Homepage Timeline Maps A-Z index Learning

Metal in Egypt


Copper was the most common metal for everyday use in ancient Egypt. Copper in Egypt often contained natural arsenic. Therefore it was particularly hard. Copper ores were mined and melted in the eastern desert and in Sinai.

(click on the pictures to see the archaeological context - UC 9059 - or galleries)

the earliest copper object in Egypt

copper vessel
(Old Kingdom)

a copper vessel (unknown provenance)


Native gold was used for jewellery as early as Naqada II. From at least the Old Kingdom the Egyptians exploited mines in the eastern deserts. From the Middle Kingdom (about 2025-1700 BC) on the gold deposits of Lower Nubia were exploited.

(click on the pictures to see the archaeological context)

Naqada gold bead
cylinder amulet
a gold ring


Silver was already used as early as Naqada II, but there is no evidence that the Egyptians themselves mined silver. From ancient records it is thought that silver was imported from Mesopotamia, Crete and Cyprus.

(click on the picture to see the archaeological context)

an Early Dynastic silver adze


Bronze is a copper - tin alloy. When the two metals are alloyed there is a high increase in hardness and sharpness of the metal. The melting temperature is 1,005 ° C (copper alone is 1,083 ° C). There are already some bronze objects known from the Second Dynasty (Spencer 1980: 88). There are also several well-known bronze objects from the Middle Kingdom (about 2025-1700 BC). However bronze is in common use only from the New Kingdom (about 1550-1069 BC) on. Copper reminded an important metal alongside bronze; it is not safe to identify a metal as a particular copper alloy by visual inspection or by date - laboratory analysis is needed.

Late Period bronze figure


Iron was a metal of mythical character. It was called the 'metal of heaven', because Egyptians knew it mainly from meteoric iron. Iron deposits in Egypt were not worked before the Late or Greco-Roman periods.The earliest iron smelting places in Egypt were found at Naukratis and Defenna.
Early iron comes highly likely from meteoric iron. Iron production requires temperatures from 1100-1150 ēC (the same as for copper smelting). Iron objects appear very sporadically since Naqada III in Egypt. In Egypt iron comes into common usage only from about 500 BC. The normal way to treat iron is to hammer it. Cast iron was not common.

(click on the picture to see the archaeological context)

a Naqada iron bead


There are occurrences of tin in Egypt, but there are no signs that these deposits were mined in dynastic times. Tin was imported from Crete and Cyprus (and later from Spain, Britain Somalia and India). Tin was mainly used for the production of tin bronze.


Lead was smelted in Egypt and was already known since the Predynastic Period. Since at least the New Kingdom (about 1550-1069 BC) lead was added to tin bronze to increase the fluidity of the alloy.

(after Ogden 2000; Scheel 1989: 11-20)


Copyright © 2001 University College London. All rights reserved.