Ancient Israeli Site Could Be King Solomon's Mines
September 4, 2013

Ancient Israeli Site Could Be King Solomon’s Mines

Lawrence LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

Copper mines recently unearthed in Israel that were thought to have been built by the ancient Egyptians during the 13th century BCE have been shown to actually originate three centuries later during the reign of King Solomon.

The new discovery comes from an excavation led by Dr. Erez Ben-Yosef of Tel Aviv University’s Jacob M. Alkow Department of Archaeology and Near Eastern Cultures.

Dr. Ben-Yosef used radiocarbon dating of material within the site, located in Timna Valley in Israel’s Aravah Desert, to overturn previous archaeological consensus that has persisted for decades. Based largely on materials found in the region, scholars have pegged the mines as being operated by the Edomites, a semi-nomadic tribal confederation that was believed to be at constant war with Israel.

But Dr. Ben-Yosef says the radiocarbon dating proves “the mines are definitely from the period of King Solomon.” He added that this could “help us understand the local society, which would have been invisible to us otherwise."

Now a national park, Timna Valley was once an ancient copper production district with thousands of mines. In February 2013, Dr. Ben-Yosef and colleagues excavated a previously untouched area of the valley, known as Slaves’ Hill. This area was a massive smelting site that contained the remains of hundreds of furnaces and layers upon layers of copper slag waste created during the smelting process.

The team of researchers had also unveiled an impressive collection of artifacts at the site. This included clothes, fabrics, ropes, food, ceramics and various types of metallurgical installations. Using the radiocarbon dating techniques employed by the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit at the University of Oxford in England, several items were dated to the 10th century BCE, which is consistent with the time period of King Solomon’s rule over the Kingdom of Israel.

The findings from Slaves’ Hill confirm those from a 2009 dig Dr. Ben-Yosef helped conduct at “Site 30,” another large ancient smelting camp in Timna Valley. That camp was confirmed through radiocarbon dating to have been built between the 11th and 9th centuries BCE – during the reigns of King David and Solomon.

Despite the overwhelming evidence from radiocarbon dating, the publication of the discovery in the journal The American Schools of Oriental Research in 2012 did little to sway the popular consensus that the site was of ancient Egyptian origin. This was due to a 1969 discovery of an Egyptian Temple located in the center of Timna Valley.

The Slaves’ Hill excavation also demonstrates that the society in Timna Valley was very complex. The smelting technology was quite advanced and the layout of the site tells the tale of a high level of social organization. This discovery holds that an impressive cooperation would have been required by thousands of people to operate the mines efficiently in the middle of the desert.

"In Timna Valley, we unearthed a society with undoubtedly significant development, organization, and power," said Dr. Ben-Yosef. "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."

He maintains that archaeologists would likely have never found evidence of the existence of this society and culture if it weren’t for their mining operations. It is believed that this society had also held a high degree of political and military power, which calls into question the traditional assumption that advanced societies usually leave behind architectural ruins.

While much criticism has surrounded the evidence of these mines and smelting camps being linked to King David and Solomon, Dr. Ben-Yosef maintained that it is entirely possible these people existed and even exerted some control over the mines in Timna Valley during the time period.

Dr. Ben-Yosef is continuing the excavations at Slaves’ Hill and is looking for volunteers to begin a dig in a new area at the site.