Timna copper mines dated to King Solomon era

Timna copper mines dated to King Solomon era

Radiocarbon dating of olive pits shows site was active during 10th century BCE, backing up Biblical account

Aaron Kalman is a former writer and breaking news editor for the Times of Israel

Copper mines in Timna, 35 km north of Eilat, March 2007 (photo credit: Doron Horowitz/Flash90)
Copper mines in Timna, 35 km north of Eilat, March 2007 (photo credit: Doron Horowitz/Flash90)

New archaeological finds, including date and olive pits, have backed up the biblical narrative according to which the Timna copper mines in the south of Israel were active during the reign of King Solomon, around the 10th century BCE.

The findings — based on the radiocarbon dating of material unearthed at a new site in Timna Valley in the Arava Desert, and released last week by a team led by Tel Aviv University’s Dr. Erez Ben-Yosef — overturn a consensus that had held sway among archaeologists for several decades.

After the unearthing of an Egyptian temple from the 13th century BCE in 1969, most archaeologists believed that the site had been built and was operated by the ancient Egyptians. Before that find, the area was called “King Solomon’s Mines,” as a result of digs by archaeologist Nelson Glueck who found pottery shards from the 10th century BCE and said the copper mines were active during the time of the ancient Israelite kingdom.

Now the latest finds in the area suggest the mines were worked by Edomites, a semi-nomadic tribal confederation that according to the Bible warred constantly with Israel, though it’s not clear who employed them.

“The mines are definitely from the period of King Solomon,” Ben-Yosef said in a statement. “They may help us understand the local society, which would have been invisible to us otherwise.”

According to the statement, the Timna Valley — now a national park — was a copper production district with thousands of mines and dozens of smelting sites. The recent excavation took place at a previously untouched site known as Slaves’ Hill.

Fragments of furnaces, clothing, fabrics and rope were unearthed in the dig, as were a number of food remnants. Archaeologists sent 11 olive and date pits found at the site to Oxford University, where they were dated to the 10th century BCE — the time during which, according to the bible, King Solomon ruled ancient Israel.

Ben-Yosef’s findings, the statement said, confirmed the findings from previous digs conducted in the area, mainly a 2009 excavation at Site 30, a large smelting camp in the valley.

Ben-Yosef said that the Slaves’ Hill dig also demonstrated that the society in Timna Valley was surprisingly complex. The smelting technology was relatively advanced and the layout of the camp indicates a high level of social organization, he said. 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,” he said. “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.”

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