Sikait-Zubara Emerald Mine

About the Project

This project consists of geoarchaeological survey of the Roman and Byzantine emerald mines in the Sikait-Zubara region of the Eastern Desert (Egypt) and the scientific analysis of the materials, ultimately with a view to sourcing items of jewellery to individual mining regions.


The overall aims of the Liverpool Emerald Mining Project are:

  • to provide new information on the technology of mining in Egypt during the Roman and Byzantine periods
  • to obtain samples of beryl for analysis by electron microprobe and oxygen isotope analysis, in order to establish whether ancient emerald artefacts can be traced back to the original site from which they were mined
  • to obtain data on late Roman activities in the Eastern Desert to complement the long-standing excavations at sites of this period, such as Mons Porphyrites and Berenike

Stage 1

The first stage of this project consisted of geoarchaeological survey at several emerald-mining sites in the Egyptian Eastern Desert (in Wadi Gimal, Wadi Nuqrus, Wadi Sikait and Gebel Zubara), undertaken in 1994 (see Shaw et al. 1999). Since then, samples of emerald from each of the mines have been analysed with an electron microprobe analysis in order to examine the petrological profiles of beryl from ancient Egyptian mines (see Shaw and Bunbury 2000). This initial stage of the project was funded by the MacDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge.

Stage 2

The second stage, which took place in 2001, funded by the Gerald Avery Wainwright Fund, University of Oxford, was a preliminary survey of the geological and archaeological aspects of Gebel Umm Kabu, a hitherto unexplored emerald mining site in the Eastern Desert of Egypt. This was a significant miners' settlement where preliminary examination of pottery suggests an early Roman date.

Current developments

The current phase of the Liverpool Emerald Mining Project, funded by the University of Liverpool, involves further analysis of sampled beryl and emerald. Such provenancing of emeralds has the potential to elucidate the history of emerald procurement and exchange, firstly by allowing the relative importance of the Egyptian emeralds to be assessed in terms of the changing world emerald market, and secondly by clarifying the basis on which the mines were worked within the Egyptian Eastern Desert.


  • 'Emerald mining in Roman and Byzantine Egypt', Journal of Roman Archaeology 12 (1999), 203-15. [co-author with J. Bunbury and R. Jameson]
  • 'Hatnub; Wadi el-Hudi; Sikait/Zubara', Encyclopedia of the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt, ed. K. Bard (London: Routledge, 1999), pp. 363-5, 731-3, 871-2
  • 'Gems', 'Minerals' & 'Quarries and mines', The Oxford encyclopedia of ancient Egypt (Oxford and New York: OUP, 2000), vol. 2: 9-12 & 415-19; vol.3: 99-104
  • 'Life on the edge: gemstones, politics and stress in the deserts of Egypt and Nubia', Egypt and Nubia: Gifts of the Desert, ed. R. Friedman (BMP, 2002), 244-51
  • ‘Emeralds from the edge’, Ancient Egypt 3/1 (2002), 34-41
  • 'A petrological study of the emerald mines in the Egyptian Eastern Desert', Lithic at the Millennium, ed. N. Moloney & M.J. Shott (London, 2003), 203-13. [joint paper with J. Bunbury]