New insights into the ancient world of globalised trade have emerged, revealing the connections between Ancient Greeks and Ancient Egyptians date back to the early Bronze Age around 2600 BC.
A new report published in the Journal of Archaeological Science analysed silver artefacts from Ancient Egypt, unveiling a trade network with the Ancient Greeks that was more extensive and significantly older than previously believed.
“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 – archaeologists from Australia, France, and the United States.
New scientific evidence of early trade between Egyptians and Greeks
The Ancient Egyptians, it seems, engaged in a flourishing trade network that extended its reach to the Bronze Age Cycladic Islands and Hellenic cities nestled in Anatolia (present-day Turkey), the isle of Crete, and Lavron on mainland Greece. Unveiling the interconnectedness of these two civilizations is a silver bracelet discovered by Queen Hetepheres I. These ornaments disappeared for decades without a thorough analysis. The report's lead author is Karin Sowada of the Department of History and Archaeology, Macquarie University, Sydney.
The authors of the report analyzed samples from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts collection and used "bulk XRF, micro-XRF, SEM-EDS, X-ray diffraction, MC-ICP-MS" to determine the essential constituents and mineral composition, and I decided on "Lead". “We obtain isotope ratios to understand metal properties and metallurgical processing and to identify possible ore sources.”
Surprisingly, the minerals they found were "silver, silver chloride, and possibly traces of copper chloride."
The lead isotope ratio could only be determined for silver from the Aegean, Attica, and Anatolia (West Asia), which were all Bronze Age, pre-Hellenistic regions at the time.
“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 high confidence,” write the report authors.
Mysterious Egyptian Queen’s silver bracelet unveil globalised Trade
Imaging from a cross-section of a bracelet fragment owned by Queen Hetepheres revealed that the metal was repeatedly “annealed and cold-hammered during the creation of the artefacts.”
The analyses “found that Egypt and Greece were involved in long-distance trade earlier than previously known.”
The new study provides the first scientific evidence that silver was sourced from the Aegean Islands in Greece.
“This kind of ancient trading network helps us to understand the beginnings of the globalised world,” Dr Sowada told ABC.
“For me, that’s a very unexpected finding in this particular discovery.”
Queen Hetepheres the ‘Daughter of God’, represented the direct royal bloodline of the Fourth Dynasty in Egypt, in a period known as the Old Kingdom (2700 BC – 2200 BC).
She married King Sneferu and had a son and successor, Khufu, who commissioned a tomb and pyramid for his mother’s body to rest in.
Her burial place remained a mystery for thousands of years until expeditions found a shaft in Giza in 1925 — where they found her empty sarcophagus.
They guessed that Hetepheres had originally been buried near her husband’s pyramid in Dahshur, but her son ordered her tomb be moved to Giza after robbers broke in.
The location of her body and other precious artefacts buried with her remain unknown; some items were recovered from the tomb, including the silver bracelets.
In an interview with ABC, Dr Sowada said that “these objects themselves give us a window into her life and how she lived.”
Significance of Silver in Understanding Early Egypt’s Relationship with Greece
“Egypt was known for its gold but had no local sources of silver,” Dr Sowada said.
“This period of early Egypt is a little bit terra incognita from the perspective of silver,” Dr Sowarda continued and added that the bracelets represented “essentially the only large-scale silver that exists for this period of the third millennium BC”.
She said it wasn’t until the early second millennium BC that “large quantities of silver” were preserved.
While ancient Egyptian literature makes mention of materials like silver and lapis lazuli “in the context of imported commodities”, their origins were never preserved, Dr Sowada explained.
These bracelets “are very important to understanding the emergence of the Egyptian state,” Dr Sowada told the ABC.
Information about Egypt’s trade networks was documented as time progressed into the Middle Kingdom (2040 BC –1782 BC) and then New Kingdom (1550 BC –1069 BC).
“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.”
Lead isotope analysis has been done on other silver objects from the Middle Kingdom — with artefacts in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York also believed to have come from mainland Greece — there just hasn’t been scientific evidence before.
Silver from the Aegean and mainland Greece
The silver was not directly sourced from the Cyclades, Dr Sowada said, but through Byblos’ elites which whom Egyptians had relationships.
“[Byblos] mediated the acquisition of this silver from the Aegean, which was then acquired by the Egyptian state at Byblos,” Dr Sowada told the ABC.
The findings shed light on the beginnings of the globalised world, Dr Sowada told the ABC, and underscore how much there is to learn about ancient Egypt and the existing trade networks.
But, she added, the analysis of the bracelets “offered a window” into the emergence of the Egyptian state.
“These networks wouldn’t have happened overnight.
“They would have been built over a long period of time, and these bracelets are a window into that wider network.”