Ancient Egyptian Turquoise: The Riches of Hathor’s Mines
Thousands of years ago, ancient native Egyptians called the Monitu in the Sinai Peninsula plunged deep into echoing chasms searching for a flash of blue lightly speckled with matrix. The prized turquoise veins of the Serabit el-Khadim and Wadi Maghareh mines have yielded breathtaking stone specimens since 3000 BC. The Wadi Maghareh is believed to have been only 2.5 miles from an ancient temple dedicated to the Egyptian goddess Hathor. She is heralded as the goddess of the turquoise sky, beauty, joy, motherhood, fertility and lastly: mining. It is appropriate then that the temple for Hathor would be so close to the mines that produced such lovely, slightly dark turquoise. It is also no wonder then that the region is still referred to in Arabic by two names: Arḍ ul-Fairūz or “the land of turquoise” and Mafkat, the “land of the green minerals.”
The Monitu people gathered, cut, shaped, and polished Sinai turquoise pieces by hand and showcased them in exquisite necklaces, patterning for tombs and sarcophagi, and other ornamental uses. Turquoise was also carved into tiny scarab “beads” that could be strung together or treasured as individual pieces. Scarabs were of particular significance to ancient Egyptians as they symbolized life and rebirth.
The color of natural Sinai turquoise is very distinct; it is more translucent than other more common varieties and it has a noticeably darker hue that can be likened more to an azure color than green or robin’s egg blue. It also has less matrix veining, which is quite similar to Persian turquoise that is prized for its uniform color.
Miners would routinely carve messages onto the side of the caves praising pharaohs and the gods for their findings. Some of the carvings were simple messages regarding the weather, mining conditions, or locations of particularly abundant turquoise deposits within the caves. If the caves had “run dry” miners would also carve warnings for others to move on to new mines. These messages were often elaborate narratives that give a compelling glimpse into the daily life of the Monitu people at this time.
Ancient Egyptian turquoise sourced from the Sinai Peninsula was deeply admired by Egyptian royalty and the common citizenry alike. Turquoise is often referred to as the “people’s gemstone” in Egyptian culture. Archaeologists have uncovered numerous turquoise pieces from necklaces, headpieces, rings, and more. Turquoise amulets were often buried with mummies to ensure protection during their sojourn from the land of the living to the dead. Some even believed that turquoise made one less vulnerable to wounds or other attacks, so it was carefully grafted into swords, daggers, and other weapons for protection.
Some of the most striking examples of jewelry using turquoise in ancient Egypt can be seen in the wide, elaborate collars pharaohs would wear for ceremonies and other special occasions. Often as much as eight inches wide from the base of the neck to the chest, these sweeping, ornamental masterpieces were often divided into adjoined “planks” that were woven meticulously with turquoise, tiger’s eye, carnelian, and lapis lazuli beads. The intricate beadwork on these collars rivals that of Native American Zuni squash blossom necklaces.
Cleopatra was said to have worn elaborate headdresses embedded with turquoise, carnelian, and topped with a mesmerizing snake diadem. If this was not enough, turquoise was also crushed into a fine powder and used as eye shadow as a way of matching and complimenting elaborate turquoise jewelry pieces.
Egyptian turquoise has been known to protect its wearer. It has a deeply maternal aura that pairs well with motherhood, fertility, and warmth. It has soothing properties that promote blood circulation and vitality. As one of the oldest gemstones that has been mined and crafted into jewelry, turquoise comes with a rich history and energy that can be sensed and felt by those who wear it. Just touching a piece of turquoise can connect your own energy with some of the deepest and most mysterious truths of our planet.
Dunn, Jimmy. “Egypt: The Temple and Mines at Serabit El-Khadim In the Sinai.” Egypt: The Temple and Mines at Serabit El-Khadim In the Sinai. Tour Egypt, 21 June 2011. Web. 19 July 2015.
Gems, Emily. “Ancient Egypt, Precious Metals and Gemstones.” Emily Gems, Joyful Crystals and Gemstones. N.p., 2011. Web. 20 July 2015.
Keshk, Fatma. “Forgotten Archaeological Gems: The Ancient Turquoise Mines of South Sinai.” Egypt Independent. N.p., 9 Oct. 2011. Web. 19 July 2015.