Ancient Metalwork Tidbits

I discussed a fair bit of metalwork in Ancient Egypt in the post Goldwork for the Golden Calf. In this post I am including all the extras about metal and metalworking that didn’t go into that first post (with no promises that there won’t be more posts in the future).

The New Kingdom (1520 BCE to 1075 BCE) built on Egypt’s already impressive abilities to procure and work a wide variety of metals.

Metal Working, Tomb of Rekhmire. Date: ca 1504–1425B. C, New Kingdom, Dynasty 18. Original from Upper Egypt, Thebes, Egypt. Nina de Garis Davies artist (1881–1965), paper, tempera paint, ink. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Look and Learn. Public Domain Dedication (CC0 1.0)

Metals the New Kingdom Egyptians used include:

  • Copper
  • Bronze (copper – tin alloy)
  • Gold
  • Silver (probably imported)
  • Tin (imported)
  • Lead

Metals they did not yet mine or use:

  • Iron (aside from small amounts of meteoric iron)

It’s Complicated:

  • Aluminum


Alumimum in compounds is easy to find and work with. The Ancient Egyptians did mine and use alum (aka “allaharum”).

Usually, when you hear about alum it is in reference to potassium alum, which is the hydrated form of potassium aluminum sulfate and has the chemical formula KAl(SO4)2·12H2O. However, any of the compounds with the empirical formula AB(SO4)2·12H2O are considered to be an alum. Sometimes alum is seen in its crystalline form, although it is most often sold as a powder. Potassium alum is a fine white powder that you can find sold with kitchen spices or pickling ingredients. It is also sold as a large crystal as a “deodorant rock” for underarm use.

What Is Alum and How Is It Used? ThoughtCo.
Alum Crystal

They used a variety of compounds.

Aluminum compounds have proven useful for thousands of years. Around 5000 B.C. , Persian potters made their strongest vessels from clay that contained aluminum oxide. Ancient Egyptians and Babylonians used aluminum compounds in fabric dyes, cosmetics, and medicines. However, it was not until the early nineteenth century that aluminum was identified as an element and isolated as a pure metal. The difficulty of extracting aluminum from its natural compounds kept the metal rare for many years; half a century after its discovery, it was still as rare and valuable as silver.

Aluminum. How Products Are Made.

Why do I focus so much on aluminum? Because it is one of the (very heavy) things the time travelers had no choice but to leave behind. The good news is that, because the Egyptians at the time were skilled in working with aluminum compounds, they could have easily melted it down and added it to their usual supplies.

Metal Tools

I cover these in the post Ancient Egyptian Carpentry.


Casting Metal, Tomb of Rekhmire. Date: ca 1479–1400B. C, New Kingdom, Dynasty 18, reign of Thutmose III–Amenhotep II. Original from Upper Egypt, Thebes, Egypt. Nina de Garis Davies artist (1881–1965), tempera on paper. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Look and Learn. Public Domain Dedication (CC0 1.0)

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