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Fifth Nome

Wadi Hammamat


 "The Way to the Red Sea"







The district east of Gebtu is called Rehen. The wadi is a dried river gully that starts at Gebtu, goes into the eastern desert and ends at the Red Sea. People have been in the wadi since even before recorded time, since Badarian times (4500-4000 BC).

Egyptians first used another wadi, the Wadi Tumilat, to get to the Red Sea. This wadi is in the area now known as the Bitter Lakes, and from there they went south to the Red Sea. However, this link to East Africa and Arabia was repeatedly obstructed and then reconnected. By the time of Pepi II at the end of the Old Kingdom, the northern part wasn't navigable anymore, and by the Middle Kingdom, the southern was also blocked. Because of this, Mentuhotep III had his people go to Punt through the Wadi Hammamat. (The Wadi Tumilat may have been used during the 12th Dynasty and during the reigns of Hatshepsut and Tuthmosis III, but no one is sure).

Mentuhotep III (Sankhkare, 1956-1944 BC), was known for the arts and rebuilding. He opened trade with the Red Sea region and had Egyptians quarry in the Wadi Hammamat. The shadowy Mentuhotep IV (Nebtawyre, 1944-1937 BC), also oversaw mining and quarrying in the Wadi Hammamat. His vizier and possible successor, Amenenhet, left a long inscription in the wadi. As vizier, he went with an army of 10,000 (some say 1,000), to retrieve stone suitable for the king's sarcophagus. They were led, says the inscription, to a block by a pregnant gazelle, who gave birth to her young on the stone. They sacrificed her on the rock, detached the block, and sailed it down the Nile to Thebes to be used as his huge sarcophagus lid.

The Wadi Hammamat valley has gold mines and breccia quarries and is the principal trade route between the Nile and the Red Sea. Egyptians carry boat-building materials from Gebtu through the wadi to Kuser, where they assemble the boats. The Wadi Hammamat has lots of bekhen: a prized stone. In fact, the eastern end of the Wadi Hammamat is called Tu-en Bekhan.

There are three kinds of bekhen a rich, red sandstone, a paler, finer-grained stone, and a dark brown stone that's like a basalt, only soft. We quarry mostly the first two kinds.

Many people go into the desert to quarry. One source in the Old Kingdom mentions 1000 officials, 1200 quarrymen, and 100 "necropolis workmen." (Kamil).

In the 11th Dynasty in the Middle Kingdom, Mentuhotep III had Henenu go to Punt through the Wadi Hammamat with 3000 men who took ship-building material from Gebtu to the Red Sea Coast. Donkeys carried the materials. Scouts went before them, and rations included a water-bottle, a staff, two jars of water, and twenty loaves of bread each.

The earliest map of a geographical region comes from the Wadi Hammamat, where someone in the mid 12th Dynasty annotated a picture of an expedition to the bekhen stone quarries, either to help in the expedition or to commemorate it. The map shows groups of gold mines and the principal stone quarries further east. It has color coded geological zones, shows a miner's settlement, a cistern for water, three roads, two locations for processing and transporting materials, a shrine for "Amun of the pure mountain," and a commemorative stele from Sety I. Someone has called the papyrus that has that map, "The Turin Mining Papyrus" (Shaw and Nicholson, "maps and plans." p. 170).

By the third millennia, there were hundreds of quarries in the western and eastern deserts and Sinai. Stones quarried there are used for funerary equipment and monumental stone masonry. Based on the scale of the operations, the kings show they have a royal monopoly on the area. However, have quarried their stone, a few rich individuals do as well.

Egyptians, either travelers or sementyou (professional quarrymen), have left graffiti on 200 tablets of bekhen in the quarries. Many inscriptions refer to Eastern gods, especially to Min-Amon. Sementyou know how to find the best bekhen stones for sculptures and monuments. They have left inscriptions on the ravine walls on the south side.

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Budge, E.A. Wallis. (1920, 1978). An Egyptian Hieroglyphic Dictionary. vol II. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.

Bunson, Margaret. (1991). "Egypt," "Wadi Hammamat." A Dictionary of Ancient Egypt. New York: Oxford University Press.

Dollinger, André. (2004, May, last update). "Canals."

Dunn, Jimmy. "Mentuhotep IV Nebtawyre: The Last King of Egypt's 11th Dynasty." Tour Egypt Feature Story. InterCity Oz.

Dunn, Jimmy. (1996). "Wadi Hammamat." Tour Egypt. InterCity Oz.

Dunn, Jimmy. "The Wonderful Land of Punt." Tour Egypt Feature. InterCity Oz, Inc.

Kamil, Jill. (1984, 1996). The Ancient Egyptians: Life in the Old Kingdom. Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press.

"Pharaonic Egypt." Encyclopedia of the Rulers of Egypt. Egypt State Information Service.

Shaw, Ian, and Paul Nicholson. (1995, 2003). "Koptos," "maps and plans," "stones and quarrying." The Dictionary of Ancient Egypt. New York: Harry N Abrams, Inc.








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