), is scarcely as large. Exactly the same form has been found in Cyprus (Myres, Catalogue, 501), but smaller (8 inches, see Richter-Cartailhac plate).
As the form hardly comes in the Egyptian series of adzes, and is not likely to have been exported from Egypt to a copper region, it seems that Cypriote copper had reached Egypt by the 1st dynasty. In this age a large use was made of copper wire, which was produced by cutting strips of thin sheet copper and hammering them round. Such was applied to fasten together boxes, to unite horn bracelets, and even to secure large glazed tiles to a wall. Four samples of copper from the Royal Tombs each contained a little bismuth, about i per cent, in a chisel ; a very small amount is enough to harden copper considerably (Dr. Gladstone). The adze. Fig. 6, is dated to the close of the Ilird dynasty by the name Snefru-mer-hezt. In the Old Kingdom the casting and beating of copper was fully developed; scenes are shown of the beating out of bowls (Fig. 12), and the great statue of Pepy and his son (see portrait at end) is of beaten plates. For the analysis, showing it to be almost pure copper, see Dendereh, 61. Of the Middle Kingdom are many fine tools ; four analyses of these from Kahun show them to be nearly pure copper.
Tin is only i per cent., e.xcepting 2 per cent, in a chisel ; arsenic is 4 per cent, in an axe, but very little elsewhere ; antimony and iron are only slight impurities (Jllahun, 12); also in a piece of sheet copper, of the same age, there was only i per cent, of tin {Dendereh, 61). It is, therefore, puzzling to find in analyses of Berthelot a large amount of tin in four Old and Middle Kingdom specimens. Either there were errors in settling the age of the samples, or, perhaps, as they were small objects, they were cast in shape, and the more fusible alloy was used rather than the plain copper which was beaten for the tools. In the XVIIIth dynasty, bronze came into common use, as will be noted farther on ; but copper continued to be wrought for large beaten vessels in all periods, down to the present time.
Examples of the refinement of casting are shown in Fig. 10, a hollow ring, attached to some furniture, and now broken away round the outside ; also in Fig. II, part of a statuette shewing the metal only a fiftieth of an inch thick over the ash core. The heavy metal chisels were cast in open moulds of pottery, Fig. 13 ; in Fig. 14 is a chisel from a similar mold. Gold is generally credited with being the earliest metal used, and though it has not yet been found in the first prehistoric age, that may be due to the graves having been completely ransacked for it. It is well known that the eastern desert and Nubia were gold-producing countries down to Roman times ; and whether the metal was named nub from the country, or the country from the metal, is an open question. Large quantities of gold rings were brought down as tribute in the XVllIth dynasty.
Other sources were, however, 'used in the Old Kingdom, as is shown by the mixture of silver, forming electrum. Such native alloy is found in the Asia Minor stream gold (Pactolus, etc.) ; and as emery and obsidian came from the Aegean in prehistoric times, it is to be expected that electrum would also arrive. The alloy with silver was recognised as different from rmb, gold, hating the name usiii, or zom, which is given in the Ilird dynasty {Mcdiwi xiii), and as early as Aha in the 1st dynasty {Royal Tombs II, x, 2). Gold was largely used for gilding, covering entire tops of obelisks and whole doors. The sheet gold weighs about one grain to a square inch, which is about fifty times as thick as modern gold leaf. Silver is found coming into use at the beginning of the second prehistoric civilisation, with other Asiatic products. It was used for a cap of ajar, a spoon, and other small objects.
Later, some were placed in the tomb of Semerkhet, of which traces of chloride remained after it had been robbed. Some silver jewelry is found in the Xllth dynasty, such as the royal hornet, with inlaid wings, and pieces of pectorals, from Harageh. Of uncertain age were the great feathers of silver from a statue of Min, found at Koptos. At Qurneh bangles of the XVIIIth dynasty were made with a row of small tubes of silver. A great quantity of silver vases are recorded in the papyrus of Rameses III. In later times silver is occasionally found, as at Zagazig and Defenneh, and a large silver chain at Tanis. As a whole, silver is quite as rare as gold in cemeteries and towns, although gold would have been sought for and removed more eagerly by robbers.
Though the proportion of gold to silver coming from any one source would be determined mainly by the produce of the land, the totals given to the various gods by Rameses 1 1 1 during his reign must show fairly the relative amounts of the precious metals in use. It is not quite clear how far totals recapitulate ; but the totals offered to the various gods amount to 9 cvvt. of gold and 30 cwt. of silver ; the grand totals named later are 20 cvvt. of gold and 33 cwt. of silver. These are in the ratio 3 to 10 and 3 to 5. Roughly, therefore, the weight of silver was two or three times that of the gold ;
the relative values were probably not far from this. The value of gold to silver is said to have been as low as 2 to i in ancient India, and 6 to i in medieval India. In other lands it has usually been between 10 and 17 to i, at present it is 33 to i. As we know that gold was obtained in Nubia, and in the form of electrum from the stream washings of the Aegean, while silver could only be got by mining in North Syria, it is not improbable that the values may have been as 3 to i in Egypt. Silver was probably commoner in Babylonia, as is shewn by the great engraved vase of Entemena, 14 inches high. This is a couple of centuries before Naramsin (4000 B.C. according to Nabonidus, or 2850 B.C. according to Berlin dating), contemporary with the Old Kingdom in Egypt.
Lead is found almost as early as silver in prehistoric Egypt, being used for sacred figures (Fig. 15). Probably it was looked on as an inferior kind of silver. The sulphide of lead, galena, which is the commonest ore of lead, is found as an eye paint almost as commonly as malachite, in the prehistoric and 1st dynasty times. Both galena and lead are rarely found in the Old and Middle Kingdoms, but lead became very common in the XVIIIth dynasty. It is often mentioned in the tribute from Syria, and doubtless came from the Taurus, associated with silver, which is now found there. It became so common that country fishermen used it regularly for weighting the edges of fishing nets (Fig. 16) as is done at present, and it continued to be thus used in the XXVIth dynasty and Roman times. It is also found used for filling hollow bronze weights, and for adjusting a haematite weight by plugging a hole drilled in it. In the palace of Apries at Memphis, we find, as early as the si.xth century B.C., lead was used for a catchment tank to receive the washings of the palace floors.

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