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Turquoise – The Gemstone of Egypt

Egyptian Turquoise


Since at least the First Dynasty (3000 B.C.E.) and possibly before, turquoise was used by the Egyptians and was mined by them in the Sinai Peninsula, called "Country of Turquoise" by the native Monitu. There are six mines in the region, all on the southwest coast of the peninsula, covering an area of some 650 square kilometers. The two most important of these mines from an historical perspective are Serabit el-Khadim and Wadi Maghareh, believed to be among the oldest of known mines. The former mine is situated about four kilometers from an ancient temple dedicated to Hathor.

The turquoise is found in sandstone that was originally overlain by basalt. Copper and iron workings are present in the area. Large-scale turquoise mining is not profitable today, but the deposits are sporadically quarried by Bedouin peoples using homemade gunpowder. In the rainy winter months, miners face a risk from flash flooding; even in the dry season, death from the collapse of the haphazardly exploited sandstone mine walls is not unheard of. The color of Sinai material is typically greener than Iranian material, but is thought to be stable and fairly durable. Often referred to as Egyptian turquoise, Sinai material is typically the most translucent, and under magnification its surface structure is revealed to be peppered with dark blue discs not seen in material from other localities.

In proximity to nearby Eilat, Israel, an attractive intergrowth of turquoise, malachite, and chrysocolla is found. This rock is called Eilat stone and is often referred to as Israel's national stone. It is worked by local artisans for sale to tourists.

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