Archaeologists discovered more than 100 inscriptions etched into rock at an ancient site where Egyptians mined amethyst.
The carvings were discovered in Wadi el-Hudi, a valley in the Eastern Desert in Southern Egypt, Live Science reported.
The excavation team also unearthed inscriptions carved on stone tablets and pottery. One particularly interesting set of inscriptions was found on a mysterious, 3,400-year-old stone tablet dating back to a time where researchers believe the mine was abandoned. The etchings were in the name of Usersatet, a senior official who was viceroy of Kush, an area south of Egypt. Archaeologists are puzzled as to why someone would bother to move the tablet to the site and leave it there.
Specialists were able to determine that many of the etchings dated back around 3,900 years, to a time archaeologists refer to as the “Middle Kingdom.” Other carvings dated back around 2,000 years.
Amethyst was reportedly popular in Egypt during this time, especially after pharaohs learned that Wadi el-Hudi was a good source for it.
“Once the [pharaohs] found it, they kind of went bonkers to go get it,” Kate Liszka, director of the Wadi el-Hudi expedition, told Live Science.
Liszka added that during the Middle Kingdom, the pharaohs would mine amethyst, bring it back, and have it turned into jewelry, which they gave away.
Archaeologists are hoping the inscriptions will help them understand more about the history of Wadi el-Hudi during the Middle Kingdom.
Liszka said one of the big questions is if the miners were slaves. Researchers said that some of the inscriptions seem to suggest that the miners took pride in their efforts, which means they could have chosen to work there. Another indication that the workers may not have been slaves is the fact that no bodies have been found in the area. Workers who would have died at the mine would have been returned for a paper burial, while slaves would not have been.
The inscriptions also mention soldiers watching the mines, leaving experts to wonder if they were looking after the miners for their protection or if they were there to ensure that slaves kept working.
Another question researchers are hoping to answer is how the Egyptian government managed to get water to the miners. Live Science reported that the nearest well is almost two miles from the area, and there is no knowing if that well was even around in the Middle Kingdom.
Researchers are using several techniques, including 3D modeling and reflectance transformation imaging, to help them find new inscriptions, search for more ancient remains, and analyze past discoveries.