Archaeology Magazine Archive

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Egyptian Gold Rush Volume 52 Number 3, May/June 1999
by Mark Rose

A 2,900-year-old papyrus map has led to as much as $16 billion in untapped gold in Egypt's Eastern Desert, between Luxor and Aswan and the Red Sea. "Modern technology will help make [mining] the uneconomical low-grade deposits of the pharaohs viable," says Sami El-Raghy, an executive with Centamin Egypt Ltd., the company that hopes to exploit the deposits.

According to a report carried by the Wall Street Journal in February, the Egyptian government has given Centamin title to 5,000 square miles of the Eastern Desert. The company became aware of the region's potential by studying the map, found at Luxor in 1820 and now in a museum in Turin, Italy, which shows the locations of pharaonic mines. Sixteen have been identified, but the map indicates there may be as many as 104 others. Centamin began reprocessing the debris left by ancient miners at the Sukari mine in 1997. More than 153,000 ounces of gold have been recovered there. Initial estimates suggested there may be 2.1 million ounces at Sukari, but it is now thought that there may be as many as 10 million ounces worth about $2.98 billion. In Centamin's 1998 annual report, chairman Roland Bocso described Sukari as "one of the prime gold projects on the world's mining scene." At a conference in Cape Town this February, El-Raghy said that the entire Eastern Desert may hold 55 million ounces ($16.39 billion).

The Wall Street Journal article noted that "ancient workings pepper the area" at Sukari but makes no mention of any efforts to record them. Responding to ARCHAEOLOGY's inquiry about protecting sites at Sukari and elsewhere in the Eastern Desert, El-Raghy said, "As a mining executive I'm very much aware of the current and future heritage value of the archaeological sites. As an Egyptian, I'm even more aware and proud of this rich history. My exploration crews...are instructed to record any site they come across. We intend to take into account the preservation of all sites in our development plans."

© 1999 by the Archaeological Institute of America