The Central Timna Valley Project: Technological and Social Aspects of Ancient Copper Exploitation in the Timna Valley, Israel

This report was sent to the AIAS by Erez Ben-Yosef

The Timna Valley in southern Israel is one of the best-preserved ancient copper ore districts in the world. More than six millennia of copper mining and smelting are represented in the archaeology of the valley, which fortuitously was only little damaged by modern exploitation. Located deep within the southern Levantine deserts and far from any permanent water sources, the region presented serious challenges to the societies interested in exploiting its rich copper ore in all periods.

Notwithstanding these challenges, the valley witnessed several periods of substantial copper production, the most intense of which occurred in the early Iron Age (ca. 1200 – 900 BCE). The archaeological remains from this period have been the focus of the ongoing Central Timna Valley (CTV) Project of Tel Aviv University, which explores the technological and social aspects of the industry by excavations, surveys, and the application of advanced analytic and micro-archaeological methods. The latter include the integration of several dating techniques (radiocarbon, archaeomagnetism and luminescence), aimed at establishing a robust, high-resolution timeframe for the industrial remains; in turn, this chronological skeleton enables a detailed diachronic study of technological developments and social processes, including the formation of the Edomite Kingdom mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, Egyptian and Assyrian sources. This kingdom, centered around the lucrative copper mines of the region, was able to flourish after the major geopolitical powers of the Ancient Near East collapsed at the end of the Late Bronze Age.

The project’s excavations uncovered a wide array of materials, from production waste (slag, tuyeres and furnace fragments) to pottery and ground stones, including a unique collection of textiles and other rarely preserved organic remains. The latter have helped to better understand the life of the Iron Age metalworkers by illuminating aspects that are usually inaccessible in common archaeological research, such as clothing and the maintenance of draft animals.

Various analytic studies have been used to extract further insights on the industry and the society behind it, including archaeobotanical and archaeozoological investigations, pollen analysis, chemical and mineralogical studies of slag and other smelting waste, petrographic studies of pottery, and more. One of the most intriguing observations so far indicates close connections between the copper mines and the Mediterranean region, raising once again the question of “King Solomon’s Mines,” and the possibility that the Timna copper was the source of wealth of Jerusalem in the 10th century BCE.

Results of the CTV Project were featured in the international media including the New York Times, National Geographic Society, Huffington Post and the Jerusalem Post.

 

Report from Israel, July 2017

ADVANCED IMAGING TECHNOLOGY USED TO REVEAL HIDDEN OSTRACON INSCRIPTION

A multi-disciplinary team from Tel Aviv University led by Dr. Anat Mendel-Geberovich of the Department of Archaeology used advanced imaging technology to reveal a hitherto unnoticed inscription on a pottery shard. In the 1965 excavations at the First Temple Period Fortress of Tel Arad, the late professor Yohanan Aharoni found several ostraca, some of which were deciphered. The ancient site served as a military outpost on the southern border of the Kingdom of Judah. The ostracon is dated to circa 600 BCE, shortly before the Babylonians destroyed the Kingdom of Judah’s in 586 BCE.

On the verso, the text on the shard mentions money transfers, but the recto was considered blank. With multispectral imaging techniques, the team was able to decipher three lines, comprising 17 words. The letter was addressed to Elyashiv, the quartermaster of the Arad Fortress, and requests wine and food from the warehouses of the fortress for a certain military unit.

IRON AGE-PERSIAN PERIOD RESERVOIR CLOSE TO ROSH HA-‘AYIN

An elongated water cistern was found during an excavation directed by Gilad Itach from the Israel Antiquities Authority at a site located close to the modern city Rosh Ha-‘Ayin. The cistern (20 meters long and more than 4 meters wide) was hewn below a large building that was settled during the Late Iron Age Period and until the Persian Period. On the upper plaster layer graffiti of crosses, human figures and Arabic inscriptions were found. The cistern was part of an administrative farmstead that was built after the Assyrian conquest (721-720 BCE) of the area.

A JEWISH SETTLEMENT FROM THE ROMAN PERIOD AT BEIT NATTIF

A Jewish settlement dating from the Late Second Temple Period to the Bar-Kokhba Revolt was unearthed during rescue excavations directed by Sarah Hirshberg and Shua Kisilevitz from the Israel Antiquities Authority. The site lies some 500 meters to the west of Kh. Beit Nattif. Eight ritual baths, cisterns, and underground hiding complex from the second century Bar-Kokhba Revolt, along with rock-hewn industrial installations were found. The ancient buildings have not survived and their stones were taken to construct buildings in later periods since XXXX. This site is probably the one mentioned in historical sources as a capital of one of the Second Temple Period toparchies of Judea (Josephus, Jewish War, IV, 444–446; Pliny, Natural History, V, 70).

DIETARY HABITS IN JERUSALEM FROM THE SECOND TEMPLE PERIOD

More than 5,000 animal bones from Second Temple Period landfills from the City of David were analyzed by PhD candidate Abra Sapiciarich, under the supervision of Dr. Yuval Gadot and Dr. Lidar Sapir-Hen from Tel Aviv University’s Department of Archaeology, in cooperation with the Israel Antiquities Authority. The researchers discovered that the Jewish population preferred sheep and goats to chickens and cows, indicative of the dietary habits of Jewish residents in Jerusalem during that time. According to Sapir-Hen, pigeon bones were only found in landfills near the Temple Mount, and not farther away, in landfills from the City of David. This might indicate that pigeons were only used in religious rituals.

A 7TH CENTURY COIN HOARD NEAR JERUSALEM

A hoard of nine Byzantine Period bronze coins was uncovered during a salvage excavation close to ‘Ein Hemed. The excavation, directed by Annette Landes-Nagar from the Israel Antiquities Authority, exposed a large two-storey structure and an adjacent winepress that were part of a large complex, apparently serving Christian pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem. The hoard was found near the wall of the building and was probably placed in a cloth purse that was concealed inside a hidden niche. The coins bear the images of three Byzantine emperors: Justinian (483-565 AD), Maurice (539-602 CE) and Phocas (547-610 CE). The hoard was probably hidden there before the Sassanid Persian invasion in 614 CE.

Dr Eitan Klein is the Deputy Director of the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Looting in the Israel Antiquities Authority, an Archaeologist of the classical periods and a Lecturer at the Land of Israel Department at Ashqelon Academic College

Report from Jerusalem #78, September 2016

This report comes to members of AIAS from Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg, W.F Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem Israel

Gold Coin Of Roman Emperor Nero

During a recent excavation on Mount Zion, a gold coin with the image of the Roman Emperor Nero was found by archaeologists from the University of North Carolina in the ruins of a large mansion in the Upper City of Jerualem that may have belonged to one of the priestly families that served in the Temple. The excavation was directed by Dr.Shimon Gibson, who worked with Dr. James Tabor and Dr. Rafael Lewis. The coin reads “NERO CAESAR AUG IMP” and on the reverse was an oak wreath with the letters EX S C. Dr. David Jacobson of London has dated the coin to 56/57 CE. The coin was found in one of the large mansions belonging to the priestly families and may have been hidden to save it from the Roman troops that ransacked the properties when they destroyed the Temple in 70 CE.

Norwegian Embassy Driver Smuggles Antiquities

The Norwegian Embassy car was stopped at the Allenby Bridge to Jordan and the police uncovered 10 kilograms of ancient coins and small figurines. The driver of the diplomatic car was arrested but no details of the origin of the antiquities has yet been released.

Ancient Egyptian Amulet

Over three hundred students were excavating in Tzipori in the Galilee, under the direction of the Israel Antiquities Authority, where a three thousand year old Egyptian ring-shaped amulet was uncovered. No suggestions as to why it was found here have been offered.

Ancient Olive Pits Found In Jordan Valley

Archaeologists from the University of Haifa have found seven thousand year old olive pits west of the Jordanian border. The find made by the University’s Zinman Institute of Archaeology suggest that the pits are the result of artificial irrigation. Prof. Daniel Rosenberg said the find would require a change in the perception of ancient agricultural procedures and a re-evaluation of their sophistication in agriculture.

Temple Weight In Jerusalem

An inscribed stone weight found in 2013 has recently been deciphered said the excavator Dr. Oren Gutfeld. It belonged to a synagogue that had been bombed by the Jordanian Arab Legion in 1948. When it was being cleared a building from the Mameluke period was found beneath it and below that a massive Byzantine structure with tiled floors and walls and a storage area with pottery, animal bones and coins. It also contained a stone weight with a two line inscription, which the excavator Oren Gutfeld finally deciphered as the name of the priestly family Katros in Hebrew and ancient Persian, This family is mentioned in the Mishna as being corrupt and buying into the priesthood; the weight may have been used in some way for this purpose.

Ancient Kiln and Pottery Shop  

During an excavation at Shlomi in the Western Galilee an unusual kiln was discovered as part of a pottery manufacturing site. Instead of the usual form of kiln built above ground in stone and mudbrick, this kiln, said to be 1,600 years old, was hewn out of the bedrock, according to Joppe Gosker of the Israel Antiquities Authority who also noted that the site included a system for storing water and compartments for the pottery, The work was uncovered in a chalk sub-base where a new housing was being built. The kiln and surrounding finds will be opened to the new residents and to the public at a later date.

These notes have been gathered as a service to the Society, who take no responsibility for its content. 

Report from Jerusalem #77, 8th June 2016

This report comes to members of AIAS from Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg, W.F Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem Israel

First Temple Period Seal from Jerusalem

A seal bearing the name Elihana bat Gael was recently unearthed in a large building in the Givati parking lot that was being excavated in the City of David area. It was inscribed in paleo-Hebrew lettering in reverse script and was found with another seal in similar lettering inscribed with the name of Sa’aryahu ben Shabenyahu, a male. Both seals were considered to be about 2,500 years old. Finding such seals is a rarity and finding one of a female is even rarer. According to the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), she must have been an important person who had legal status, “allowing her to conduct business and own property”. In this case, she must have been of a very elevated status as her name is given as the daughter of her father and not as the wife of her husband, which was the more common case.

Ancient Egyptian Amulet Discovered by Young Girl

In the sifting programme organised by Gabriel Barkai, a twelve-year-old girl, Neshama Spielman, has uncovered a rare Egyptian Amulet bearing the name of Thutmose III of the 15th century BCE. Spielman noticed the find as something special as it was on a piece of pottery different from others and handed it over to the experts for further identification. Thutmose III (1479-1425 BCE) is credited with extending Egypt in domination over Canaan and defeating a coalition of Canaanite kings at Megiddo in 1457 BCE according to Barkai.

Second Temple Settlement and Synagogue on the Sea of Galilee

Excavations at Migdal, ancient Magdala, on the western banks of the Kinneret have revealed a two-thousand year old settlement and its synagogue. The site is of the Roman period and of interest to Christians as well as Jews as it was known as the birthplace of Mary Magdalene, who was the first witness of the resurrection of Jesus, according to the Gospel of Luke. The synagogue contained a number of significant remains including a large stone in the central hall with a carving of the Jerusalem Temple, an inscribed jug and an incense shovel. The site is open to the public and excavation work will continue next season by the IAA with a group of students and volunteers from Mexico.

Return of Egyptian Sarcophagi

A number of ancient wooden coffin lids that were stolen from Egypt, smuggled to Dubai and then taken to London and a shop in the Old City of Jerusalem, have been seized by the IAA and will be returned to Egypt. They have been examined as being authentic and having been cut from ancient coffins, and the IAA will ensure that they are returned to Cairo in the near future. The items were smuggled in 2012, damaged and deliberately cut in half for easier transportation.

Roman Treasure Trove off Caesarea

Divers discovered Roman artefacts in a shipwreck off Caesarea in April 2016. The items included a candlestick devoted to the sun-god Sol and a statue of the moon goddess Luna, as well as vessels for carrying water, all in bronze and excellent condition, having been preserved by a covering of the local sea sand.

The divers will be rewarded by a special citation for reporting their find to the IAA, who will be examining the finds further before displaying them to the public.

Roman Gold Coin Found in Galilee

While hiking in the eastern Galilee, Laurie Rimon, a member of Kibbutz  Kfar Blum, found a rare gold coin, which was only the second gold coin of its type found in the world, according to the IAA to whom Laurie submitted it. According to Donald Ariel head of the IAA Coin Department, the find could indicate the presence of the Roman army in the area two thousand years ago when quelling the Bar-Kochba revolt. Some Roman officers were paid a high salary of three gold coins. The coin shows the symbols of the Roman army with the name of the Emperor Trajan on one side and a portrait of Emperor Augustus deified on the other. The only other known version of the coin is on display in the British Museum in London.

Ancient Glass Kilns Found Near Haifa

During the construction of the Jezreel Valley Railway project, the oldest Israeli kilns were uncovered, which had been used for the manufacture of glass. According to the IAA, the kilns produced glass that was sold throughout the Middle East and was the first-known production of this material. It seems that the sand from the area of Akko was particularly fine and suitable for manufacturing. Gas and chemical analysis has shown that glass items from Europe and in shipwrecks came from this area. The ancient kilns were deemed to be 1,600 years old and the IAA discovered that they contained fragments of raw Judean glass. The kilns date to the late Roman period and indicate that Israel was one of the foremost centres for the production of glass in the ancient world.

These notes have been gathered as a service to the Society, who take no responsibility for its content. 

Report from Jerusalem #76, 25th February 2016

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg, W.F Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem

Conference on Work of the P.E.F. in Palestine/Israel

A conference was recently held in Haifa to mark the 150th anniversary of the start of the work of the Palestine Exploration Fund in the country. Prof. David Jacobson reported, “The founders agreed that the new organisation would conduct its activities on scientific principles, abstain from any political controversies and not operate as a religious society.” That is what enabled a unique collaboration between people of different fields, such as Arthur Stanley, Dean of Westminster, George Grove, author of the Grove Dictionary of Music, and Captain Charles Wilson of the Royal Engineers to exist. Biblical Archaeology was then considered a branch of theology, vague and descriptive. Early scholars who came to the Holy Land were not experts in drawing maps or in documenting ancient architecture. The PEF introduced the accuracy of military cartography into this discipline and thus established many standards that we use in modern Archaeology today.”

Funerary Inscriptions in Galilee

Two funeral inscriptions have been found at Tzipori in the Galilee bearing the names of two individuals described as Rabbis, written in Aramaic and Greek, according to Dr. Moti Aviam of the Kinneret College of Galilean Archaeology. The find has been reported by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). The names have not yet been deciphered but judging by the calligraphy, they date to the late Roman era of 1700 years ago. Tzipori was the town in which the famous Rabbi Yehuda Hanassi lived, compiled and edited the Mishnah, the comprehensive record of Jewish law and practice. The use of the term Rabbi indicates that the position was recognised and respected by the general population at this early time.

Central Israel Ancient Diet Revealed

Researchers from Tel Aviv University have discovered the diet of ancient hunters living at the Qesem Cave site, a few kilometers outside Tel Aviv. Prof. Avi Gopher said that they had evidence of tortoise bones from fire-pits that were between 200,000 and 400,000 years old. The evidence is that the hunters ate the turtles in several ways and prepared them in different ways. Tortoises had for long been part of man’s diet but this is the first time that evidence of fire had been found. In some cases the tortoises were roasted whole in their shells, in others the shells had been cracked and the animals dismembered and cooked in several different ways. Due to the slow speed of the animals it was possible for children and the elderly to catch the tortoises and thus eating them was more common than was to be expected, According to Prof. Ran Barkai of Tel Aviv University, the sophisticated preparation and cooking of the tortoises. “represents an extraordinary level of biological and cultural evolution in early man.”

Egyptian Beetle Seal Found in Galilee

Amit Haklai, a resident of Tiberias, was hiking on the Karnei Hattin plains west of Tiberias with his children, when he spotted a very small white object in a beetle shape and with carvings on it. He suspected it to be an Egyptian seal and handed it over to the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) who identified it as an Egyptian scarab seal of the second millenium BCE. Dr. Daphna Ben-Tor of the Israel Museum identified it as a seal of Thutmose III (1481-1425 BCE) sitting on his throne, with his name in heiroglyphics. This Pharaoh set up administrative control in Canaan and fought several local battles including that of Megiddo. This is the first time that such a seal has been found on the ground in this area, it may have risen to the surface after a rainstorm.  In the Bronze Age a fortified citadel stood in this area, the Horns of Hattin and the scarab can apparently be linked to the period when the citadel existed, according to Yardena Alexander of the IAA.

Chalcolithic Period Homes in Northern Jerusalem

The IAA recently announced the finding of a residential compound at Shuafat neighbourhood in northern Jerusalem, when road building was being undertaken. Remains of the Copper Age, of seven thousand years ago, are extremely rare in the Judean Hills, according to Dr. Omri Barlzilai, “and now for the first time we have discovered in this area significant remains of seven thousand years ago,” he added. The excavation exposes two houses complete with floors, pottery vessels, flints and a basalt bowl, all typical of the period. There were also a few animal bones that allow us to recreate the eating habits of the people, according to Ronit Lupo, who directed the excavations, and who said that “the finds show that there was a thriving settlement here in Jerusalem in ancient times.”