Forty million years ago, the area now occupied by the Northern Faiyum desert in Egypt lay in a huge bay on the margin of the ancient Tethy's Sea. The area was crowded with life; oysters, fish and whales in the shallow sea, big mammals and lush forests on land. At one stage, parts of the bay evaporated, and large deposits of gypsum were formed. Practically untouched since they were excavated by Caton-Thompson and Gardner in the 1930s, the Umm es-Sawan gypsum quarries in the Northern Faiyum desert remain a well-preserved industrial landscape from the Old Kingdom Period (2900 – 2465 BC). The vein-shaped gypsum formations were used for the manufacture of small vessels, predominantly used in funerary contexts. The shallow quarries, occupying a large, flat area of gypsum outcrops, are surrounded by gypsum workshops, shelters for the workers and flint-tool manufacturing areas. A QuarryScapes field survey season has just been carried out at the site, and a more comprehensive presentation will follow soon.
Text by Tom Heldal
The shallow quarries in the characteristic gypsum veins cover a large area, and have put a significant mark on the landscape. In the background we see the white spoil heap from one of the workshops. Photo Tom Heldal
A crescent drill made of flint, used in the manufacturing of gypsum vessels. Photo Tom Heldal
December 2009 New book: a special volume with papers from the QuarryScapes project soon printed.
November 2008 Final workshop: the third QuarryScapes workshop was held in Aswan 12. - 15. October