Metallurgy and the silver bracelets of queen Hetepheres from early 4th Dynasty Giza

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Abstract: Silver bracelets found in the tomb of Queen Hetepheres, mother of pyramid builder King Khufu (c. 2580 BC), form the largest and most famous collection of silver artefacts from early Egypt. They have previously only been analysed in the 1930s. Egypt possesses no local silver sources, and few silver artefacts are attested in the ancient Egyptian archaeological record until the Middle Bronze Age. Traditionally, silver is thought to have been extracted from local gold containing a high silver content, or from electrum. To test this hypothesis, and to add to scientifi c understanding of the artefacts, our team analysed samples from the bracelets located in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. We used a range of analytical techniques including bulk XRF, micro XRF, SEM-EDS, X-ray diff ractograms and MC-ICP-MS to obtain elemental and mineralogical compositions and lead isotope ratios, and to understand the nature and metallurgical treatment of the metal and identify the possible ore source. We found that the pieces consist of relatively pure silver with trace levels of copper, gold and lead, and the minerals are native silver, silver chloride and possibly trace copper chloride. Lead isotope ratios are consistent with ores from Lavrion (Attica, Greece) indicating that the artefacts derived from cupellated ore. Imaging of a bracelet cross-section reveals that the metal was repeatedly annealed and cold-hammered during manufacture. The results provide new information about Mediterranean trade, commodity exchange networks and silver metallurgy in Egypt during the Early Bronze Age.
Period30 Jun 2011
Event title6th Australasian Egyptology Conference
Event typeConference
LocationSydney, AustraliaShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational