Friday, November 20, 2009

Feature: Working the quarries of Aswan

Heritage Key (Malcolm Jack)

Quarries, often ignored, were a crucial part of Egypt. It was from these sites that the precious raw materials and minerals used in the construction of decorative monuments such as sculptures and obelisks was hewn thousands of years ago. Among the most prolific were the Quarries of Aswan, which yielded the red granite of Cleopatra’s Needles and many of the quality stones used in the construction of burial chambers, sarcophagi and columns in the pyramids of Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure at Giza.

A testimony to the site’s importance is the Unfinished Obelisk – a massive monolith partly-carved from the bedrock then abandoned – which still stands there. It’s the largest known obelisk in ancient history.

Surprisingly, major archeological investigations have only taken place in the last 20 years at the Quarries of Aswan, which had become covered-over with rubbish dumps and modern developments. They’ve yielded many important discoveries that reveal much about the importance of the site, the lives of the workers who toiled there and the techniques they used (see the video below for details of underwater excavations at Aswan).

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