The Chalcolithic Age: 4,000 BC
Archaeologists know the 4th millennium BC as the Chalcolithic Age. Etymologically, the name refers to the copper widely used by these people who lived more than 5000 years ago. In Sinai however, it was not copper that these people were mining but the rich veins of turquoise in the southwestern sector of the peninsula.
In Palestine the Chalcolithic period is often referred to as the Ghassulian culture, after the site of Ghassul in the Jordan valley where this culture was first identified. The Ghassulians from the Chalcolithic period have now been identified in several sites in northern Sinai. A survey found over 700 ancient sites from all periods strung along the main routes between Egypt proper and Canaan, in the area between Rafah and the Suez Canal in northern Sinai. Over 100 of these sites included remains from the Ghassulian culture of the 4th millennium BC.
At none of these sites were any architectural remains uncovered. The pottery sherds that dated the sites and the occupational levels were typical of temporary encampments and may have been wayside stations between Egypt and Canaan. Ghassulian culture in Sinai was confined almost exclusively to the northern coast with one interesting exception. At the foot of Mt. Serabit el Khadem, a small Ghassulian settlement was discovered. It turned out to be a work camp for miners of the famous turquoise mines of Serabit. In and around this small chalcolithic site, we found unpolished gems, hematite hammers to quarry the turquoise bearing blocks of sandstone, flint blades to extract the turquoise nodules, grinding stones to polish the gems and large quantities of Ghassulian pottery.
Another Phenomenon that belongs to the same chronological period but not to the same culture are the Nawamis. These are beehive shaped structures built of sandstone slabs or metamorphic cobbles. Found only in southern and eastern Sinai, they appear to have been built in clusters, each cluster lying several kilometers from its nearest neighbour. Each Nawamis is about 10 and 20 feet in diameter and approximately 7 feet high. Their walls curve inward towards the top to form a corbelled roof supported by a large stone slab.
Many of these roofs are still intact. They are burial structures for members of the same family or clan. Some burials are primary ones and others are secondary. The funeral offerings in the Nawamis included shell bracelets, faience beeds, flint tools, juglets and tools made of bone and copper all reflecting contact with both Egypt and Canaan. We found 2 juglets from the Naqada I period which is parallel to the late Chalcolithic period (3,400 BC – 3,150 BC).
Each Nawamis has a small entrance constructed of upright slabs facing the setting sun. These people probably shared the Egyptian belief that the soul journeys to the west after death. This strengthens the possibility of an Egyptian origin for these people. They had a highly developed culture and were able to construct these architecturally sophisticated Nawamis, which could not be the work of desert tribes