ramesses v

hypnotoad4  asked:

I had a quick question, how did the ancient Egyptians mold gold into the sculptures that they wanted? I can imagine it must have been very hard to gather up and mold gold properly with so little technology available?

The Egyptians had a great deal of technology, it just didn’t work in the same way as ours. 

Gold (nbw) was one of the first metals to be exploited in Egypt. The gold of the mountains, as the scribes of Ramses III called it, was found mainly in the Eastern Desert and Nubia. The Koptos gold for instance was mined in the Bekhen mountains. Seti gave these mines to a small temple he had built and dedicated to Amen, Re, Osiris and a number of other gods. The workers mining the gold, the “flesh of the gods”, for the temple were exempt from any other work. 

In the Wadi Hammamat where gold-containing quartz was found, the underground quartz veins were mined by crushing the rock before the gold could be extracted. This required a great deal of manpower, provisioned only with difficulty in these deserted regions. Other pharaohs tried to follow Seti’s example by excavating wells in various location, with little success. Another attempt of Seti I resulted in a dry well 120 cubits deep which was abandoned. Only the perseverance of his son Ramses II brought success.
Before smashing the stone it was heated making it brittle and then broken up with stone hammers and in later times with iron chisels. The oval stone hammers were about twenty centimetres long, made of basalt or diorite and weighed from one to three kilogrammes. A wooden handle was inserted in a deep groove and fastened to it. The chunks of ore were smashed with small hammers and ground in mills similar to corn mills. The resulting dust was then washed and the metal extracted.
In Nubia two such installations for extracting gold were discovered. The ore was spread on declining surfaces, and the gold washed out which was then caught in some sort of sieve. Greek sources speak of sheep fleeces being used for this purpose. Wall reliefs dating from 2300 BC show stages of refining and working of gold.

The oldest map of a mine in existence - possibly dating to the Ramesside period - is that of a gold mine. It shows mountain ranges separated by parallel valleys, joined by a winding valley. A water cistern is marked, as is a stela of Seti I. Opposite these two landmarks are the openings of four galleries, further mine shafts are marked in the adjacent hill.

A 2001 article by D.Klemm, R.Klemm, & A.Murr (here as a PDF) would illuminate this further.

As for the working of gold, 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 were used to increase the heat.
 Because of the fact that the tongs 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.

(Scene from the tomb of Rekhmire, New Kingdom c.1500 BC) 

As for molds, they were usually done through the use of the lost wax technique. The Egyptians were practicing cire perdue from the mid 3rd millennium BC, shown by Early Dynastic bracelets and gold jewellery. Inserted spouts for ewers (copper water vessels) from the Fourth Dynasty (Old Kingdom) were made by the lost-wax method. Hollow castings, such as the Louvre statuette from the Fayum find appeared during the Middle Kingdom, followed by solid cast statuettes (like the squatting, nursing mother, in Brooklyn) of the Second Intermediate/Early New Kingdom. The hollow casting of statues is represented in the New Kingdom by the kneeling statue of Thutmosis IV (British Museum, London) and the head fragment of Ramesses V (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge). Hollow castings become more detailed and continue into the Eighteenth Dynasty, shown by the black bronze kneeling figure of Tutankhamun (Museum of the University of Pennsylvania). Cire Perdue is used in mass-production during the Late Period to Graeco-Roman times when figures of deities were cast for personal devotion and votive temple offerings. Nude female-shaped handles on bronze mirrors were cast by the lost-wax process. 

However, objects like the gold funerary mask of Tutankhamun were made from sheets of gold that were beaten and polished into shape. 

An article by T.G.H.James can be found here.

Information on mining and gold working taken from Reshafim (x) (x)

For further reading, I’d suggest Ancient Egyptian Materials and Technology by I.Shaw and P.Nicholson.