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Mining industry of Egypt

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Mining industry of Egypt

The Turin mining papyrus depicts mines in the Wadi Hammamat and is the oldest known map of its kind.

Mining in Egypt has had a long history that goes back to predynastic times. Egypt has substantial mineral resources, including 48 million tons of tantalite (fourth largest in the world), 50 million tons of coal, and an estimated 6.7 million ounces of gold in the Eastern Desert.[1] The total real value of minerals mined was about £E102 million (US$18.7 million) in 1986, up from £E60 million (US$11 million) in 1981.[2] The chief minerals in terms of volume output were iron ore, phosphates, and salt. The quantities produced in 1986 were estimated at 2,048, 1,310, and 1,233 tons, respectively, compared with 2,139, 691, and 883 tons in 1981. In addition, minor amounts of asbestos (313 tons) and quartz (19 tons) were mined in 1986.[2] Preliminary exploration in Sinai indicated the presence of zinc, tin, lead, and copper deposits.[2] Private sector exploration and exploitation activities so far have been limited.[1] Only recently, AngloGold Ashanti with its joint Venture Partner Thani Dubai and a Canadian listed exploration company, Alexander Nubia International have been undertaking exploration in Egypt's Eastern Desert with some success. Centamin Ltd., a mineral exploration company founded in Australia, started a massive mining project in Sukari Hill.[3]


Miners worshipped Hathor, the "goddess of turquoise",[4] who was believed to protect them.[5]

Gold mining in Upper Egypt can be traced back to predynastic times,[6] and the earliest map known in the world from the Ramesside Period dating to about 1160 BCE, shows the route to the gold mines in the Wadi Hammamat, Eastern Desert.[7] Gold mining started with alluvial workings in Egypt and was followed by shallow underground vein mining in Nubia about 1300 BCE, during the New Kingdom period.[8] The methods of working included fire-setting to weaken rocks by thermal shock, a method described by Diodorus Siculus in his Bibliotheca historica written about 60 BCE.

The technique of quarrying granite and limestone was an advanced technology by the time the pyramids were being built.[5] Marble, alabaster and diorite were used for making statues, basalt for making sarcophagi, and dolomite for hammers to work hard stones. Precious and semi-precious stones that were extensively mined and worked as well included turquoise, beryl, amethyst, lapis lazuli and malachite. Hathor was the miner's patron goddess, and her temples, statues or inscriptions were found in many rediscovered mining locations.[5] A major temple to Hathor constructed by Seti II was found at the copper mines in Timna valley; another temple was discovered in Serabit el-Khadim, where turquoise was mined in antiquity, in an expedition led by Sir Flinders Petrie.

Egypt became a major gold-producer during the Old Kingdom and remained so in the next 1,500 years, with interruptions when the kingdom broke down.[9] During the New Kingdom, the production of gold steadily increased, and mining became more intensive as new fields were developed.[9] British historian Paul Johnson says that it was gold rather than military power which sustained the Egyptian empire and made it the world power throughout the third quarter of the second millennium BCE.[10] Most gold mines known today in Egypt have been exploited for high-grade gold (15 g/t gold or greater) by the ancient Egyptians.,[5] however there has been limited exploration that applies modern day techniques where deposits can be viable based on gold grades as low as 0.5 g/t (provided there is sufficient tonnage and readily available infrastructure).

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.[11] 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. Beryl mining ceased in Egypt when the Spanish Empire discovered superior-quality emeralds in Colombia in the 16th century.[11]

See also


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