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Serabit El Khadem

While the Egyptians seem to have known, crossed and visited the Sinai even before the dynastic period, we have found little evidence of their building activities in the region. Of course, inhabitable areas are usually small, and scarce, and so have been inhabited and built upon continuously over the ages. It is probable that what was built has been built over many times. Today, wondering through the Sinai and viewing its unusual landscape, it is not difficult to imagine a land rich in minerals. Egyptians discovered its mineral wealth very early on, perhaps at the beginning of the dynastic period. Archaeologists have found that the very earliest known settlers in the Sinai, about 8,000 years ago, were miners. Drawn by the region's abundant copper and turquoise deposits, these groups slowly worked their way southward, hopping from one deposit to the next. By 3500 BC, the great turquoise veins of Serabit el-Khadem had been discovered.
The ancient mining complex of Serabit el-Khadem lies on a small plateau north of modern Al-Tor. It is located about halfway down the western coast about ten miles from Wadi Mughara. It was one of the most important sites for the Egyptians on the peninsula. Today, it is not difficult to reach the Serabit el-Khadem area, though the trip must be made by jeep. There are no paved roads to the base of the mountain. Although many of the region's pharaonic reliefs were destroyed by a British attempt to re-open the mines in the mid-nineteenth century, along the path to the temple are a number of engravings that were written by the ancient minors. Some of the most interesting portray the ships that would carry the turquoise to Egypt. There is also an excellent bas relief of King Sekhemkhet on the east face of the plateau, revealing him smiting Egypt's enemies. Other antiquities are found along the path, including ancient tunnels, miner's huts and stele.
The temple at Serabit el-Khadim, though really only scattered ruins, is one of the few phraonic monuments we know of in the Sinai. Here it was found the famous proto-Sinaitic script", which is believed to be an early precursor of the alphabet. These scripts were hieroglyphic signs used to write the names of the West Semitic names of the people who worked the mines, and keep account of their labors. They developed an alphabet with which they could record their Proto-Canaanite language. The script they developed is called Proto-Sinaitric (First-Sinaitic) and the language was a Pan-Canaanite language often called Old Hebrew
The Serabit El Khadim temple looks like a double series of steles leading to an underground chapel dedicated to the Hathor Goodness. Most of the temple’s large number of sanctuaries and shrines were dedicated to Hathor, among her many other attributes; she was the patron goddess of copper and turquoise miners. It is the only temple we know of, built outside mainland Egypt and mostly dedicated to Hathor. The earliest part of the main rock cut Hathor Temple, which has a front court and portico, dates to the 12th Dynasty The temple was probably founded by Amenemhet III, during a period of time when the mines were particularly active. The 12th Dynasty was a period of considerable mineral wealth for Egyptians and some of the finest jewelry from Egypt's past have been discovered in the tombs of 12th Dynasty women.
A number of scenes portray the role of Hathor in the transformation of the new king, upon ascending the throne, into the deified ruler of Egypt. One scene, for example, depicts Hathor suckling the pharaoh. Another scene from a stone tabled depicts Hathor offering the pharaoh the Ankh.
This older part of the temple was enlarged upon and extended by Queen Hatshepsut, along with Tuthmosis III and Amenhotep III during the New Kingdom. This was a restoration period for the mining operations after an apparent decline in the area during the Second Intermediate Period. These extensions are unusual for a temple in the manner in which they angled to the west off of the earlier structure.
On the north side of the of the temple is a shrine dedicated to the pharaohs who were deified in this region. On one wall of the shrine are numerous stele. A little to the south of the main temple we also find a shrine dedicated to the god of the eastern desert, Sopdu, which is smaller then the northern shrine.


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