Never tarnishing, gold was also used extensively in the manufacture of statues of gods and was even used to adorn temples.
It is not known when the crushing of auriferous ore began but, according to Greek historian Diodorus Siculus, who lived between 60 BCE and 30 BCE, it was an activity that was undertaken by the subjects, slaves and prisoners of the first kings of Egypts. His account of gold mining in Nubia, in eastern Egypt, is one of the earliest texts on the topic and describes in vivid detail the use of slave labour in terrible working conditions.
The stones are carried outside, and are there crushed and reduced to small fragments. The workmen never cease from their toil; they are forced incessantly to the work by bad treatment and by blows of the whip. Even children are not spared; some are sent to carry the blocks of stone, others to break them into fragments. The fragments are taken by older workmen, of over 30 years of age, and crushed in iron mortars.
The fragments thus crushed are then found in mills, which are turned by women and aged men. It is impossible to describe the sufferings of those unhappy ones. Exposed naked to cold and rain, they are allowed no repose; there is no feeling of pity, either for a weakly woman or for an old man on the verge of the tomb; or regard to the sick who may be prey to the shivering of fever; they are all struck indiscriminately with repeated blows until they die of their sufferings on the very spot where they have worked.
After the ore had been reduced to powder, it was spread on wide, slightly inclined tables and a stream of water flowing over the tables carried off the earth materials and left the gold separated by its weight.
This operation was repeated by the workers several times. They then rubbed the powdered ore with their hands for some time, then wiped it with little sponges in order to remove the impurities which water alone could not carry off. It was by this means that the gold dust became clean and shining. In the Wadi Hammamat where gold-containing quartz was found, the underground quartz veins were mined by crushing the rock before the gold could be extracted.
This required a great deal of manpower, provisioned only with difficulty in these deserted regions.
Ancient mining building discovered in Egypt
Other pharaohs tried to follow Seti’s example by excavating wells in various location, with little success. Another attempt of Seti I resulted in a dry well cubits deep which was abandoned. Only the perseverance of his son Ramses II brought success. Agatharchides’ description dates from the second century BCE and is reported by Diodorus Siculus The galleries which they dig Before smashing the stone it was heated making it brittle and then broken up with stone hammers and in later times with iron chisels.
The oval stone hammers were about twenty centimetres long, made of basalt or diorite and weighed from one to three kilogrammes. A wooden handle was inserted in a deep groove and fastened to it. The chunks of ore were smashed with small hammers and ground in mills similar to corn mills.