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Ancient Egyptian goldsmiths and silversmiths: Their methods and tools
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Ancient Egypt: Goldsmiths and silversmiths

Gold- and silversmiths

Ancient Egypt: Coppersmiths
Gold- and silversmiths, tomb of Petosiris     While there was a decline in the artistic abilities of Egyptian craftsmen during the first millennium BCE, there still where periods when competent work was being done and beautiful artefacts were produced.
    In the tomb of Petosiris (ca 300 BCE) the descriptive traditions of the Old and New Kingdoms are continued. Among the depictions are scenes from a goldsmith's atelier.
    The workmen, under the supervision of a standing master craftsman are crouched on very low stools or cushions. The men in the bottom register are coppersmiths according to the caption:
   Men working the copper, in order to make the house of their master glitter by their labour.
    The sitting man is holding a workpiece with the help of a pair of long tongs, while his assistant has raised the hammer. And, in the agelong tradition of masters hoping for zealous service from their workers, he is made to say:
   Act vigorously, act vigorously (?), in order to further his (i.e. their master's) well-being.
The coppersmith on the right is working a vase on an anvil. The inscription above him reads
   Enclose (?) the copper quickly. Take it to our master's house. May his day be happy. Come here (?), let us go (?) seal (?) it.
    The silversmith on the left of the top register is working on a gazelle's head, the one at the centre on three horse heads and the worker on the right seems to be engraving the lid of a big vase or a bowl. They tap their burins carefully with small mallets. The overseer is encouraging them:
    Your doing a good job. What your making, the master will recompense you.

Gold- and silversmiths, tomb of Petosiris     In the bottom register a goldsmith is putting finishing touches to a column headed by horses' heads and a bell-like top with a winged genie. According to the caption he is clearly a master of his art:
    The man doing this work is unique at his trade.

    His co-worker on the right is similarly described:
    A man creating from silver and gold in the house of his master, chosen from the whole land.

    In the middle register three workers are polishing artefacts -
   Cleaning silver and gold for their master
- the one in the middle a rhyton, a Greek drinking vessel often in the form of a horn with a drinking hole at the pointed end, the one on the right a vase under the watchful eye of a
Scribe. To do the work in his presence.

In the third register the finished artefacts are being weighed on large scales. The weights are placed on the right pan. On the left is an amphora-like vase being weighed. The weighed objects are passed on to a servant (on the left) who stands in front of a case, and probably packs the artefacts into it.
    Place (?) the silver and gold on the scales, carry (them) to the storage, put (them) in writing in the house of their master, (where) there (already) are heaps (?).
    Admonishments warn the users of the scales to
   Guard your hand against injustice and No injustice (shall there be).

    In the top register another case is being filled with many artefacts, rhytons, ladles, vases pots and much more.

goldsmiths, tomb of rekhmire     The drawing on the right is a scene from the tomb of Rekhmire (New Kingdom, 15th century BCE).

    The Egyptians knew two kinds of bonding metals: welding and soldering. As early as the Middle Kingdom little pieces of jewellery were welded together. The part which had to be added had a melting point a bit below that of the main part, was heated until it became malleable and could be affixed. Then the whole artefact was heated over a ceramic furnace. A blowpipe with a clay nozzle was used to increase the heat.
    Because of the fact that the tongs (see the smith in the top left corner of this picture) were made of bronze with a melting point of 1030°C, below that of gold (1063°C) and barely above that of silver (950°C), quite a bit of dexterity was required of the artisan. Fast action was needed, before the tool could heat up too much.
    Soldering was known since the 4th dynasty at least. For soft-soldering tin (melting point 232°C) was used, when hard-soldering or brazing pieces of gold a mixture of gold, silver and frequently copper (melting point 1083°C) was applied. In order to de-oxidize the metal surfaces a flux was needed, possibly natron or lees of wine. Hard-soldering was often preferred to the easier process of soft-soldering as the artefact could be reheated without the bond melting.

Tutankhamen's funeral maskPsusennes     Some of the best known examples of the art of Egyptian goldsmiths are the funeral masks of pharaohs, Tutankhamen's (18th dynasty) and Psusennes' (21st dynasty, ca. 1000 BCE).
    Statues, furniture, vessels and jewellery, above all in the royal household and the temples, were often created from precious metals.
    The artists who created these precious artefacts are generally unknown, but the chief goldsmith under Tutankhamen, and therefore likely to have been involved in the manufacture of the pharaoh's coffins and death masks, appears to have been Amenemone, Overseer of Craftsmen, whose sons followed in his footsteps: Nebmehyt became a goldsmith too, and Amenemheb even rose to the position of Chief of Goldsmiths which his father had held.


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Minor changes:
February 2006