Limestone
Archae Solenhofen (solenhofen@hotmail.com)
(Last modified April 10, 2001)

    Limestone is a sedimentary rock consisting chiefly of the mineral calcite (calcium carbonate, CaCO3, Mh. 3), but can also contain other constituents such as quartz, chert, clay, iron oxides, organics, and dolomite. Limestone is the most widely distributed of the carbonate rocks in the Earth's crust, and is the consolidated equivalent of calcareous mud, calcareous sand, and/or shell fragments. They can also form by precipitation of calcite grains from solution, producing rocks like travertine.

   In Egypt limestone occurs extensively in the 500 mile stretch of hills located in the Nile valley (Mokattam, Samalut, Minia, and Drunka Formations) from Cairo to Esna (see map). It also occurs sporadically in the Nile valley from Esna to Aswan, in the Suez region, and near Alexandria (Alexandria Formation). The limestone deposits in Egypt vary considerably in their quality and rock hardness ranging from high-quality massive limestone to low-quality fossiliferious interbedded limestones. The Nile valley limestones are generally fine-grain to coarse-grained mudstones, wackestones, packstones, and grainstones. These deposits often contain fossils of nummulitids, echinoids, and pelecypods. They were deposited in an ancient sea and are of Lower Eocene to Middle Eocene in age (54-35 mya). The Alexandria deposits are of Pleistocene age (2 mya -8 kya). Extensive quarrying was carried out in the Nile valley and Alexandria deposits by the ancient Egyptians. There are many important quarry sites within the limestone formations of the Nile valley that have been used by the ancient Egyptians during their history. Photos of polished rock slabs obtained from various limestone quarry sites used by the ancient Egyptians can be seen at the Ancient Egyptian Quarries website sections #1-88.

   Limestone was used in ancient Egyptians as a building material up until the 19th dynasty where it was replaced to large degree by the use of sandstone (Lucas and Harris, 1962). It was used in the form of cut blocks mainly for the construction of tombs and temples, and hills of limestone were excavated to produce chambers for tombs as well. Limestone was one of the first materials use by the ancient Egyptians for carving of objects other than tools and weapons. Because it is a soft stone and often of a fine grain texture it lends itself well to carving and other lapidary techniques, especially in its more indurated form. From Neolithic times onward limestone was used in the manufacturing of vases, bowls, statuary, etc.. A number of high quality limestones exist in Egypt and occur in a variety of colours, such as black (Eastern Desert, Cairo-Suez region), yellow (Qift region), and pink (Western Desert).

References

Lucas, A. & Harris, J.R. (1962) Ancient Egyptian materials and industries. E. Arnold, London, 523 p.

Links to examples of limestone usage

a) Bowls

b) Vessels

Early Dynastic period "schist" cup with pink limestone base, from the tomb of Queen Her-nit (height: 18 cm, diameter: 8 cm; Egyptian Museum, Cairo). Note: the purplish colouration would suggest that the "schist" is a metamudstone.

c) Statues, statuettes, and busts

Old Kingdom period (3rd Dynasty) painted limestone statues of Sepa an important official (height: 1.05 m, width: 40 cm; Musee de Louvre, Paris).

Old Kingdom period (4th Dynasty) limestone statue head, probably the reign of Khufu (height: 27.7 cm; Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna).

Old Kingdom period (4th Dynasty) limestone statue head, probably the reign of Khufu (height: 27.7 cm; Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna).

Old Kingdom period (4th Dynasty) painted limestone statue pair of Memi and Sabu in standing position (height: 62 cm, width: 24.5 cm, depth: 15.2 cm The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York).

Old Kingdom period (4th Dynasty) painted limestone statue of Hemiunu in seated position (height: 155.5 cm, width: 61.5 cm, depth 104.7 cm; Roemer-und Pelizaeus-Museum, Hildesheim).

Old Kingdom period (4th Dynasty) limestone and plaster portrait bust of Prince Ankh-haf, senior administrative official (height: 50.6 cm: Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Boston).

Old Kingdom period (4th Dynasty) limestone "Reserve head" of Nofer (height: 17.2 cm: Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Boston).

Old Kingdom period (4-5th Dynasty) painted limestone statue of the seated scribe from Saqqara (height: 53.7 cm, width: 44 cm, depth: 35 cm; Musee de Louvre, Paris).

Old Kingdom period (early 5th Dynasty) statue of Demedji and Hennutsen (height: 83 cm, width: 48 cm, depth: 51 cm; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York).

Old Kingdom period (5th Dynasty) painted limestone statue of Raherka and Merseankh (height: 52.8 cm, depth: 21.3 cm; Musee de Louvre, Paris).

Old Kingdom period (5th Dynasty) painted limestone statue of a scribe (height: 49 cm; Egyptian Museum, Cairo).

Old Kingdom period (5th Dynasty) painted limestone statue of Ni-ka-re, his wife, and their daughter from the reign of Nuiserre or later (height: 57 cm, width: 22.5 cm, depth: 32.5 cm; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York).

Old Kingdom period (5th Dynasty) painted limestone stattuette of a butcher (knife restored) from probably the reign of Niuserre (height: 37 cm, width: 14.2 cm, depth: 38 cm; Oriental Institute, University of Chicago).

Old Kingdom period (5th Dynasty) painted limestone statue of Ptah-khenui and his wife (height: 70.1 cm: Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Boston).

Old Kingdom period (5th Dynasty) limestone statuette woman grinding grain , originally plastered and painted (height: 30.9 cm: Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Boston).

Old Kingdom period (6th Dynasty) painted limestone statue of Atjema in standing position (height: 91 cm; Egyptian Museum, Cairo).

New Kingdom period (18th Dynasty) painted limestone head of Princess Amenhotep IV (height: 15.4 cm, width: 10 cm; Musee de Louvre, Paris).

New Kingdom period (18th Dynasty) painted indurated limestone statue of Queen Hatshepsut (height: 194.9 cm; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York).

New Kingdom period (18th Dynasty) indurated limestone statue fragment of Tutankhamun's head wearing the blue crown (height: 14.9 cm: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York).

New Kingdom period (19th Dynasty) limestone statue of Yuny and His Wife, Renenutet (height: 86.4 cm: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York).

Ptolemaic period limestone statue of Arsinoe II with traces of gilding and paint (height: 38.1 cm: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York).

Roman period limestone funerary statue of a priestess of Isis (height: 1.36 m, width: 45 cm; Musee de Louvre, Paris).

d) Stelai

Early Dynastic period (1st Dynasty) limestone stela of Djet, the "Serpent King" from the tomb of the Serpent King at Abydos (height: 1.43 m, width: 65.5 cm; Musee de Louvre, Paris).

Old Kingdom period (3rd Dynasty) limestone stela of King Qahedjet (height: 50.5 cm, width: 31 cm, depth 2.8 cm; Musee de Louvre, Paris).

Old Kingdom period (4th Dynasty) painted limestone stela of Nefertiabet
from Giza (height: 37.5 m, width: 52.5 m; Musee de Louvre, Paris).

Old Kingdom period (4th Dynasty) painted limestone slab stela of Prince Wep-em-nefret (height: 45.7 cm, width: 66 cm, depth: 7.6 cm; Hearst Museum of Anthropology, Berkeley).

First Intermediate period painted limestone stela of the Nubian soldier Nenu (height: 37 cm, width: 45 cm; Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Boston).

Middle Kingdom period (12th Dynasty) painted limestone stela of Mentuwoser (height: 104.1 cm, width: 49.8 cm; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York).

New Kingdom period (early 18th Dynasty) painted limestone stela of Ahmose, a chief of metalworkers (height: 49.5 cm, width: 29.5 cm; Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Boston).

New Kingdom period (18th Dynasty) Paser's Stela made of limestone (height: 98.5 cm, width: 77 cm; Musee de Louvre, Paris).

e) Bas-Reliefs

Old Kingdom period (late 3rd Dynasty) painted limestone bas-relief block with the figure of Aa-akhti (height: 184 cm, width: 83 cm, depth 18 cm; Musee de Louvre, Paris).

Old Kingdom period (4th Dynasty) painted limestone bas-relief of Archers from the reigns of Khufu to Khafre (height: 37.5, width: 25.4; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York).

Old Kingdom period (4th Dynasty) limestone bas-relief of Nofer (height: 95 cm, width: 109.5 cm; Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Boston).

Old Kingdom Period (5th dynasty) painted limestone bas-relief of musicians detail of the Akhthetep mastaba from Sakkara (Musee de Louvre, Paris).

Old Kingdom period (5th dynasty) limestone bas-relief of Itush from reign of Djedkare-Isesi (height: 42.6 cm, width: 74.4 cm, depth: 9.5 cm; Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York).

Old Kingdom period (early 6th Dynasty) painted limestone still life bas-relief of offerings for the deceased (height: 48 cm, width: 38.5 cm; The Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit).

Middle Kingdom period (11th Dynasty) painted limestone bas-relief of Nebhepetre Mentuhotpe from western Thebes (height: 35.9 cm: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York).

Middle Kingdom period (12th Dynasty) limestone bas-relief lintel of Sesostris III from the Medamoud temple (height: 1.065 m, width: 2.21 m; Musee de Louvre, Paris).

New Kingdom period (18th Dynasty) painted limestone bas-relief of Akhenaten Presenting a Duck to Aten (height: 24.4 cm; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York).

New Kingdom period (18th Dynasty) limestone sunk relief of Akhenaten sacrificing a duck (height: 24.4 cm: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York).

New Kingdom period (18th Dynasty) limestone bas-relief as King Akhenaten as a sphinx (height: 51 cm, width: 105.5 cm; Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Boston).

New Kingdom period (19th Dynasty) painted limestone bas-relief of the Goddess Hathor and King Sethi I from the tomb of Sethi I in the Valley of Kings (height: 2.265 m, width: 1.05 m; Musee de Louvre, Paris).

Third Intermediate period (26th Dynasty) limestone bas-reliefs from the tomb of Nes-peka-shuty (height: 35 cm, width: 57 cm; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York).

f) Misc. objects

New Kingdom period (18th Dynasty) painted limestone ostracon of Senenmut (height: 22.5 cm, width: 18.1 cm; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York).

New Kingdom period (19-20th Dynasty) painted limestone ostracon (height: 14 cm, width: 12.5 cm; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York).

New Kingdom period (20th Dynasty) painted limestone ostracon representing a preliminary draft sketch of a tomb layout from the Valley of the Kings (Semitic Museum, Cambridge, MA).

g) building material

Old Kingdom period (late 5 th Dynasty) partially painted limestone tomb of Perneb from Saqqara (height: 482.2 cm: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York).
 
 


 
 
 
 
 
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