Archaeological Sites

What is Site 9?

The best known site at Wadi el-Hudi was named “Site 9” by Ahmed Fakhry. It dates to the Middle Kingdom (c. 2000 to 1700 BCE) and was likely founded during the reign of Senwosret I. It includes a rectangular settlement, amethyst mine, and areas for refining amethyst in the middle of a flat wadi bed. Walls in the settlement were constructed from small stacked boulders taken locally from the site’s surface and from the debris of the mining operations.

The settlement includes three major structural sections, which Ian Shaw labelled Areas A, B, and C. Area A in the southwest corner consists of two extremely well-constructed buildings that may have acted as housing, administrative, and storage areas for high officials. Area B is on the eastern side of the settlement and was an extension that was built onto Site 9 by a later expedition that reused the site. Based on its plan, Area B was an administrative storage area, which we hope to investigate in a future season. Area C is mostly an open court with small structures in the middle of the settlement; these were likely utilitarian, multi-purposed areas. There is evidence that stelae (inscribed stones) had once been present at Site 9.

Ahmed Fakhry discovered a few stelae there that he transported to the Aswan Museum. Because no natural large boulders exist at Site 9 on which to carve inscriptions, inscriptions would have been only on free standing stelae. Since they would have been visible and portable, these have disappeared over the last 4000 years or been brought to museums during the last century.

What is Site 5?

Site 5 consists of a large settlement, amethyst mine, and amethyst refinement area that dates to the Middle Kingdom (c. 2000 to 1700 BCE). It was first founded during the reign of Montuhotep IV, but it too was reused by later expeditions. We are in the process of studying the archaeology to investigate how it was reused, renovated, and expanded over time. This investigation will likely reveal multiple phases of the site’s use and restructuring during the Middle Kingdom.

Unlike Site 9, the Site 5 settlement was built on top of a hill, and its designers incorporated the natural landscape and boulders into the structure of the settlement to give it an extra level of protection. For example, parts of the enclosure walls follow natural high ridges so that a 2 meter high wall actually looked higher to an observer approaching from down-slope. Similarly, naturally occurring huge boulders were used as gateways or walls and floors of various rooms. Unlike any other known settlement in ancient Egypt, Site 5 includes a double enclosure wall. We still need to examine this in more detail, but it seems like the exterior enclosure wall protected everything within the settlement, including housing areas for the workers. Then an interior enclosure wall divided the workers’ housing areas from administrative and storage areas located on the highest part of the hill. Because enormous boulders lay all over Site 5, they were convenient surfaces for people to carve inscriptions. Over 100 inscriptions still exist across Site 5 as testimonials of the people who lived there.

What is Site 6?

Site 6 is located on top of a high mountain next to Site 5. From this vantage point, a person can see for kilometers in all directions, and one has clear sightlines to Sites 4, 5, and 9, among others. In the Middle Kingdom (c. 2000 to 1700 BCE), this area was a military post where soldiers sat for hours watching below. In their boredom, they drew over one hundred inscriptions around this peak, in one place making a vast “inscription panel.” Their carvings include the names, titles, and images of soldiers, as well as their dogs, weapons, sandals, and more. However, they were not the first people to inscribe these rocks. About 1000 years earlier the terrain was more hospitable to pastoral nomads wandering the desert to feed their herds. A few of those pastoral nomads carved their images and pictures of cattle and ibexes onto these rocks (c. 3000 BCE). Interestingly, the Middle Kingdom soldiers incorporated some of these older rock carvings into their own inscriptions. For example, one Middle Kingdom soldier drew himself stabbing a cow that was drawn 1000 years earlier.

What is Site 4?

Site 4 is a vast archaeological site first discovered by Ahmed Fakhry, but not visited by any later researchers until the work of the Wadi el-Hudi Expedition. It is a settlement nestled in the valley between two tall hills and an amethyst mine. Although it was reused by multiple mining expeditions, it was inhabited during two distinct periods.

It was first built and used extensively during the Middle Kingdom (2000 to 1700 BCE), but then expeditions during the Ptolemaic and Roman Periods (1st century BCE to 1st century CE), thoroughly renovated and reused the site. Archaeological levels clearly distinguish the temporal phases. As at Site 9, almost no naturally occurring boulders jut out of the ground at Site 4. Consequently, any large inscriptions needed to be carved onto free standing stelae. Both Ahmed Fakhry and the Wadi el-Hudi Expedition have discovered about 20 stelae or their fragments at Site 4 dating to the Middle and New Kingdoms. There may have once been many more, but they disappeared over the site’s 4000 year history, even being reused during the Ptolemaic and Roman phases.

The main administrative and storage areas are located in the Central Blocks on the valley floor. Among other things, we have found several ostraca (broken pieces of pottery with notes written on them) as well as seals and seal impressions (small stones that administrators used to impress their insignia onto mud attached to a box, letter, or bag). These artifacts point to a vigilant administration overseeing the mining operations.

What do the Ptolemaic and Roman sites look like?

Expeditions of the Ptolemaic and Roman Periods (1st century BCE to 4th century CE) reused the region of Wadi el-Hudi extensively. At that time they extracted many different types of minerals including amethyst, gold, quartz, galena, and possibly copper.

These sites were designed differently from their earlier counterparts in the Middle Kingdom. Typically, there is a mine, such as those of Site 1 or Site 12, located in a low lying area. Then about 500 meters away perched on the top of a hill or on the edge of a ridge are the settlements associated with them (Sites 2 and 11 respectively). Concerns for security are evident in their design. When the designers chose the location for these settlements, it was most important to be able to see for kilometers in multiple directions. The Ptolemaic-Roman settlements typically consist of an enclosure wall that stood up to 2 meters tall and 1 meter wide with an entry gate. The Site 12 mine is enclosed by a wall on three sides and the base of a mountain on the fourth. In comparison to the earlier sites, interior structures are minimal. They are mostly open space with a few huts or windbreaks to protect people from natural elements. The settlements incorporated multi-purposed, open-air, utilitarian spaces. Because these settlements were situated far from their respective mines, initial refinement of the rocks took place next to the mine.

During the Ptolemaic and Roman periods, it seems that no one inscribed rocks or stelae to reflect on the mining expeditions. Their efforts are mainly attested through pottery, the construction of these settlements, and work-debris surrounding the mine. Additionally, at Site 4 (see above), we have discovered Greek and Demotic ostraca that will shed light on the mining process and other things.

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