Saturday, October 23, 2010

The miners' goddess

Al Ahram Weekly (Nevine El-Aref)

As world attention was focussed on a gold and copper mine in Chile, it emerged that there may have been a failed bid to steal one of the remaining sandstone statues of the goddess Hathor, the ancient Egyptian protector of miners. Nevine El-Aref accompanied the statues as they were transferred to a Sinai gallery for restoration.

Some few thousand years ago, ancient Egyptians made their way overland to the Sinai peninsula -- or travelled there across the Red Sea -- in search of minerals. Their chief targets were the turquoise and copper veins which had been mined in the Sinai mountains since time immemorial.

Once they had achieved mastery over Sinai, the Egyptian overseers set up a large and systematic mining operation at Serabit Al-Khadim in South Sinai, where they carved out great quantities of turquoise which was so highly valued that it became an important part of ritual symbolism in their religious ceremonies. Even today, pure, unveined turquoise is weight-for-weight more costly than gold.

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