Enigmatic Egypt: Roman Ruination – Red Sea Hills

The Roman narrative for Egypt includes the quarrying of monumental hard stones and the mining of gold, emeralds and amethyst in the Red Sea Hills of the Eastern Desert that separates the Nile from the Red Sea.

To the east of the Nile is the Eastern Desert, also known as the Red Sea Hills because it borders the Red Sea. This is a much more mountainous region than the Western Desert, with some mountains over 1,200m high. Fresh water is scarce in the Red Sea Hills and along the shore of the Red Sea, and this factor greatly limited human habitation there.

The Eastern Desert was the source of many hard stones used for sculpture and other craft goods, and minerals such as copper and gold.

Encyclopedia of the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt – 1999
Kathryn A Bard and Steven Blake Shubert

https://archive.org/stream/EncyclopediaOfTheArchaeologyOfAncientEgypt#page/n3/mode/1up

In the Ptolemaic and Roman Periods, miners worked deposits of emeralds in Wadi Sikait and amethyst in Wadi el-Hudi.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_Egypt

The rediscovery of Roman mines and quarries in the last 200 [odd] years has produced a few ripples because the new discoveries don’t always agree with the old narrative.

HARD STONE

Red Sea Hills: Mons Porphyrites – Gebel Dokhan

Mons Porphyrites is famous for being the only known source of “imperial porphyry”.

Mons Porphyrites is the only known source of imperial porphyry, a gem-like igneous rock, purple in color, which was prized for sculpture, monolithic columns and other architectural elements in Roman and Byzantine times.

Encyclopedia of the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt – 1999
Kathryn A Bard and Steven Blake Shubert

https://archive.org/details/EncyclopediaOfTheArchaeologyOfAncientEgypt

The term porphyry is from Ancient Greek and means “purple”.

Purple was the color of royalty, and the “imperial porphyry” was a deep purple igneous rock with large crystals of plagioclase.

Some authors claimed the rock was the hardest known in antiquity.

“Imperial” grade porphyry was thus prized for monuments and building projects in Imperial Rome and later.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Porphyry_%28geology%29

The site was discovered by the Romans in 18 AD and then rediscovered in 1823.

Pliny’s Natural History affirmed that the “Imperial Porphyry” had been discovered at an isolated site in Egypt in AD 18, by a Roman legionary named Caius Cominius Leugas.

The scientific members of the French Expedition under Napoleon sought it in vain, and it was only when the Eastern Desert was reopened for study under Muhammad Ali that the site was rediscovered by James Burton and John Gardiner Wilkinson in 1823.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Porphyry_%28geology%29

The quarries are located in the Gebel Dokhan, in the heart of the Red Sea mountains of Egypt.

The complex comprises a quarry field, a fortified settlement with a temple of the god Serapis, and smaller settlements believed to be those quarry workers.

The area is of very difficult access and consequently has been little visited.

Encyclopedia of the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt – 1999
Kathryn A Bard and Steven Blake Shubert

https://archive.org/details/EncyclopediaOfTheArchaeologyOfAncientEgypt

Serapis or Sarapis is a Graeco-Egyptian god.
The cult of Serapis was introduced during the 3rd century BC on the orders of Ptolemy I of Egypt as a means to unify the Greeks and Egyptians in his realm. The god was depicted as Greek in appearance, but with Egyptian trappings, and combined iconography from a great many cults, signifying both abundance and resurrection.

Serapis continued to increase in popularity during the Roman period, often replacing Osiris as the consort of Isis in temples outside Egypt.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serapis

https://www.euratlas.net/photos/europe/egypt/porphyry_mountain/index.html

The Mons Porphyrites quarry is said to have worked intermittently between 29 and 335 AD.

… the one quarry at Mons Porpyritis (“Porphyry Mountain”, the Arabic Jabal Abu Dukhan), which seems to have been worked intermittently between 29 and 335 AD.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Porphyry_%28geology%29

More recently, an American expedition concentrated on collecting ceramic evidence, which confirmed a first—fourth centuries AD dating.

Encyclopedia of the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt – 1999
Kathryn A Bard and Steven Blake Shubert

https://archive.org/details/EncyclopediaOfTheArchaeologyOfAncientEgypt

Pieces of porphyry from Mons Porphyrites are spread far and wide.

The rock was imported in quantity to Rome and Constantinople, but it has a broad distribution and small fragments have been found as far away as Britain.

Encyclopedia of the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt – 1999
Kathryn A Bard and Steven Blake Shubert

https://archive.org/details/EncyclopediaOfTheArchaeologyOfAncientEgypt

All the porphyry columns in Rome, the red porphyry togas on busts of emperors, the porphyry panels in the revetment of the Pantheon, as well as the altars and vases and fountain basins reused in the Renaissance and dispersed as far as Kiev

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Porphyry_%28geology%29

However, the topless Sarcophagus of Theodoric isn’t actually “circular” and it’s most definitely not a “grave” because it was originally designed for topless bathing in the Roman era.

See: https://malagabay.wordpress.com/2017/05/17/ravenna-revisited-mausoleum-of-theoderic-farce/

The most puzzling piece of porphyry is probably the Four Tetrarchs sculpture in Venice.

The Portrait of the Four Tetrarchs is a porphyry sculpture group of four Roman emperors dating from around 300 AD. The sculptural group has been fixed to a corner of the façade of St Mark’s Basilica in Venice, Italy since the Middle Ages.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portrait_of_the_Four_Tetrarchs

The mainstream, in it’s wisdom, has called this sculpture the Four Tetrarchs because [well.. errr… mmmm…] it depicts four people.

There is still discussion and disagreement as to the identity of these statues and their placement, but it is reasonable to assume that the Eastern rulers form a pair and the Western rulers form the other pair.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portrait_of_the_Four_Tetrarchs

The term “tetrarchy” describes any form of government where power is divided among four individuals, but in modern usage usually refers to the system instituted by Roman Emperor Diocletian in 293, marking the end of the Crisis of the Third Century and the recovery of the Roman Empire.

This tetrarchy lasted until c. 313, when mutually destructive conflict eliminated most of the claimants to power, leaving Constantine in control of the western half of the empire, and Licinius in control of the eastern half.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tetrarchy

This, it turn, has led the mainstream to date the sculpture to “around 300 AD” because the Tetrarchy lasted from 293 AD until [about] 313 AD.

The Portrait of the Four Tetrarchs is a porphyry sculpture group of four Roman emperors dating from around 300 AD.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portrait_of_the_Four_Tetrarchs

Having dug their hole the mainstream then tries to waffle it’s way out.

A visual Egyptian influence on the Portrait of the Four Tetrarchs is the odd, near-impossible pose the Augusti on the left of each pair assume, reminiscent of poses in Egyptian relief sculpture and painting.

Roman imperial portraits owe much more than material choices to Egyptian works. While choosing unyielding, dense stone to show the likenesses of their powerful leaders was certainly significant, Roman rulers also saw the value in the poses Egyptian rulers used as well.

This Roman contemporary practice borrowed from artistic representations of Greek leaders, most notably the portrayal of Alexander the Great. The Alexander Mosaic in particular displays this subtext-heavy practice in two-dimensional Greek artwork.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portrait_of_the_Four_Tetrarchs

The waffle and hand waving tries to explain away the “regression” and “decline” in both style and execution that’s embodied in the Four Tetrarchs sculpture.

Artistic context
The Portrait of the Four Tetrarchs is a representative example of late Imperial portraiture. This period marked a sharp departure from the veristic depictions of Republican Rome, which was reflected visually through stylistic contrasts. Though this shift may at first seem like a regression, it marked the development of a style where symbolism trumped realism and idealism alike.
….
Aesthetic context
The question of how to account for what may seem a decline in both style and execution in Late Antique art has generated a vast amount of discussion.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portrait_of_the_Four_Tetrarchs

The “decline” in Late Antiquity typically represents a “regression” of about 300 years.

Diocletian is seen as the most radical of all the Late Antiquity repeaters of everything 300 years out of fashion.

Rome’s Imperial Stratigraphy Belongs To The 8th-10th Century Period
Q-Mag – Gunnar Heinsohn – 22 June 2014

http://www.q-mag.org/gunnar-heinsohns-answer-to-trevor-palmer.html

Those who prefer to date Constantine the Great (or Diocletian) with criteria of art history rather than archaeologically also come to the conclusion that he must have lived in the early 1st and not in the early 4th century.

See: https://malagabay.wordpress.com/2018/05/21/gunnar-heinsohn-finding-bedes-missing-metropolis-part-one/

See: https://malagabay.wordpress.com/2018/04/19/gunnar-heinsohn-comments-on-300-year-repeaters/

However, if the mainstream corrected their dating of the Four Tetrarchs sculpture by 300 years they would short-circuit the Roman narrative with an “imperial porphyry” sculpture that was created before the Romans started quarrying Mons Porphyrites in 29 AD.

Red Sea Hills: Mons Claudianus

Mons Claudianus is the Mary Celeste of Roman quarrying in Egypt.

Documentary Evidence

One of the many remarkable aspects of the excavations was the recovery of large numbers of ostraca (over 9000 in total), all concerned with the organisation of the complex, including the organisation of the food supply (Bingen et al. 1992, 1997).

The Plant Remains from Mons Claudianus, a Roman Quarry Settlement in the Eastern Desert of Egypt – An Interim Report
Marijke Van der Veen – Vegetation History and Archaeobotany 5(1) – June 1996

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/225766845_The_plant_remains_from_Mons_Claudianus_a_Roman_quarry_settlement_in_the_Eastern_Desert_of_Egypt_-_An_interim_report

An ostracon is a piece of pottery, usually broken off from a vase or other earthenware vessel.

In an archaeological or epigraphical context, ostraca refer to sherds or even small pieces of stone that have writing scratched into them.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ostraca

Mons Claudianus was a Roman quarry in the eastern desert of Egypt.

It consisted of a garrison, a quarrying site, and civilian and workers’ quarters.

Granodiorite was mined for the Roman Empire where it was used as a building material.

It lies north of Luxor, between the Egyptian town of Qena on the Nile and Hurghada on the Red Sea, 500 km south of Cairo and 120 km east of the Nile, at an altitude of c. 700m in the heart of the Red Sea mountains.

There is no evidence of settlements near or at the quarry prior to the Roman settlement.

The arid conditions of the desert allowed the documents and organic remains to survive.

Mons Claudianus was an abundant source of Granodiorite for Rome, and was used in notable Roman structures including the emperor Hadrian’s villa at Tivoli, public baths, the floors and columns of the temple of Venus, Diocletian’s Palace at Split and the columns of the portico of the Pantheon in Rome were quarried at Mons Claudianus.

Mons Claudianus was linked to the river Nile by a traceable surviving Roman road marked by way-stations spaced out at one day intervals.

The stones from the quarries, which were shaped in the desert, were then taken along the road to the Nile Valley for trans-shipment to Rome.

Documents that were found on site referred to 12-wheeled and 4-wheeled carts, and include a request for delivery of new axles.

The journey would last approximately five days or longer.

At the Quarries, several columns, some basins and a bath can still be found lying broken; the largest column is 60 ft high and weighs some 200 tonnes.

Many buildings still survive intact to roof height.

The settlement resembled a fort with walls and projecting towers, and housed an estimated 1000 people, both quarrymen and guards.

The stones from the quarries were shaped in the desert, possibly to reduce their weight, then taken to the Nile Valley to be shipped to Rome.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mons_Claudianus

https://archive.org/stream/topographyandge01humegoog#page/n72/mode/2up

In today’s world Mons Claudianus also represents a victory for logistics over logic.

How do you transport a 60 foot column [weighing 200 tonnes] across 120 kilometres of the Eastern Desert when there are no paved roads and no pneumatic tyres?

http://www.thedrive.com/truck-stop/12335/100-wheeled-truck-is-on-the-move-again-in-rhode-island

Mons Claudianus was rediscovered in 1823 and it’s been determined the Romans operated the quarry “from the 1st century AD to the mid-3rd century AD”.

The excavation of Mons Claudianus by the Romans occurred through two centuries, from the 1st century AD to the mid-3rd century AD.

Mons Claudianus lies in the Eastern desert of upper Egypt, and was discovered in 1823 by Wilkinson and Burton.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mons_Claudianus

Why the Romans commissioned Mons Claudianus in the “1st century AD” is a monumental mystery because the era of the ubiquitous fired brick began in 13 BC.

Development began under Augustus, using techniques developed by the Greeks, who had been using fired bricks much longer, and the earliest dated building in Rome to make use of fired brick is the Theatre of Marcellus, completed in 13 BC.

The Romans perfected brick-making during the first century of their empire and used it ubiquitously, in public and private construction alike.

The mass production of Roman bricks led to an increase in public building projects.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_brick

See: https://malagabay.wordpress.com/2017/05/10/indian-impacts-building-bricks/

And the era of monumental masonry died with Marcus Agrippa in 12 BC.

Mons Claudianus was an abundant source of Granodiorite for Rome, and was used in notable Roman structures including the emperor Hadrian’s villa at Tivoli, public baths, the floors and columns of the temple of Venus, Diocletian’s Palace at Split and the columns of the portico of the Pantheon in Rome were quarried at Mons Claudianus.

Each was 39 feet (12 m) tall, five feet (1.5 m) in diameter, and 60 tons in weight.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mons_Claudianus

The Pantheon is a former Roman temple, now a church, in Rome, Italy, on the site of an earlier temple commissioned by Marcus Agrippa during the reign of Augustus (27 BC – 14 AD). The present building was completed by the emperor Hadrian and probably dedicated about 126 AD.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pantheon,_Rome

Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa (64/62 BC-12 BC) was a Roman consul, statesman, general and architect.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marcus_Agrippa

See: https://malagabay.wordpress.com/2018/04/26/roman-chronology-credibility-gap/

The mysterious 300 year afterlife of Mons Claudianus facilitated the equally mysterious construction of Diocletian’s Palace using 300 year old building techniques.

Mons Claudianus was an abundant source of Granodiorite for Rome, and was used in notable Roman structures including the emperor Hadrian’s villa at Tivoli, public baths, the floors and columns of the temple of Venus, Diocletian’s Palace at Split and the columns of the portico of the Pantheon in Rome were quarried at Mons Claudianus.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mons_Claudianus

Diocletian built the massive palace in preparation for his retirement on 1 May 305 AD.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diocletian%27s_Palace

One of the more egregious aberrations is Diocletian’s Palace which is purported to have been built around 305 AD using building techniques the Romans are said to have abandoned [about] 300 years earlier following the introduction of bricks and mortar.

See: https://malagabay.wordpress.com/2017/05/29/ravenna-revisited-triple-point/

Diocletian is seen as the most radical of all the Late Antiquity repeaters of everything 300 years out of fashion.

Rome’s Imperial Stratigraphy Belongs To The 8th-10th Century Period
Q-Mag – Gunnar Heinsohn – 22 June 2014

http://www.q-mag.org/gunnar-heinsohns-answer-to-trevor-palmer.html

Furthermore, a Legio XV Apollinaris inscription from Mons Claudianus raises fresh doubts about the credibility of the Roman Legion narrative and Roman Chronology.

Apparently, there were three different versions of Legio XV.

Legio quinta decima Apollinaris (“Apollo’s Fifteenth Legion“) was a legion of the Imperial Roman army.

It was recruited by Octavian in 41/40 BC.

The emblem of this legion was probably a picture of Apollo, or of one of his holy animals.

XV Apollinaris is sometimes confused with two other legions with the same number:

An earlier unit which was commanded by Julius Caesar and met its end in North Africa in 49 BC,

and

a later unit that was present at the Battle of Philippi on the side of the Second Triumvirate and then sent east.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legio_XV_Apollinaris

Apparently, the Roman Empire didn’t need to steadily increase the number of Roman Legions as the empire expanded towards it’s “greatest extent” in 117 AD.

See: https://malagabay.wordpress.com/2018/04/23/roman-chronology-legendary-legions/

But there was only one Legio XV Apollinaris.

The Legio XV Apollinaris inscription from Mons Claudianus isn’t included in the list of “epigraphic inscriptions” provided by Wikipedia for Legio XV Apollinaris.

Lucius Caecilius Luci filius / Papiria (tribu) Optatus / centurio legionis VII Geminae Felicis et centurio legionis XV Apollinaris (…).

Barcelona (Barcino), Spain. CIL II, 4514.

Q(uintus) Atilius / Sp(uri) f(ilius) Vot(uria) Pri/mus interprex / leg(ionis) XV idem |(centurio) / negotiator an(norum) / LXXX / h(ic) s(itus) e(st) / Q(uintus) Atilius Cocta/tus Atilia Q(uinti) l(iberta) Fau/sta Privatus et / Martialis hered(es) / l(iberti?) p(osuerunt).

Boldog, Slovakia. AE 1978 00635

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legio_XV_Apollinaris

Perhaps that’s because Legio XV Apollinaris was never garrisoned in Egypt.

Legio XV Apollinaris Garrison/HQ
Illyricum (48 BC – 6 BC), Carnuntum (9 – 61), Syria (61-c. 73), Carnutum (c. 73 – 117), Satala (117-5th century)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legio_XV_Apollinaris

Or possibly it’s because Legio XV Apollinaris were garrisoned in Carnuntum [Lower Austria] and Satala [Turkey] during the reign of Trajan.

Carnuntum was a Roman Legionary Fortress or castrum legionarium and also headquarters of the Pannonian fleet from 50 AD.

Its impressive remains are situated on the Danube in Lower Austria halfway between Vienna and Bratislava in the “Carnuntum Archaeological Park” extending over an area of 10 km² near today’s villages of Petronell-Carnuntum and Bad Deutsch-Altenburg.

Legio XV Apollinaris

In 71 AD, after several campaigns, the Legio XV Apollinaris returned to Carnuntum and rebuilt its fortress.

The legion fought in the Trajan’s Dacian Wars the main body of the legion remained in Pannonia.

In 115 war with Parthia broke out and the legion was sent to the east.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carnuntum#Legio_XV_Apollinaris

Located in Turkey, the settlement of Satala, according to the ancient geographers, was situated in a valley surrounded by mountains, a little north of the Euphrates, where the road from Trapezus to Samosata crossed the boundary of the Roman Empire, when it was a bishopric, which remains a Latin Catholic titular see.

This site must have been occupied as early as the annexation of Lesser Armenia under Vespasian.

Trajan visited it in 115 and received the homage of the princes of the Caucasus and the Euxine.

It was he doubtless who established there the Legio XV Apollinaris and began the construction of the great castra stativa (permanent camp) which it was to occupy till the 5th century.

Within the walls little remains, and ruined structures noted by Biliotti have been demolished.

The legionary base had a civilian settlement to the north of the north wall, but no traces of any substantial buildings survive.

A ruinous structure consisting of a row of arches stands at some distance to the southeast of the fortress.

Biliotti described it as a basilica, but since then it was frequently regarded as the remains of an aqueduct leading to an as yet unidentified lower city.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satala

Trajan was Roman emperor from 98 to 117 AD.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trajan

Either way: The inscription is problematic.

Red Sea Hills: Umm Balad Fort

Umm Balad is a small fort and rest stop in the Red Sea Hills of the eastern desert in Egypt. The fort was constructed under the rule of Domitian (81 to 96AD) to protect a satellite quarry and the quarrying operations in the area.

HeritageDaily – Remote Roman Forts – Umm Balad Fort – Red Sea Hills
https://www.heritagedaily.com/2016/12/10-remote-roman-forts/113779

We decided to intervene at Umm Balad after witnessing the ever-increasing damage being done to the site, located as it is, dangerously close to Hurghada.

The praesidium controlled two small granodiorite quarries tucked into the south-west flank of Mons Porphyrites.

The modest size of the operations can be explained by the fact that the material itself had quickly proved to be of poor quality. It is riddled with tiny cracks and did not lend itself to the extraction of the large monoliths that the Roman emperors were looking for.

For this reason, the praesidium was abandoned after a few years.

Founded under Domitian with the name Domitiane (sc. latomia = Domitian’s quarry), it changed its name after the damnatio memoriae of the emperor and then took on the rather insignificant title of Kaine Latomia (New Quarry).

At first the Romans were content to dig a few wells or to re-use existing ones in order to supply water for the caravans.

In the Eastern Desert (as in the Western), such a well is called in Greek hydreuma (pl. hydreumata).

In 76/77, under the rule of Vespasian, the governor of the province and prefect of Egypt, Iulius Ursus, travelled to Berenike and, on the way home, indicated the places where new hydreumata were to be dug, and the praesidia would be constructed in connection with these wells.

These were probably the first generation of square forts, usually built around a well, that we are studying.

But why did the Roman authorities decide to reinforce the facilities of the roads?

The hypothesis that we prefer for the time being is that this was a reaction to the rising aggressivity of the nomads. Ostraca dating to the time of Trajan and Hadrian note the raids perpetrated by bands of barbaroi.

On the other hand, Strabo, who visited the region around 25 BC, noted with satisfaction that the local beduins were peaceful.

Umm Balad (excavation 2002-2003) – Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale
http://www.ifao.egnet.net/archeologie/praesidia/#en

Red Sea Hills: Wadi Hammamat

Stone quarrying in Wadi Hammamat has a very long history.

Wadi Hammamat (English: Valley of Many Baths) is a dry river bed in Egypt’s Eastern Desert, about halfway between Al-Qusayr and Qena.

In Ancient Egypt Hammamat was a major quarrying area for the Nile Valley.

Quarrying expeditions to the Eastern Desert are recorded from the second millennia BCE, where the wadi has exposed Precambrian rocks of the Arabian-Nubian Shield.

These include Basalts, schists, bekhen-stone (an especially prized green metagraywacke sandstone used for bowls, palettes, statues, and sarcophagi) and gold-containing quartz.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wadi_Hammamat

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/249182322_The_World%27s_Oldest_Surviving_Geological_Map_The_1150_BC_Turin_Papyrus_from_Egypt

The Roman narrative for Wadi Hammamat emphasises the “common era”.

Common era
Occupying groups from the Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire used both the route and the mines, the Romans establishing toll stations, the Byzantines reopening New Kingdom and Ptolemaic mines at Bir Umm Fawakhir, and both building watch towers along the route that survive today.

The Romans built a series of eight watering stages (hydreuma), one of which, the Qasr el Banat, the Castle of the Maidens, survives.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wadi_Hammamat

While artefacts indicate activity during the 1st century BC.

The Ptolemaic Kingdom was a Hellenistic kingdom based in Egypt.

It was ruled by the Ptolemaic Dynasty, which started with Ptolemy I Soter’s accession after the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC and which ended with the death of Cleopatra VII and the Roman conquest in 30 BC.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ptolemaic_Kingdom

Google Translation

The basanite, also called Bekhen stone , was used as an ornamental stone by the Egyptians and later by the Romans for the construction of statues, tombstones and stelae.

The quarry of this material is referenced in the so-called Papyrus of the gold mines , built around 1160 BC, found in the area of Tebe around 1820 and preserved in the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities of Turin.

The quarry is located in an area of intense tectonic activity in the Wadi Hammamat, between the cities of Qift on the Nile and Quseir on the Red Sea , in the center of the Eastern Desert of Egypt.

The color of the rock is very dark, typically black, or dark gray or gray-green on the surface.

https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basanite

28a. in Wadi Hammamat – Eastern Quarry 25º 59.39′ N, 33° 34.15′ E

Three types of slightly metamorphosed sedimentary rocks (chlorite/epidote grade with no foliation) [Precambrian basement]:

(a) Gradational metasandstone (fine- to very fine-grained and occasionally pebbly), metasiltstone and metaclaystone (ED-R): dark greenish-gray to mainly dark gray or grayish-green, chloritic metagraywacke. Can also be called simply “graywacke.”

(b) Metaconglomerate (NK-R): greenish (with multi-colored clasts), sandy, commonly diamictic, chloritic, with well-rounded pebbles and cobbles.

ANCIENT NAMES: rock type ‘a’ is
the bxn [bekhen] and inr nfr n bxn [iner nefer n bekhen] of the Egyptians,
the basanites lithos and basanos (from the transliteration of bekhen) of the Greeks, and
the lapis basanites of the Romans.

Ancient Egyptian Quarries and Mines – Ancient Egyptian Hardstone Quarries
Dr. James A. Harrell – Professor Emeritus of Archaeological Geology
The University of Toledo

http://www.eeescience.utoledo.edu/faculty/harrell/egypt/Quarries/Hardst_Quar.html

GEMSTONES and GOLD

The Roman gemstones and gold narrative is still evolving as sites are investigated.

Currently, the storyline appears to fizzle out in the north of Sudan.

However, the Emerald [Green Beryl] narrative is particularly curious:

1) The narrative only begins during the Ptolemaic period.

The earliest known beryl mine in the world is located in the mountain valley of Wadi Sikait, Eastern Desert.

Its mining started during the Ptolemaic period, although most of mining activities date to the Roman and Byzantine periods.

All the other beryl mining sites such as Gebel Zabara, Wadi Umm Debaa and Wadi Gimal are Roman-Byzantine or Islamic (mid-6th century onward) in date.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mining_industry_of_Egypt

2) The evidence from the “earliest known beryl mine in the world” suggests the climate has changed significantly since Roman times.

http://www.quarryscapes.no/text/publications/qs_del6_report_small.pdf

3) The Indo-European etymology of the word emerald suggests the historical narrative is also an Indo-European narrative.

The modern English word “emerald” comes via Middle English Emeraude, imported from Old French Ésmeraude and Medieval Latin Esmaraldus, from Latin smaragdus, from Greek σμάραγδος smaragdos meaning ‘green gem’, from Hebrew ברקת bareket (one of the twelve stones in the Hoshen pectoral pendant of the Kohen HaGadol), meaning ‘lightning flash’, referring to ‘emerald’, relating to Akkadian baraqtu, meaning ‘emerald’, and possibly relating to the Sanskrit word मरकत marakata, meaning ‘green’.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_beryl

Red Sea Hills: Wadi Sikait

Mining began first in Wadi Sikait sometime during the Ptolemaic period (late 4th through mid-1st centuries BC) with most of the activity occurring in the subsequent Roman (late 1st century BC through 4th century AD) and Early Byzantine (5th through early 6th centuries AD) periods.

It was the Romans who were primarily responsible for developing the mines, and it was they who gave the mining district its ancient name, Mons Smaragdus or ‘Emerald Mountain’.

Archaeological Geology of the World’s First Emerald Mine
James A Harrell – Geoscience Canada – Volume 31 – Number 2 – June 2004

https://journals.lib.unb.ca/index.php/GC/article/view/2752/3213

Ernest Ayscoghe Floyer (1852–1903) was an English colonial official, and explorer in Baluchistan and the Sudan.

In 1891 he was appointed by the Khedive of Egypt to the command of an expedition in a more southerly part of the same desert (about latitude 24°).

On this expedition he rediscovered the abandoned Sikait-Zubara emerald mines, which were then reopened.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernest_Ayscoghe_Floyer

https://perstoremyr.files.wordpress.com/2010/07/2009_heldal_etal_gypsumquarriesfaiyum_ummessawan.pdf

Red Sea Hills: Wadi el-Hudi

The gold and amethyst mines and associated settlements at Wadi el-Hudi appear to date largely to the late Roman and Byzantine periods, although the surface pottery should ideally be studied in greater detail in future, in order to obtain a more precise date.

The processing equipment is similar to that in use at the Bir Umm Fawakhir gold mines in the 6th and 7th centuries AD, but the hilltop settlements have more in common, both architecturally and topographically, with the nearby early Middle Kingdom amethyst-mining settlements (sites 5 and 9) than with the Byzantine gold- and emerald-mining settlements at Bir Umm Fawakhir and Wadi Gimal respectively.

Late Roman Amethyst and Gold Mining at Wadi el-Hudi – I Shaw
http://www.academia.edu/241016/Late_Roman_Amethyst_and_Gold_Mining_at_Wadi_el-Hudi

The mines at Wadi el-Hudi were rediscovered by the geologist Labib Nassim in 1923 (Nassim 1925), but the first proper archaeological examination of the site did not take place until 1939, when it was visited by G. W. Murray and Ibrahim Abdel AI of the Egyptian Topographical Survey (see Rowe 1939).

The Evidence for Amethyst Mining in Nubia and Egypt – Ian Shaw
Recent Research Into the Stone Age of Northeastem Africa
Studies in African Archaeology 7 – Poznari Archaeological Museum 2000

https://books.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/propylaeum/reader/download/223/223-30-77127-1-10-20170217.pdf

The Wadi el-Hudi is a wadi in Southern Egypt, in the Eastern Desert.

Here were ancient quarries for amethyst.

Further mining activities, including gold mining, are known from other periods of Egypptian history, up to the Roman Period.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wadi_el-Hudi

http://www.wadielhudi.com/

Geoarchaeology of the famous ancient amethyst mines in Wadi el-Hudi, Egypt: Desert heritage at risk

Red Sea Hills: Wadi Abu Diyeiba

In June 2004 two of the authors (JAH and SES) conducted a survey of an ancient amethyst quarry near Wadi Abu Diyeiba, about 25 km southwest of Safaga.

The amethyst quarry near Wadi Abu Diyeiba was discovered by G. B. Crookston in 1914 and first reported by G. W. Murray in the same year. Murray provided the following brief description in his half-page note:

“The workings are very extensive and the amethysts occur lining cavities in a drusy red granite…[where] these cavities occur along veins in the granite, which run in remarkably straight lines for hundreds of yards.”


The Via Nova Hadriana is the only attested ancient road in the region, and it extended for about 800 km from Antinoopolis on the east bank of the Nile in Middle
Egypt to Berenike on Egypt’s southern Red Sea coast. Built in the early second century AD, this thoroughfare seems to largely post-date activities at the Abu Diyeiba quarry. It would have followed, however, earlier roads in the region that were in use when the quarry was active.

Pottery
Nevertheless, it is evident that only a small portion of the pottery examined dates to Ptolemaic times with most of it coming from the early Roman period (late first century BC to early first century AD, i.e. the Augustan era).

Some also dates to the latter part of the early Roman period (up until the mid-second century AD).

The Ptolemaic to Early Roman Amethyst Quarry at Abu Diyeiba in Egypt’s Eastern Desert – J A Harrell, S E Sidebotham, R S Bagnall, S Marchand, J E Gates, J-L Rivard
BIFAO 106 (2006), p. 127-162

http://www.ifao.egnet.net/bifao/106/07/

Red Sea Hills: Berenice Panchrysos

Berenike Panchrysos is an ancient town in the Nubian Desert which was located in February, 1989, by an expedition to the Wadi Allaqi led by Alfredo and Angelo Castiglioni and Gian-carlo Negro.

Mentioned in the Naturalis Historia of Pliny the Elder, who located the town between Berenike Trogloditica and Berenike Epi-Dire, Berenike Panchrysos is so named because gold quartz is abundant in the region.

During the recent excavations at Berenike Panchrysos, two Ptolemaic coins were discovered (one of which dates to Ptolemy Soter I).

Also discovered were a small faïence head of the god Bes and a miniature bronze statue of Harpocrates, from the Graeco-Roman period.

https://archive.org/stream/EncyclopediaOfTheArchaeologyOfAncientEgypt#page/n250/mode/1up

Berenice Panchrysos, was an ancient town of ancient Egypt, near Sabae in the Regio Troglodytica, on the west coast of the Red Sea, between the 20th and 21st degrees of North latitude, in modern-day Sudan.

It obtained the appellation of all-golden (Panchrysos) from its vicinity to the gold mines of Jebel Allaqi (Jebel Ollaki), from which the ancient Egyptians drew their principal supplies of that metal, and in the working of which they employed criminals and prisoners of war. (Plin. vi. 34.)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berenice_Panchrysos

Berenice Panchrysos is an ancient urban settlement in the North-West desert of Sudan, just below the 22nd parallel, here there were the Wadi Allaqi ancient Pharaohs gold mines
The ruins of the town were discovered in 1989 by an Italian expedition with the Castiglioni Brothers, Luigi Balbo, Giancarlo Negro e Manlio Sozzani, using an Arabic map of the IX century which showed the location of the gold mines.

It was a large settlement with many buildings which covered an area of about one and a half km on both banks of the wadi Allaqi.

The newest buildings were made with flat stones while the older ones were of granite blocks, roughly squared.

Near the wide bend of the wadi, which runs east to turn north, there were two majestic forts.

The city could have had a population of about 10.000 people and its name has been often changed by its inhabitants, now the nomads of this area call it “Deraheib”, which means “buildings”.

Historical sources, including Pliny “the Elder”, tell us that the Ancient Egyptians were getting the majority of their gold needed for their rich civilizations from Wawat, an unidentified area in the Mountains of the Sudanese Nubian desert between the red Sea and the Nile.

Moreover, the word “Nubia” that has always identified the area of the southern Egypt and northern Sudan, in the old Egyptian language means “Gold”.

The historians of the pharaoh Thutmosi III, of the XVIII dynasty of the New Reign confirmed that in those times 1400 B.C. from the gold mines of Wawat were extracted up to 776 kg of the precious metal each year.

Berenice Panchrysos, the golden city of the Ptolemaic Dynasty, was the subject of many stories for a very long time, up to the point that it became nearly a mythological town.

Italian Tourism Co. Ltd – Khartoum, Sudan
http://www.italtoursudan.com/luogo/berenice-panchrysos/

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22 Responses to Enigmatic Egypt: Roman Ruination – Red Sea Hills

  1. So much ancient mining activity and not a skerrick of tools left behind. Doesn’t add up.

  2. Jim Coyle says:

    those Egyptians and Romans were such tightwads with their tools. Not one hammer, chisel, plane, or mechanical device of any import has been found . They picked up after themselves quite nicely, very tidy.

  3. Nang' says:

    Could the name of the roman legions be like in the contemporary european armies ? Here in France for instance, there has been a running Regiment des Dragons that exists since Napoleon…. (i’m just asking).
    I think there are porphyrus columns in the Antonius bath of Carthage. I first identified them as pink granit, but I’m not so sure now. Dark, massive.
    Oh yes and by no mean romans could have brought a 200 tons column on cart along a 500 km track in the egytian desert. It defies imagination….

  4. John Miller says:

    Could it be possible that when the Romans wrote about ‘Egypt’, they may have had another region in mind, and not necessarily the area that we TODAY call ‘Egypt’?

  5. malagabay says:

    Nang’ I think there are porphyrus columns in the Antonius bath of Carthage.

    Kairouan is the capital of the Kairouan Governorate in Tunisia…
    The city was founded by the Umayyads around 670.

    The city’s main attraction is the Great Mosque of Sidi-Uqba, which is said to largely consist of its original building materials.

    In fact most of the column stems and capitals were taken from ruins of earlier-period buildings, while others were produced locally.

    There are 414 marble, granite and porphyry columns in the mosque. Almost all were taken from the ruins of Carthage.

    Founded by Arab general Uqba Ibn Nafi in 670 CE,
    the present aspect of the mosque dates from the 9th century.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kairouan#Great_Mosque_of_Sidi-Uqba

    • Quarrying porphyry is difficult and dressing and polishing it even more arduous -it needs a lot of water and abrasives to produce the highly polished finish of the columns. Porphyry is a fine grained matrix with large crystals – chemically like y fine grained granite that cannot be dressed with bronze or copper tools. These rocks are very tough in the sense of difficult to break with a large sledge hammer. There are some dolerites I’ve worked with that are near impossible to split or fracture with sledge hammers. Even diamond saw cutting takes days for a few centimetres of cut.

      And they did this in desert conditions?

      • Nang' says:

        Yes I know ! i had the same basic experience when renovating my house where I had to cut cold stones (hard stones) with an angle grinder & diamond discs. Well it just bounced on it, I could never actually cut through. Granit is an extremely hard stone, people just don’t realize how hard it is to shape.

        I also want to mention that when I visited the Bardo Museum in Tunis, one month ago, i was mesmerized by the stunning beauty of the carthaginian culture. But it stroke me bizzarely that in between Carthage & the Ottoman Empire, there is absolutly NOTHING : no mosaic, no scultpure, no money, no architecture, no artefact whatsoever. That’s why I started to enquiry and ended up here. I’m quite puzzled, by the way, but this site meets my own intuitions.

      • malagabay says:

        I have more questions than answers.

  6. There’s another angle to this – given the massive volumes of rock quarried for Rome and other urban centres, identified or not, the quarries listed here are simply no large enough to have supplied the known masonry.

    Archaeology as a discipline was directed to proving biblical narrative; it’s adherents would thus have proclivities for miraculous works.and perhaps suffer from the Red Queen syndrome,

  7. Nang' says:

    Am I wrong or was the climate MUCH warmer in Roman times ?
    So here we go with the narrative as you turn it : these quarry outstations right in one of the harsher desert, at a time were temperatures were much higher, had several thousand of poor guys in the sun cutting porphyrus columns with iron chisel and grinding stones to mirror polish with tools that no archéologists had ever, ever found, in order to decorate Carthage, Rome or Byzance – but no road for transportation of these 200 tons master pieces of human delusion.
    I’m even more puzzled.

    • malagabay says:

      “… the academic consensus is challenged by the history of human occupation in the Western Desert which shows that settlements have progressively descended to lower altitudes [firstly] as surface water drained away and [secondly] as ground water levels dropped.”

      See: https://malagabay.wordpress.com/2018/05/07/enigmatic-egypt-roman-ruination-desert/

    • The Roman Warm period makes more sense if we assume it was a tropical to temperate climate – such a climate would allow the existence of large populations and the agrarian resources to feed them. That the Romans wore scant clothing suggests a more tropical climate, thought the present day populations in tropical Asia are well clothed but that may have more to do with religious mores than anything else. The native tribes in the Amazonian rainforests are more or less naked and free of any “civilising” influence.

      That the quarries are found in desert conditions today does not necessarily mean they were in such conditions during Roman times.

      • Nang' says:

        Yes tropical warmth, indeed. Nimes’ roman coat of arms (Provence, South of France) is a cocrodile and a palm tree.
        But what were those quarries like if the 45th parallel was much warmer ?

        http://latogeetleglaive.blogspot.com/2012/09/palmier-et-crocodile-le-blason-de-nimes.html

      • Geologically the Holocene was warm and I would guess it was also the Roman Warm period. Here I use stratigraphy but acceptance of this model requires rejecting Uniformitarianism and Darwinism; doing this obliges me to offer an alternative assumption as well, and this is an obstacle that is difficult to leap over. The academics would, erroneously, jump to the conclusion that I would be assuming biblical short chronology. This is quite wrong – I prefer to assume that the Universe always existed, as does Life, or Monistic Idealism, as outlined by Amit Goswami, coupled with applied epistemology in which what was, is, unless demonstrated otherwise. So no creationism.

        I would guess that to get a temperate to tropical climate at 45 lat would entil moving it towards the equator not by plate tectonics but by earth careening. That requires explaining the mechanism of earth rotation and the present model has it starting to rotate from collision during the primary accretion stage of formation after the Big Bang, (BB). But the BB is a theological assumption and is thus rejected. Perhaps the solar wind currents entering the Earth’s polar regions, essentially Birkeland currents that cause rotation, drive the Earth’s rotation. If so then an electromagnetic interaction with another cosmic object could displace the Birkeland axis and hence the Earth’s orientation, causing France, for example to go to south of Libya. Climate change induced mechanically by an external forcing that for the present is an extremely taboo scenario.

        But you should get the direction I am drifting to, albeit it cautiously.

  8. Pingback: Gunnar Heinsohn: Porphyry and Power | MalagaBay

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