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Our Global Neighbours: Studying Egyptian Flints

By: Dr Stan Florek, Category: Science, Date: 04 Dec 2014

The Wadi el-Sheikh quarry complex extends for several kilometres - millions of flint blades and knives were produced in antiquity.

Wadi el-Sheikh Study CC

Wadi el-Sheikh Study CC
Photographer: Stan Florek © Australian Museum

Our Global Neighbours is a blog series containing stories from and about cultures around the world. 

The marvellous Egyptian civilisation was virtually carved and erected with flaked stone tools comparable to those used by humans for over two million years of our Palaeolithic prehistory. In the past century a few students of Egyptology investigated this somewhat obscure and 'unexciting' field.

Now the Australian Museum is contributing to our understanding of the flint tools use in Egyptian antiquity. In 1900 Heywood Walter Seton-Karr (1859-1938) donated to the Museum about 120 flint artefacts from the Wadi el-Sheikh quarry site. Seton-Karr was a prominent collector of ‘flints’ and a game hunter.

He ‘discovered’ and surveyed a complex of flint mining sites and workshops at Wadi el-Sheikh in the desert east of the River Nile in 1896-97. He collected separate sets of artefacts from 15 different workshops and subsequently donated or sold them to various museums in Europe, Egypt and even Australia.

Part of the collection was sold to (what was then) the Mayer Museum in Liverpool (UK) together with documentation, including maps and photos. Recognising its importance, the Liverpool Museum published a relatively comprehensive descriptive article, drawing on Seton-Karr’s documentation and artefacts in its collection.

But well over half a ton of artefacts from Seton-Karr’s collection, kept in different museums, remain unexamined although it represents significant material evidence, especially in the context of current political upheavals, which may render field archaeology in this area very difficult for some time to come.

Our study aims to contribute to the growing body of evidence on the importance of the Wadi El Sheikh mines in the Egyptian system of resources and provision of tools for daily, rudimentary work.

Our team includes archaeology student Sarah Carter (a good name for an Egyptologist!), Thomas Hikade, a specialist on Egyptian flaked artefacts (both University of Sydney) and Stan Florek.

Reference:

Henry O Forbes. 1900. On a Collection of Stone Implements in the Mayer Museum, made by HW Seton Karr, in Mines of the Ancient Egyptians Discovered by him on the Plateaux of the Nile Valley. Bulletin of the Liverpool Museum 2 (1900): 77-115.