James A. Harrell
Professor Emeritus of Geology
Department of Environmental Sciences
The University of Toledo


Since 1989, through a combination of literature research and field work, I have located nearly 200 ancient quarries (for building, ornamental and utilitarian stones) and mines (for gemstones) in Egypt and Sudan. This number includes all the quarries/mines recognized by earlier workers plus a few dozen that I discovered. I have visited the great majority of these sites and although I have not seen the rest, they are reasonably well documented in the literature. In the field I determined the precise locations of the quarries/mines and their general petrology, and I also made observations on the extent and type of quarry/mine workings, extraction technologies, and other associated archaeological remains. Representative rock samples were collected from most of the sites and analyzed at the University of Toledo by thin-section petrography and various geochemical methods. Petrological descriptions for some quarries/mines have been previously published by others and this data has been combined with my own.

The petrological nomenclature used herein is that widely employed in North America and Europe (see Brown and Harrell 1991 for a review). For example, the mineralogical and textural classification recommended by the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS) is employed for igneous rocks and igneous precursors of metamorphic rocks (Streckeisen 1973, 1979). Grain size for phaneritic igneous and metamorphic rocks is characterized as either fine (<1 mm), medium (1-5 mm), coarse (5 mm - 3 cm), or very coarse (>3 cm). Metamorphic rocks are classified on the basis of their structural fabric (foliation) and predominant mineralogy. Although there is no single scheme recommended by an international body as for igneous rocks, there is little disagreement among metamorphic petrologists on nomenclature. A similar situation exists for sedimentary rocks, where relatively few classification schemes are widely used. Accordingly, the limestone nomenclature employed here is that of Dunham (1962) and the nomenclature for sandstones follows that of Pettijohn et al. (1987). The standard Udden-Wentworth grain-size scale is used for sandstones and other siliciclastic rocks whereas for limestones grain size is characterized as either fine (<2 mm), coarse (2 mm - 1 cm), or very coarse (>1 cm).

Stratigraphic nomenclature and ages for the Phanerozoic sedimentary and volcanic rocks follows that of Klitzsch et al. (1986-87) and Hermina et al. (1989). There is no generally accepted stratigraphic nomenclature for the older igneous and metamorphic rocks and so these are identified herein simply as "Precambrian basement".

The age of the workings is known to various degrees of certainty for most of the quarries/mines. In some cases tentative dates were assigned based on the type of tool marks found on the quarry walls or extracted blocks, or occasionally from the form of roughouts (i.e., partially sculpted objects) in the quarry. For many quarries/mines, more definite dates were established from inscriptions, pottery and the use of the stones in monuments, sculptures or other objects of known age.


My survey findings are summarized in Tables 1 through 3, Maps 1 and 2, and in numerous color images (jpg files) of slabbed quarry stones. These quarry listings are by far the most complete of any published to date. I have published reports on many of the quarries and mines (see "Archaeological Geology Publications" under "General Information" on the homepage). The other principal source of information for about half of the quarries (but none of the gemstone mines) is Klemm and Klemm (1993, 2008).

The quarries are divided into three groups: those providing ornamental and utilitarian stones that were difficult to extract and carve (the "hardstones" in Table 1), those providing ornamental, utilitarian and building stones that were relatively easy to work (the "softstones" in Table 2), and those supplying gemstones (Table 3). I visited and sampled all the hardstone quarries and gemstone mines, and a majority of the softstone quarries. The locality numbers in the tables correspond with those on the maps in Figures 1 and 2. In each table, the localities are listed downward from north to south in the various groupings. Degrees and minutes of north latitude and east longitude (in brackets) are given for the center of the quarry workings at each locality and, except where noted, are accurate to within 100 meters. In the case of softstone quarries, which sometimes occur close together for long stretches along the Nile Valley, the quarry localities recognized here correspond to groups of workings where the adjacent workings within each group are separated by less than about one kilometer.

Quarry ages are given in the tables in italics within parentheses. Where tentative, they are followed by a question mark. The abbreviations used for the ages are as follows: PD = Predynastic period, ED = Early Dynastic period, OK = Old Kingdom, 1IP = First Intermediate period, MK = Middle Kingdom, 2IP = Second Intermediate period, NK = New Kingdom, 3IP = Third Intermediate period, L = Late period, Pt = Ptolemaic period, NM = Napatan-Meroitic period, R = Roman period, B = Byzantine period, and Is = Islamic period. The backslash in the abbreviation "OK/MK" means "and/or" and is an undifferentiated date based on tool marks. Hyphenated abbreviations (for example, "NK-R") indicate the quarry was worked during and between the periods reported. Numerals, as in "MK:12" refer to specific dynasties. The dates given in the tables are based only on surviving evidence, and so it is possible that a given quarry may also have been worked earlier or later than indicated.

BIBLIOGRAPHY (see also my archaeological geology publications at

Brown, V. M. and J. A. Harrell. 1991. Megascopic classification of rocks. Journal of Geological Education, v. 39, p. 379-387.

Dunham, R. J. 1962. Classification of carbonate rocks according to depositional texture. In W. E. Ham (ed.), Classification of Carbonate Rocks: A Symposium, p. 180-121. American Association of Petroleum Geologists Memoir 1.

Hermina, M., E. Klitzsch and F. K. List. 1989. Stratigraphic Lexicon and Explanatory Notes to the Geological Map of Egypt (1:500,000, 20 sheets). Cairo: Conoco Inc. and Egyptian General Petroleum Corp.

Klemm, R., and D. D. Klemm. 1993. Steine und steinbrüche im alten Ägypten. Berlin: Springer Verlag.

Klemm, R., and D. D. Klemm. 2008. Stones and Quarries in Ancient Egypt. London: British Museum Press.

Klitzsch, E., F. K. List, G. Pöhlmann, R. Handley, M. Hermina and B. Meissner (eds.). 1986-1987. Geological Map of Egypt (1:500,000; 20 sheets). Berlin: Technische Fachhochschule Berlin; Cairo: Conoco Coral, and Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation.

Pettijohn, F. J., P. E. Potter and R. Siever. 1987. Sand and Sandstone (2nd ed.). New York: Springer-Verlag.

Streckeisen, A. L. 1973. Plutonic rocks: classification and nomenclature recommended by the IUGS Subcommission on the Systematics of Igneous Rocks. Geotimes, v. 18, n. 10, p. 26-30.

Streckeisen, A. L. 1979. Classification and nomenclature of volcanic rocks, lamprophyres, carbonatites, and melitic rocks: recommendations and suggestions of the IUGS Subcommission on the Systematics of Igneous Rocks. Geology, v. 7, p. 331-335.


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