"Uncovering the Treasures: Ancient Macedonian Gold Emerges from Egyptian Desert"

“Uncovering the Treasures: Ancient Macedonian Gold Emerges from Egyptian Desert”

More than 15 ancient mines that supplied the Macedonian kingdom of the Ptolemies, as well as Macedonia, with gold are being brought to light in the depths of the Egyptian desert by a 50-member interdisciplinary team that includes a Greek, Markos Vaxevanopoulos, PhD, a geologist and research associate at the Maison de l’Orient et de la Méditerranée Jean Pouilloux College in Lyon, has discovered more than 15 gold mines in the Ghozza area, 85 km from Hurghada in eastern Egypt.

An intact basket, probably made of palm, containing gold remains from the Ptolemaic dynasty (300-200 BC) is the most important find of this year’s mission, which is being completed these days, while a number of objects have been discovered from the village of ancient miners, located in the middle of a vast area full of mine openings.

This year, artifacts from the recent use of the mines have also been found, such as fragments of pottery used by Arab miners during the Islamic period around the 7th AD. Century.

“It is exciting when we find an object made by the ancient Greeks from the Ptolemaic dynasty. It’s intact, as if someone left it there yesterday,” M. Vaxevanopoulos told, explaining, “In the desert, the humidity is 10-15%, 20% at most, so any organic material remains unchanged”.

It is no coincidence that during the excavations on the surface in the past days pieces of cloth from the miners’ clothes were found in the mines, as well as wicks from the lamps used to light the darkness in the depths of the desert, but also a piece of the wood of a mining hammer.

In addition, a large number of quartz stones with gold nuggets were found.

The expedition to Ghozza, led this year by geomorphologist Mael Crepy, has been running since 2020 and includes scientists from the USA, France, Germany, Slovenia and from the Greek side Markos Vaxevanopoulos, while in 2024 a Greek team consisting of archeologists, speleologists, etc. will carry out part of the excavations.

The period of mining in Egypt began around 1420 BC at the time of the Pharaohs, but reached its peak in the Hellenistic period with the establishment of the Macedonian kingdom by Ptolemy. Ancient Greek mines have been found in Egypt, which, as shown by the study of the technology, drilling and tools used, are similar to those of Lavrio and Pangaeus.

The sources indicate that the management of the mines was Greek, but it is not known whether the workers were transported from ancient Greece or were Egyptian slaves. If skeletal material is found in a miners’ village cemetery, it could provide an answer to this question.

“Finding the skeleton of a miner in a cemetery or in the mines is a great discovery because it gives information about his origin. In general, however, it is extremely important if we find even the smallest object that dates back to that time and was used by the ancients and possibly the Greeks. Especially for me, the feeling is even greater,” says M. Vaxevanopoulos.

Currently, more than 15 gold mines have been identified and the excavations are on the surface, so scientists are eager to get inside the mines, which can reach a depth of 50-60 meters.

Recently, in the area of Ghozza – named after a small Roman fort – a “letter” written by a miner 2,300 years ago was found. In particular, a shell was found with a message written in Hellenistic colloquial language, in which the words “thirst” and “hunger” stand out. It is apparently a desperate message about the harsh working conditions in the depths of the desert, recovered from a gold mine.

In the ancient mines of Egypt’s Eastern Desert – the so-called Eastern Desert at the southeastern end of the area bounded by the Nile to the Red Sea – time seems to have stood still in the Hellenistic era. The drought has preserved everything in excellent condition, and scientists estimate they can reconstruct the era and mining activity with great accuracy. The first mine was found by chance in 2019 after a tip from a Bedouin. An international multidisciplinary team was immediately formed to start the research, and every year there are more. The miners’ village, located in the same area of Ghozza, has also yielded impressive finds. Excavations in the architectural remains and in the dry subsoil brought to light buildings and a number of objects related to ore processing. Over 500 millstones, stone cutting tools, and other artifacts related to the refining of quartz ore and the extraction of gold. Eventually, all the quartz rock was transported from the mines to workshops set up in the village, where other workers used special millstones to crush the rock and sift the dust to extract the gold. This practice was common throughout the then known world.

Markos Vaxevanopoulos has been in Egypt from time to time since 2014, and the expeditions in which he has participated have unearthed interesting finds from the Hellenistic period. In 2018, they found an inscription in the Hellenistic language with the inscription “Demetrius” in an old inn near the Nile.

At first, researchers believed that the name was carved by tourists staying in the area, but French epigraphists concluded that it was a 2,200-year-old inscription referring – possibly – to Demetrius, a warlord of the Ptolemies.

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