At an archeological dig in Wadi el-Hudi, a valley in the Eastern Desert in Southern Egypt, scientists have discovered more than 100 ancient Egyptian inscriptions etched into the rock more than 3,900 years ago.
The site, Wadi el-Hudi, is thought to have been where the ancient Egyptians mined amethyst.
Amethyst became widely popular across ancient Egypt during the Middle Kingdom, precisely when the pharaohs of Egypt discovered that the area surrounding Wadi el-Hudi is a good source for amethyst.
The ancient Egyptian used Amethyst to create jewelry among other things.
“Once the [pharaohs] found it, they kind of went bonkers to go get it,” Kate Liszka, the director of the Wadi el-Hudi expedition, told Live Science. During the Middle Kingdom, “they were bringing it back and making it into jewelry and doling it out to their elite and their princesses.”
In addition to rock-carved inscriptions, archeologists also uncovered evidence of inscriptions made by the ancient Egyptians onto tablets and pottery.
Archaeologists report having found 14 stele (inscriptions carved on a stone slab or pillar) and 45 ostraca (inscriptions written on pieces of pottery).
One of the most interesting discoveries is a mysterious, 3,400-year-old stone tablet that is believed to date back to the period the mines was abandoned.
The etchings were carved by Usersatet, a senior official who was viceroy of Kush, located to the south of Egypt.
This is particularly interesting, as archeologists are left puzzled as to why someone would bother transporting the tablet to the site of Wadi el-Hudi — and leaving it there.
Although the site was previously excavated, the great archaeological wealth of the area continues to provide discoveries.
The site features so many inscriptions that the previous excavations overlooked many of them, hiding behind each stone and each wall, explained Liszka.
The area around Wadi el-Hudi is home to a number of well-preserved fortified settlements, as well as amethyst, gold, copper and granite mines exploited from the Paleolithic to Roman times.
The settlements that housed the mine workers were established next to the mines, and this is where the inscriptions have appeared, carved into the rock.
The analysis of the inscriptions found by archaeologists will serve to clarify some of the questions surrounding the mines. It remains a mystery whether the miners worked of their own free will (as suggested by some of the texts already analyzed) or, on the contrary, they were slaves or forced prisoners.
Other inscriptions report that there were soldiers, but it is not known whether they were present at the site to protect the miners or to ensure that they worked continuously.
“I don’t know if I’m excavating a legitimate settlement where people were treated well or if I’m excavating a prison camp,” Liszka said.
To find out more about the site, the researchers are using 3D modeling, reflectance transformation imaging (RTI) and photogrammetry, among other techniques, to find new inscriptions and to map the archaeological remains, as well as to reanalyze the inscriptions discovered by archeologists who excavated the site int he past.