>Solomon’s Copper Mines Discovered

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Photo: Industrial copper slag mound excavated at Khirbat en-Nahas. Date: 10th century BCE.

Credit: Photo by Thomas Levy, UC San Diego.

Two archaeologists have announced they have found a copper -production center at Khirbat en-Nahas in Jordan. The site is dated to the 10th BCE and may be related to the copper production center developed by Solomon. The fallowing is an excerpt from the article:

Led by Thomas Levy of UC San Diego and Mohammad Najjar of Jordan’s Friends of Archaeology, an international team of archaeologists has excavated an ancient copper-production center at Khirbat en-Nahas down to virgin soil, through more than 20 feet of industrial smelting debris, or slag. The 2006 dig has brought up new artifacts and with them a new suite of radiocarbon dates placing the bulk of industrial-scale production at Khirbat en-Nahas in the 10th century BCE – in line with biblical narrative on the legendary rule of David and Solomon. The new data pushes back the archaeological chronology some three centuries earlier than the current scholarly consensus.

The research also documents a spike in metallurgic activity at the site during the 9th century BCE, which may also support the history of the Edomites as related by the Bible.

Khirbat en-Nahas, which means “ruins of copper” in Arabic, is in the lowlands of a desolate, arid region south of the Dead Sea in what was once Edom and is today Jordan’s Faynan district. The Hebrew Bible (or Old Testament) identifies the area with the Kingdom of Edom, foe of ancient Israel.

For years, scholars have argued whether the Edomites were sufficiently organized by the 10th to 9th centuries BCE to seriously threaten the neighboring Israelites as a true “kingdom.” Between the World Wars, during the “Golden Age” of biblical archaeology, scholars explored, as Levy describes it, with a trowel in one hand and Bible in the other, seeking to fit their Holy Land findings into the sacred story. Based on his 1930s surveys, American archaeologist Nelson Glueck even asserted that he had found King Solomon’s mines in Faynan/Edom. By the 1980s, however, Glueck’s claim had been largely dismissed. A consensus had emerged that the Bible was heavily edited in the 5th century BCE, long after the supposed events, while British excavations of the Edomite highlands in the 1970s-80s suggested the Iron Age had not even come to Edom until the 7th century BCE.

“Now,” said Levy, director of the Levantine Archaeology Lab at UCSD and associate director of the new Center of Interdisciplinary Science for Art, Architecture and Archaeology (CISA3), “with data from the first large-scale stratified and systematic excavation of a site in the southern Levant to focus specifically on the role of metallurgy in Edom, we have evidence that complex societies were indeed active in 10th and 9th centuries BCE and that brings us back to the debate about the historicity of the Hebrew Bible narratives related to this period.”

Khirbat en-Nahas, comprising some 100 ancient buildings including a fortress, is situated in the midst of a large area covered by black slag – more than 24 acres that you can clearly see on Google Earth’s satellite imagery. Mining trails and mines abound. The size argues for industrial-scale production at Khirbat en-Nahas, Levy explained. And the depth of the waste at the site, more than 20 feet, he said, provides a “measuring stick” to monitor social and technological change during the Iron Age, which spans around 1200 to 500 BCE, a key period in the histories of ancient Israel and Edom.

The archaeological team, Levy said, used high-precision radiocarbon dating on date seeds, sticks of tamarisk and other woods used for charcoal in smelting (along with Bayesian analysis) to obtain the 10th- and 9th-century BCE dates. The analyses were carried out by Thomas Higham of the University of Oxford.

Additional evidence comes from ancient Egyptian artifacts found at the site. The artifacts, a scarab and an amulet, were in a layer of the excavation associated with a serious disruption in production at the end of the 10th century BCE – possibly tying Khirbat en-Nahas to the well-documented military campaign of Pharaoh Sheshonq I (aka “Shishak” in the Bible) who, following Solomon’s death, sought to crush economic activity in the area.

Read the article in its entirety by clicking here.

If the information proves to be reliable, this finding will clearly change the understanding of the history of the period. High precision carbon dating provides a 10th date for the site, a period that relates well with the activities of Solomon on the site.

In addition, if the Egyptian artifacts confirm Shishak’s campaign in the region, then the evidence again will point to Solomonic activities in the area and the historical reliability of the text. As the article states: “If the data proves to be reliable, this finding will clearly change the understanding of biblical history of the period. High precision carbon dating provides a 10th date for the site, a period that relates well with the activities of Solomon on the site.”

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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2 Responses to >Solomon’s Copper Mines Discovered

  1. Neil Parille says:

    >Love the blog, but can’t we do without the anti-Christan “BCE” and “CE”?

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  2. >Neil,I have no problem using BC rather than BCE. The reason at times I use BCE is because many of my readers come from Israel. BCE is not anti-Christian but it is an academic way of dating events before the birth of Christ.Maybe I should be consistent in using dates. I will try to correct that in future posts.Thank you for visiting my blog.Claude Mariottini

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