An archaeological excavation led by Dr. Erez Ben-Yosef of Tel Aviv University proves that copper mines in Israel thought to have been built by the ancient Egyptians in the 13th century BC actually originated three centuries later, during the reign of the legendary King Solomon. Materials unearthed at the new site in the Timna Valley in Israel's Aravah Desert was subjected to radiocarbon dating and effectively overturned the archaeological consensus of the last several decades. Research, and materials found in the area, suggest the mines were operated by the Edomites, a semi-nomadic tribal confederation that according to the Bible warred constantly with Israel.
"The mines are definitely from the period of King Solomon," said Dr. Ben-Yosef. "They may help us understand the local society, which would have been invisible to us otherwise."
(copper smelted at Timna Valley)
Timna Valley was an ancient copper production district with thousands of mines and dozens of smelting sites. In February 2013, Dr. Ben-Yosef led researchers and students to excavate a previously untouched site in the valley, known as the Slaves' Hill. The area contains is a massive smelting camp and remains of hundreds of furnaces and layers of copper slag, the waste created during the smelting process.
Researchers also unearthed an impressive collection of Biblical clothing, fabrics, and ropes made using advanced weaving technology. Also found were foods, such as dates, grapes, and pistachios. They also unearthed ceramics and various types of metallurgical installations. The world-renowned Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit at the University of Oxford dated 11 of the items to the 10th century BC, when according to the Bible King Solomon ruled the Kingdom of Israel.
The archaeological record shows the mines in Timna Valley were built and operated by a local society, possibly the early Edomites, who are known to have occupied the land and formed a kingdom that rivaled Judah. The unearthed materials and the lack of architectural remains at the Slaves' Hill support the idea that the locals were a semi-nomadic people who lived in tents.
The discoveries at Slaves' Hill confirm those of a 2009 dig that Ben-Yosef helped to conduct at "Site 30," another of the largest ancient smelting camps in Timna Valley. While studying under Prof. Thomas E. Levy at the University of California, San Diego, Ben-Yosef helped demonstrate that the copper mines in Timna valley dated from the 11th to 9th centuries BC and were probably Edomite in origin. This occurred during the era of kings David and Solomon.
Those earlier findings were reported in the journal of The American Schools of Oriental Research in 2012, but did little to challenge the belief that the mines were Egyptian, based primarily on the discovery of an Egyptian Temple in the center of the valley in 1969.
(Archaeological excavation at Timna Valley)
The Slaves' Hill dig also demonstrates that the society in Timna Valley was surprisingly complex. The smelting technology was relatively advanced and the layout of the camp reflects a high level of social organization. Impressive cooperation would have been required for thousands of people to operate the mines in the middle of the desert.
"In Timna Valley, we unearthed a society with undoubtedly significant development, organization, and power," said Ben-Yosef, according to a news release. "And yet because the people were living in tents, they would have been transparent to us as archaeologists if they had been engaged in an industry other than mining and smelting, which is very visible archaeologically."
Although the society likely possessed a degree of political and military power, archaeologists would probably never have found evidence of its existence if it were not for the mining operation. Ben-Yosef says this calls into question the traditional assumption that advanced societies usually leave behind architectural ruins. He also says that the findings at the Slaves' Hill undermine criticisms of the Bible's historicity based on a lack of archaeological evidence. It's entirely possible that David and Solomon existed and even that they exerted some control over the mines in the Timna Valley at times, he says.