Most of our purple today is from made from dyes or synthesized materials. But 4000 years ago in Ancient Egypt, purple was not common. The mineral amethyst was one of the only natural sources of purple. There are only a handful of examples of amethyst in the ancient Mediterranean world prior to 2000 BCE, but everything changed at the start of the Egyptian Middle Kingdom (2000-1700 BCE). Egyptian prospectors discovered the ancient world’s largest source of purple, in Wadi el-Hudi. During the Middle Kingdom, amethyst became very fashionable as officials and courtiers scrambled to get these purple jewels, like this one from our excavations and from the Metropolitan Museum of Art's collections. It likely became an object of high status that the pharaoh acquired through massive expeditions and doled out to privileged individuals, like princesses.
WELCOME TO THE WADI EL-HUDI EXPEDITION
Since 2014, the Wadi el-Hudi Expedition has been surveying and excavating as part of our ongoing archaeological project. Now in our fifth season, we are working to map the standing architecture, document the sites and inscriptions, create a 3D model of the sites, and study how the ancient Egyptian state provided luxury mineral resources for a royal gift economy. Wadi el-Hudi lies in Egypt’s Eastern Desert, east of Aswan, and is dotted with well-preserved ancient fortified settlements and mines that ancient peoples built while they exploited the geologically rich zone for rare mineral resources: amethyst as well as gold, copper, and granite. First exploited in Paleolithic times, the Ancient Egyptians established over a dozen very important mines there in order to acquire objects for making jewelry during the Middle Kingdom and in the Roman Period (c. 1st century BCE-4th c. CE). Next to these mines, they established several settlements that housed the laborers and the administrators of the mines. These settlements are still well-preserved today, standing close to their original height at two meters tall.