REWRITING HISTORY: Those mines weren't King Solomon's
Archaeologists say mines previously believed to be Solomon's belonged to his rivals the Edomites
Cold, hard historical truth can be
disillusioning, but so be it: Samples from Israel's Timna Valley
confirmed the connection between ancient copper mines and the era of the
biblical King Solomon. However, these structures have been proven to
not have been "King Solomon's mines." Archaeologists now say that these
mines are more likely to have been operated by the Edomites, who were
among the king's many rivals.
King Solomon's underground riches owe more to pulp author H. Rider Haggard's 1885 novel than to the Bible or historical accounts. There's still a chance that Solomon exerted some control over the region at times, by virtue of military victories described in the Bible.
Archaeologists from Tel Aviv University, led by Erez Ben-Yosef, set out to answer just how old those sites were. It was previously believed that the mines dated to around the 13th century B.C., when the Egyptians held sway over the territory. Archaeologists recently used radiocarbon dating to determine that copper mines located nearby, in Jordan's Khirbat en-Nahas region, were actually operated in the 10th century B.C., which is the era when King Solomon is thought to have ruled Israel.
A team of archaeologists which included Ben-Yosef in 2009 found further support for that era at a copper-smelting camp in the Timna Valley known as "Site 30."
An excavation at Slaves' Hill confirmed the connection after Ben-Yosef and his colleagues unearthed the remains of hundreds of furnaces, and layers upon layers of copper slag waste. Clothes, fabrics, ropes, food leavings, ceramics and metallurgical facilities were all uncovered.
Ten date pits and an olive pit were subjected to carbon-dating tests at the University of Oxford, confirming that the camp was in operation during the 10th century B.C.
"The mines are definitely from the period of King Solomon," Ben-Yosef said. "They may help us understand the local society, which would have been invisible to us otherwise."
Ben-Yosef and his colleagues said the mines were probably operated by the Edomites, a semi-nomadic tribal confederation that numbered among Israel's biblical foes. The Slaves' Hill camp suggest a highly organized society, capable of marshaling the labor of thousands of workers in the middle of the desert, Ben-Yosef said.
"It was a society that mostly lived in tents, but still had impressive military power, since it was necessary to protect the copper mines," Ben-Yosef told newspaper journalists.
King Solomon's underground riches owe more to pulp author H. Rider Haggard's 1885 novel than to the Bible or historical accounts. Ben-Yosef said the real-life copper mines were definitely part of the kingdom of Edom. There's still a chance that Solomon exerted some control over the region at times, by virtue of military victories described in the Bible.
Ben-Yosef is planning another dig at Slaves' Hill early next year.
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