More Than Jewels: An Investigation Into The Administration Of Semiprecious Stones In Egypt's Middle And New Kingdoms

Shelby Justl, University of Pennsylvania


This dissertation grew out of the author’s research of a hieratic ostracon uncovered during the 2001 University of Pennsylvania excavations of the South Abydos town Wah-sut. Ostracon SA. 2708 enumerated a delivery of raw unworked pieces of lapis lazuli, red jasper, and gold to the town or mortuary temple of Ahmose during the Eighteenth Dynasty. Examination of this ostracon posed questions of the administration, control, and transport of mined semiprecious materials. This dissertation presents a comprehensive assessment of the administration of semiprecious stone acquisition, distribution, and processing during the Middle and New Kingdoms. It assesses the semiprecious stone industry as an absolute royal monopoly ultimately determining that it operated as a royal-dominated system using centralized institutions of control, like temples and their treasuries. Analysis of stone symbolism and terminology rationalize Egyptian motivation for sending regular expeditions. Examination of semiprecious stone mining sites, their structures, and expedition texts indicate organizational aspects of settlement, mineral storage, transport of mined stones, expedition size, the seasonality of mining, and quotas of expected mineral output. Examination of Wadi el-Hudi, Wadi Maghara, and Serabit el-Khadim expeditionary titles reveal aspects of labor organization. Titles also indicate the treasury’s active role in mining expeditions as well as tight royal control in launching expeditions and appointing expeditionary leaders and skilled semiprecious stone specialists from within the capital. This dissertation examines the role of the king and the temples in semiprecious stone distribution through examination of redistributive transactions of inw and bAkw. P. Harris I, P. Boulaq 19, and P. Turin 1900 suggest that the king accepted semiprecious stones upon arrival in Egypt and transferred a portion of these stones to the temples, for redistribution. However, the temples could then independently recycle and redistribute semiprecious stone inw or bAkw, as they saw fit. A case study of Amara West semiprecious stone objects and their archaeological distribution within the site illustrates aspects of stone storage, transport, processing in local workshops all under strong administrative control during the New Kingdom. Concentration of red jasper and carnelian objects in three storage magazines associated with the temple or the Palace of the Deputy of Kush mimic the stringent centralized control of the semiprecious stone industry indicated in Egyptian archaeological, iconographic, and textual evidence. This case study further assesses role of Upper Nubia as a gemstone supplier and Egyptian administrative centers in Nubia as intermediary cogs in the semiprecious stone supply network collecting materials, storing them in local warehouses, and transporting them to Egypt. The administration of semiprecious stone processing is examined through tomb scenes of lapidaries carving and boring beads, depictions of weighing and allocating precious materials to workshop craftsmen, and archaeological evidence of workshops including discarded tools such as flint microdrills and debitage of semiprecious stone chips, flakes and partially finished beads. Semiprecious stone workshops appear strongly connected to capital cities and temples, which appears to confirm tight administrative control over the semiprecious stone administration.