Queen Hetepheres' bracelets shed light on Egypt's trade networks

These findings reshape our understanding of the Pyramid-building age and the enigmatic queen's role in shaping Egypt's history.
Abdul-Rahman Oladimeji Bello
Landscape of Egypt
Landscape with Egyptian pyramids, Great Sphinx and silhouettes Ancient symbols and landmarks of Egypt for your travel concept to Africa in golden sunlight. The Sphinx in Giza pyramid complex at sunset

Pavel Muravev/iStock 

Ancient Egypt was more than royalty and gold. Researchers from Macquarie University have shed new light on the trade networks of ancient Egypt during the Old Kingdom period. Their study focused on a collection of silver bracelets found in the tomb of Queen Hetepheres I, a prominent queen from the 4th Dynasty.

This analysis, the first of its kind in decades, has revealed intriguing information about the origin of the silver used and the extent of Egypt's trade connections during the Pyramid-building age.

Dating back to around 2600 BC, the bracelets found in Queen Hetepheres' tomb represent the largest and most famous collection of early Egyptian silver artifacts. Analysis of the samples revealed that the bracelets were primarily made of silver, with traces of copper, gold, and lead. Their distinctive crescent shape and inlaid gemstones, including turquoise, lapis lazuli, and carnelian, indicate their Egyptian origin.

Unraveling the mystery of silver origins

Egypt, known for its rich gold resources, did not possess any local sources of silver. The researchers' analysis suggests that the silver used in the bracelets was most likely imported from mines in the Cyclades, a group of Aegean islands in Greece. This finding challenges the long-standing mystery surrounding the origin of silver in early Egypt.

Dr. Karin Sowada from Macquarie University's Department of History and Archaeology highlights the significance of this discovery: "This new finding demonstrates, for the first time, the potential geographical extent of trade networks used by the Egyptian state during the early Old Kingdom at the height of the Pyramid-building age."

Queen Hetepheres' bracelets shed light on Egypt's trade networks
Queen Hetepheres’ bracelets

The silver in Queen Hetepheres' bracelets is believed to have been acquired through the port of Byblos on the Lebanese coast, serving as evidence of early long-distance exchange activity between Egypt and Greece. This attestation provides valuable insights into the trade networks of the time and suggests a strong connection between these ancient civilizations.

The analysis conducted by the research team also uncovered the methods employed in early Egyptian silver working. Scanning electron microscope images revealed that the bracelets were created through a process of cold hammering, with frequent annealing to prevent breakage. It is also likely that the silver was alloyed with gold to enhance its appearance and malleability during manufacturing.

Queen Hetepheres I played a significant role in ancient Egyptian history as the wife of King Sneferu and the mother of Khufu, the renowned pyramid builder. Her tomb in Giza, discovered in 1925, contained a remarkable collection of bracelets that have fascinated researchers for decades. This recent analysis offers a glimpse into the life and connections of this influential queen and the trade networks that supported the royal court.

The analysis of Queen Hetepheres' silver bracelets reveals the origins of the silver used and shed light on the extensive trade connections between Egypt and Greece during this period. This discovery further emphasizes the importance of ongoing archaeological investigations in unraveling the mysteries of our ancient past.

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