Bracelets of an ancient queen contain the first evidence of trade between ancient Egypt and Greece.
An ancient queen’s bracelet has revealed the dawn of ancient Egyptian-Greek trade routes. Precious jewelry unearthed from Queen Hetepheres I’s tomb, the mother of Khufu who built the Great Pyramid of Giza, sheds light on the historic trading ties between ancient Egypt and Greece. An international team of archaeologists analyzed the discovered bracelets. The jewelry held copper, gold, and lead, alongside semi-precious stones such as turquoise, lapis lazuli, and carnelian – standard in pharaonic jewelry. Intriguingly, traces of silver, including one on a butterfly motif piece, were present, despite no known local silver sources in 2600 BC Egypt.
An ancient Queen’s bracelet
The research team delved into the lead’s isotopic ratios and variations in neutron numbers within an atom. Their findings revealed a fascinating twist. The materials were consistent with minerals from the Cyclades, Greek islands in the Aegean Sea, and Lavrio, a southern Greek city.
“The silver’s origin in third-millennium artifacts has remained a mystery until now,” said lead author Karin Sowada, a professor at Macquarie University in Sydney. “Our discovery illuminates for the first time the likely geographic breadth of the trading networks Egypt used in the pyramid-building era’s zenith.”
Byblos: The Critical Trade Link
1/6 Queen Hetepheres' bracelets #Egypt c. 2600 BC: lead isotope analyses by Francis Albarède + team (ENS, Lyon #France) found the silver was imported, coming from the Cyclades #Greece, or possibly mines at Lavrion
— Dr Karin Sowada (@KS_Archaeology) June 1, 2023
The team speculates the silver arrived via Byblos, modern-day Lebanon. They support their claim with late fourth-millennium Byblos tombs filled with silver artifacts and the active trade between Egypt and Byblos at the time. “This is the first evidence of long-distance exchange between Egypt and Greece,” they furthered.
Unveiling Ancient Artisanship
The research also unveiled the manufacturing methods for these trinkets. Damian Gore, study co-author, detailed, “The bangles were hammered out of cold-worked metal, frequently annealed to avoid breakage. They likely were alloyed with gold for an improved appearance and easier shaping during manufacturing.”
Hetepheres I, one of ancient Egypt’s most influential queens and the first pharaoh of the fourth dynasty Sneferu’s wife, left a wealth of treasures upon her death. Since her Giza tomb’s discovery in 1925, numerous treasures have been found, including gilded furniture, gold vessels, and 20 bangles and bracelets. Some of these exquisite pieces are on display at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.