Relief of Smelting of Gold
Relief depicts metalworkers employed in the manufacture of jewelry, smelting gold by blowing into a furnace. Detail of a wall carving in the Mastaba of Mereruka.
The ancient Egyptians did engage in gold manufacturing during the Old Kingdom. Gold was highly valued and sought after in ancient Egypt, and it was used for various purposes, including jewelry, religious artifacts, and royal regalia. The Egyptians had access to gold mines in Nubia (present-day Sudan) and the Eastern Desert of Egypt, which provided them with a steady supply of gold.
In the Old Kingdom of Egypt, the process of smelting gold involved several steps. The Egyptians employed a method known as fire-setting to extract gold from its ore. Here is a general overview of the smelting process:
Gold ore was mined from various sources, such as riverbeds or mines. The ore was then crushed into smaller pieces to facilitate further processing.
Grinding and Pulverizing
The crushed ore was ground into a fine powder using grinding stones or mortars and pestles. This step aimed to increase the surface area of the ore, making it easier to extract the gold.
The powdered ore was then roasted in a furnace or kiln. This process involved heating the ore to high temperatures, which helped remove impurities and break down any compounds that might hinder the extraction of gold.
After roasting, the ore was mixed with a flux, such as borax or soda ash, to lower its melting point and facilitate the separation of gold from other minerals. The mixture was placed in a crucible, a container capable of withstanding high temperatures.
Heating and Melting
The crucible containing the ore and flux mixture was heated in a furnace or kiln. The intense heat caused the gold to melt and separate from the impurities, forming a molten gold alloy.
Once the gold was in its molten form, it could be further purified through processes like cupellation or parting. These methods involved removing any remaining impurities, such as silver or copper, to obtain purer gold.
It is important to note that the specific techniques and tools used for gold smelting in the Old Kingdom of Egypt may have varied over time and depending on the available resources.
The process of gold manufacturing involved mining the ore from the mines and then extracting the gold through various techniques, such as crushing and grinding the ore to a powder and then using heat and chemical processes to separate the gold from the impurities. The refined gold was then shaped and crafted into different forms as per the requirements, such as jewelry, amulets, statues, and decorative objects.
The skill and expertise of ancient Egyptian goldsmiths were highly regarded, and their craftsmanship in working with gold was exceptional. The production and use of gold in the Old Kingdom played a significant role in the economy, trade, and cultural practices of ancient Egypt.
Old Kingdom, 6th Dynasty, ca. 2345-2181 BC. Saqqara Necropolis.