Stunning Silver Bracelet of Egyptian Queen Hetepheres Reveals Trade Secrets
In a remarkable revelation from a recent study, ancient Egypt has once again defied expectations, showcasing its globalized nature even in the early Bronze Age. The study, centered around a captivating silver bracelet adorning the wrist of Queen Hetepheres I from the Fourth Dynasty, has unveiled a trade network between ancient Egyptians and Greeks dating back to 2600 BC. These findings challenge previous assumptions, shedding light on an extensive and longstanding trade relationship that extended beyond Egypt's borders. From the enchanting Cycladic Islands to bustling Lavron in Greece, the discoveries paint a vivid picture of a world interconnected through trade and treasure.
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A Long Interconnectedness: Trade and Treasure
The study published in the famed Journal of Archaeological Science , analyzed the silver artifacts from Ancient Egypt , unveiling a trade network with the Ancient Greeks that was not only more extensive, but also significantly older than previously believed. It appears that the Ancient Egyptians were actively engaged in a flourishing trade network that extended far beyond their borders.
The trade routes spanned across the Bronze Age Cycladic Islands, the Hellenic cities nestled in Anatolia (present-day Turkey), the enchanting isle of Crete, and the bustling Lavrion on mainland Greece.
“Egypt has no domestic silver ore sources and silver is rarely found in the Egyptian archaeological record until the Middle Bronze Age,” write the authors, a team of archaeologists from Australia, France, and the United States. “Surprisingly, the lead isotope ratios are consistent with ores from the Cyclades (Aegean islands, Greece), and to a lesser extent from Lavrion (Attica, Greece), and not partitioned from gold or electrum as previously surmised. Sources in Anatolia (Western Asia) can be excluded with a high degree of confidence,” write the report authors.
(A) Bracelets in the burial chamber of Tomb G 7000X as discovered by George Reisner in 1925 (Photographer: Mustapha Abu el-Hamd, August 25 1926) (B) Bracelets in restored frame, Cairo JE 53271–3 (Photographer: Mohammedani Ibrahim, August 11 1929) (C) A bracelet (right) in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MFA 47.1700. The bracelet on the left is an electrotype reproduction made in 1947, MFA 52.1837 (Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition; All Photographs © April 2023 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston).
These stunning silver artifacts had languished without thorough analysis for several decades until now. The lead author of the report, Karin Sowada from the esteemed Department of History and Archaeology at Macquarie University in Sydney, has spearheaded this groundbreaking research and report.
“This kind of ancient trading network helps us to understand the beginnings of the globalized world,” Dr Sowada told the ABC. “For me that’s a very unexpected finding in this particular discovery. Egypt was known for its gold, but had no local sources of silver. This period of early Egypt is a little bit terra incognita from the perspective of silver,” Dr Sowada continued. She added that the bracelets represented “essentially the only large-scale silver that exists for this period of the third millennium BC”.
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Queen Hetepheres: The Daughter of God – A Hidden Mystery
Queen Hetepheres, known as the 'Daughter of God,' held a significant position as the direct royal bloodline of the Fourth Dynasty in Egypt, during the esteemed Old Kingdom period spanning from 2700 BC to 2200 BC. She was married to King Sneferu and gave birth to a son and successor, Khufu, who commissioned a grand tomb and pyramid for her eternal resting place.
For centuries, the whereabouts of Queen Hetepheres' burial site remained shrouded in mystery until a fortuitous discovery in 1925. Explorers stumbled upon a previously hidden shaft in Giza, where they uncovered her empty sarcophagus. While it was initially presumed that Hetepheres had been laid to rest near her husband's pyramid in Dahshur, her son, Khufu, ordered her tomb to be relocated to Giza after it was targeted by tomb robbers.
The precise location of Queen Hetepheres' body and the other precious artifacts buried with her remain unknown. Dr. Sowada emphasized that "these objects themselves give us a window into her life and how she lived.”
Research and Analysis: A Fine Science
To delve into the secrets held by these ancient artifacts , the report authors meticulously examined samples from the collection housed in the renowned Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Employing cutting-edge techniques such as bulk XRF, micro-XRF, SEM-EDS, X-ray diffractometry, and MC-ICP-MS, they successfully uncovered essential elemental and mineralogical compositions. Additionally, the team utilized lead isotope ratios to gain valuable insights into the nature, metallurgical treatment, and possible ore source of the silver.
To their astonishment, the analyses unveiled the presence of silver, silver chloride, and even a possible trace of copper chloride within the minerals. However, it was the lead isotope ratios that blew their mind. The ratios corresponded exclusively to those found in silver originating from the Aegean, Attica, and Anatolia—regions that flourished during the Bronze Age, predating the Hellenistic period.
Hetepheres I bracelets. Parts of two silver bracelet (roughly one-third preserved) with parts of two butterflies inlaid in turquoise, lapis lazuli, and carnelian (© Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition )
Further examination of a cross-section of a bracelet fragment owned by Queen Hetepheres provided captivating details about the craftsmanship involved in creating these ancient treasures. It became apparent that the metal had undergone repeated annealing and cold hammering during the intricate crafting process, reveals ABC.
Perhaps the most significant finding to emerge from this study is the conclusive evidence that Egypt and Greece were involved in long-distance trade much earlier than previously known. In fact, this research provides the first scientific substantiation that silver was sourced from the Aegean Islands in Greece, unveiling a previously unknown aspect of their ancient trade networks.
While information about Egypt's trade networks became more documented during the Middle Kingdom (2040 BC – 1782 BC) and the New Kingdom (1550 BC – 1069 BC), the application of lead isotope analysis to silver objects from the Middle Kingdom is the greatest takeaway from this study.
“In the Middle Kingdom and the New Kingdom much, much later, we have lots of papyrus that contain administrative records, trade records and so forth,” Dr Gillan Davis from the Australian Catholic University, one of the authors, told the ABC. “But for the Old Kingdom, it’s just too long ago, those documents for the most part haven’t survived,” she concluded.
Top image: Bottom, a Hetepheres bracelet in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MFA 47.1700. Top, an electrotype reproduction made in 1947, MFA 52.1837 (Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition) Source: © April 2023 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston/ Journal of Archaeological Science
By Sahir Pandey
Judd, B. 2023. Silver in ancient Egyptian bracelets provides earliest evidence for long-distance trade between Egypt and Greece . Available at: https://www.abc.net.au/news/science/2023-05-30/researchers-analyse-queen-hetepheres-tomb-bracelets/102376846.
Kosmos, N. 2023. New evidence reveals Ancient Egyptian and Greek trade extended to the Bronze Age . Available at: https://neoskosmos.com/en/2023/05/30/features/new-evidence-reveals-ancient-egyptian-and-greek-trade-extended-to-the-bronze-age/.
Sowada, K., et al . 2023. Analyses of queen Hetepheres’ bracelets from her celebrated tomb in Giza reveals new information on silver, metallurgy and trade in Old Kingdom Egypt, c. 2600 BC . Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jasrep.2023.103978.