Skip to comments.Archaeologists Return to 'King Solomon's Mines' of Biblical Edom
Posted on 05/31/2011 8:53:36 AM PDT by Palter
A team of archaeologists and others will return to a site southeast of the Dead Sea in late September, 2011 to continue investigations of what is now considered to be one of the largest copper mines of the ancient Middle East. Among other things, scientists hope to be able to identify the ethnicity or nationality of the people who actually controlled the mining and smelting operation during the 10th century B.C.E., the time period when, based on the Biblical accounts, scholars have traditionally dated the kingdom of Edom, as well as that of David and Solomon of ancient Israel.
The site is located some 50 km south of the Dead Sea in Jordan's arid Faynan District. Called Khirbat en-Nahas (KEN for short), it has thus far yielded evidence substantiating it as the largest Iron Age (1200 - 500 B.C.E) copper mining and smelting center in the southern Levant. Recent radiocarbon dating has placed its age indisputably two centuries earlier than scholars had previously thought, pushing back the clock from the long-accepted dates assigned by archaeologists for the center and the kingdom of Edom in which it was located. It also places its heyday squarely during the time when ancient Edom and the United Monarchy of Israel under kings David and Solomon, according to traditional interpretations of the Biblical account, dominated the region. Reports Project Director Thomas A. Levy, et. al.* of the University of California in San Diego, "Given the unambiguous C AMS [carbon 14] dating evidence presented here for industrial-scale metal production at KEN during the 10th and 9th c. B.C.E. in ancient Edom, the question of whether King Solomon's copper mines have been discovered in Faynan returns to scholarly discourse."* Translation: Previous doubts about the existence of large-scale copper mines in existence during the time of and possibly under the control of a Solomonic monarchy should be revisited and perhaps overturned.
Aerial view of KEN, Jordan, showing square Iron Age fortress (73 x 73 m), and massive black copper slag mounds on the site surface. Photo courtesy UCSD Levantine Archaeology Laboratory.
The Deconstruction of Solomon
The significance of the discoveries at KEN fall within the context of a larger debate about chronology and the credibility of traditional interpretations about the very existence of the kingdoms of David and Solomon as depicted in the Hebrew Bible. During the 1930's, the famous biblical archaeologist Nelson Glueck conducted extensive explorations of the Transjordan area, including the site of KEN in the Faynan district. He asserted that the site should be identified as the remains of King Solomon's mines, the mines from which copper was procured as a key raw material for the construction of the First Temple. He surveyed and excavated at a time when the traditional Biblical narrative was largely regarded as the key historical guide for excavations and research of the Levant.
Flash forward to the 1980's, when the traditional view was challenged by an emerging new paradigm advanced by a group of scholars penned in the popular press and discussion circles as "minimalists". They asserted that the Hebrew Bible as we know it today was the product of writing and editing by a group of elite 6th-5th century B.C. scribes who, in essence, "wrote" the Bible under Babylonian captivity and during post-exilic times in Jerusalem. The minimalists argued that events and personalities documented in the Biblical record that occurred prior to the 5th century were fabrications, or at best highly exaggerated accounts in order to create a more glorified history and heritage. It meant that, among other things, kings David and Solomon and their kingdoms either did not exist at all or that they were not as large on the historical stage as traditionally portrayed. This paradigm, widely accepted by many Levantine or "biblical" archaeologists today, is further supported by the apparent scarcity of material evidence in the archaeological record that could be attributed to David, Solomon and the United Monarchy of ancient Israel. Moreover, British archaeologists who conducted excavations in the 1970s and 1980s using relative ceramic dating in the highlands of then ancient Edom, or southern Jordan, interpreted the Edomite Iron Age (the time period traditionally associated with David and Solomon) as no older than the 7th Century B.C.E., two centuries later than traditional interpretations of the Bible assign to the time of these Israelite kings. By extension, this meant that the copper production facility at KEN was no older than the 7th century, making it too late to be identified as "Solomon's Mines".
Recent excavations and discoveries in Israel have now challenged the minimalist paradigm. Discoveries such as the Tel Dan Stele, an inscribed stone dated to the 9th century B.C. with an aramaic inscription that includes the words "House of David" (in this context or usage referring to a royal dynasty or lineage), uncovered in 1993/94 by archaeologist Avraham Biran, and findings at the more recent excavations of Khirbet Qeiyafa by Yosef Garfinkel, point to a highly organized and resource-rich Israelite kingdom that could be ascribed to the 10th century B.C., just as the Biblical record attests.
Beginning in 2002, large-scale surveys and excavations were conducted at KEN under the direction of Levy, resulting in radiocarbon-dated finds that supported an early Iron Age occupation of the site from the end of the 12th century B.C. to the end of the 9th century B.C. The site contained over 100 buildings already visible from the surface, a large desert fortress, and large, extensive mounds of slag, waste products of copper smelting. In 2006, deeply stratified excavations at the site using high-precision radiocarbon dating, Bayesian analysis and advanced digital recording and mapping technologies turned up results that further supported the initial interpretations from 2002. The recovery of predominantly Edomite local ceramic ware dated to the time period evidenced a substantial or predominant Edomite presence, and the discovery there of Egyptian artifacts known to have been produced during the time of Pharaohs Siamun and Shishak suggested some connection or interaction with ancient Egypt of the 10th and 9th centuries. In short, convincing evidence now supported the suggestion that a massive copper production facility had been operating at KEN during the 10th and 9th centuries B.C., a time period that up until now had been assumed by many scholars, in particular the minimalists, to predate by at least two centuries the emergence of the fully-developed kingdoms of ancient Edom and Israel. It was time to return to a serious reconsideration of the traditionalist view of large, powerful polities in Israel and Edom during these earlier dates, as originally suggested by scholars like Nelson Glueck.
Industrial copper slag mound 76 m in depth excavated at KEN. The building and all layers above it date firmly to the mid-9th century B.C. The 3 meters of slag deposits below the building date to the 10th century B.C. There is a built rectangular feature resting on virgin soil at the bottom of the section that may be an altar. Photo credit T.E. Levy.
Returning to a Newly Dated Edom
Now, the team of archaeologists, other scientists, and students will return to the site to recover data using state-of-the-art digital techniques and systems and geographic information systems to find answers to questions related to the copper production facility within the context of an earlier state or kingdom of Edom, and by extension possibly the surrounding kingdoms or polities with whom Edom related, including ancient Israel. In addition to acquiring a better understanding of the ancient facility and how it fit into the world of the Levant at that time, Levy hopes to find clues that will shed light on the existence and extent of the neighboring Israelite kingdom of the 10th and 9th centuries. Was there a great Israelite United Monarchy and did it control the copper industry at KEN?
A number of scholars today think so. During the 12th century the power and political order of the old Bronze Age kingdoms, such as Egypt, that ruled the eastern Mediterranean region mysteriously waned. The powers that could have controlled large scale industry and trade in copper had left center stage. But given the size and complexity of the KEN operation, according to Levy, "it had to have been controlled by something as complex as an ancient kingdom. The question arises -- what kingdom?" Levy believes that there were only two candidates after the 12th century and during the 10th century that could have controlled the copper production facility: ancient Edom and ancient Israel.
"The Bible tells us that the temple would require precious metals, including tons of copper, and the closest source of copper for Jerusalem (about a 3-day journey) is from this area of Faynan," says Levy. What is more, he states that "the fortress that we found at Khirbet en-Nahas is similar to other fortresses that we have found in ancient Israel........I hope that in our excavations at Khirbet en-Nahas we will ultimately find inscriptions that will tell us about biblical characters, whether they were Edomites or early Israelite kings like David or Solomon. But that is [only] a hope."
David and Solomon aside, the most important revelation that has emerged from the excavations and research thus far revolves around the presumed time period when the KEN site operated as a major industrial center. Earlier research in the highland area of the ancient Edomite landscape horizon favored the 7th to 6th century.
"Those assumptions ignored the important copper ore district of Faynan," Levy maintains. "Now, thanks to a mix of traditional and digital archaeology methods and high-precision radiocarbon dating, we can refute the earlier assumptions."
*Thomas E. Levy, et. al., High-precision radiocarbon dating and historical biblical archaeology in southern Jordan, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, October 28, 2008 vol. 105 no. 43 pp. 16460 - 16465.
bump for later reading...
New ping message is very nice.
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No, really. I love it.
Very interesting and significant. Thanks for the ping.
And, there's no oil there. (;-D
This thinking isn't modern. During the catastrophic period in Germany that produced so much bad philosophy, including Marxism, mid-19 century AD (Year of our Lord intended), a group of German Jewish scholars began to attack their 'own' Book.
In November 1819 a group of Jewish Scholars met in Berlin to found the Society for the Culture and Scientific Study of the Jews. Out of this came the reaction to the philosophical and religious debates on the Torah stretching back to Maimonidean Controversy and beyond as seen in the New Testament. They introduced humanism and Kant to the debate, but it was already an old debate. As we look to this era and the new information archaeology is 'discovering' we can see the origins of communism, fascism, and antisemitism and the reactions to them. A large part of which was an attempt to fit in and 'reconcile' Judaism with the modern world.
This lead to severe criticism of the Torah as to authenticity and purpose in the late 19th & early 20th century. A controversy which continues today. It's origins are ancient, though. So to pretend that the attempt to refute the Bible is a 'modern' one is absurd.
Given how much we don't know about the ancient world and how much of what we do 'know' is simply speculation I'm excited to see how the work progresses. In Central and South America we've barely scratched the tip of the tip of archaeological knowledge to be gained. Africa, Asia, and other areas remain largely unknown. We should recognize, though, that the theme of refuting God is an ancient one. We'll be through this cycle again, unless we undo government schooling in America.
Guess these “minimalists” would be among those who thought the Trojan War was just a nice fairy tale before Schlieman.
Stories don’t come from nowhere and the ancients were no fools.
While some degree of exaggeration or embroidery can be expected in ANY story, including those about things happening today, the basic essence of the tales are in all probability accurate and Solomon and David and their Kingdom DID exist and were a powerful, although transitory force in the ancient Levant.
Assumptions or impositions?
Thanks. One of my all-time faves was a remarkably stupid statement in the 19th c that what was then modern scholarship (or rather, what passed for scholarship) had proved for all time that Abraham had never existed. That was the same day the facepalm was invented I think.
I’ve begun to consider doing something like that with the GGG ping message, but I really do like all those links in the side thing.
Heh... yeah, although that’s not foolproof of course, because grinding axes and pushing agendas isn’t anything new.