Fresh Clues to Mystery of King Solomon's Mines
Analysis of 3,000-year-old animal waste confirms that an ancient mining complex in Israel dates to the golden age of the biblical monarch.
3,000-YEAR-OLD DONKEY DUNG: A CLUE TO KING SOLOMON'S MINES?
Manure preserved for millennia by the arid climate of Israel’s Timna Valley is adding fresh fuel to a long-simmering debate about the biblical king Solomon and the source of his legendary wealth.
Archaeologists discovered the 3,000-year-old dung in an ancient mining camp atop a sandstone mesa known as Slaves’ Hill. The area is dotted with copper mines and smelting camps—sites where the ore was heated and turned into metal.
University of Tel Aviv archaeologist Erez Ben-Yosef began excavating the site in 2013. Last year he and his team were uncovering the remains of several walled structures, including a fortified gate, when they discovered what appeared to be animal excrement of relatively recent origin.
“We thought maybe some nomads had camped there with their goats a few decades ago,” Ben-Yosef said, noting that the dung still contained undecayed plant matter. “But the [radiocarbon] dates came back from the lab, and they confirmed we were talking about donkeys and other livestock from the 10th century B.C. It was hard to believe.”
While the dung’s extreme age and extraordinary condition were stunning, the implications of the radiocarbon results were even more jarring.
“Until we started the project in 2013, this was considered to be a late Bronze Age site related to the New Kingdom of Egypt in the 13th and early 12th centuries B.C.,” Ben-Yosef says. There’s clear evidence of an Egyptian presence during those centuries, and modern-day visitors to nearby Timna Valley Park are greeted by signs depicting ancient Egyptians.
But high-precision radiocarbon dating of the dung, as well as textiles and other organic material, showed that the mining camp’s heyday was the 10th century B.C.—the era of the biblical kings David and Solomon
According to the Hebrew Bible, King Solomon was renowned for his great wisdom and wealth, and his many building projects included a temple in Jerusalem lavishly appointed with gold and bronze objects. Such a structure would have required large amounts of metal from industrial-scale mining operations somewhere in the Middle East, but the scriptures are silent as to their location.
Searching for Solomon’s Mines
Awash in riches from trade and tribute, King Solomon embarked on a building campaign that included his famous temple in Jerusalem. Many of the implements used in worship were made of bronze, requiring much copper to form the alloy. [. . .]
The dung samples included seeds and pollen spores so intact that Ben-Yosef’s team was able to determine the animals’ diet, which yielded another surprise: The feed was imported from an area more than 100 miles to the north, close to the Mediterranean coast. The distance to Jerusalem is about 190 miles (300 kilometers), a two week trip by donkey in ancient times.
“Metal in this period was an essential product, similar to the oil of today,” Ben-Yosef says. “So it was worth these peoples’ while to invest so much in this operation in the middle of the desert.”
More than 1,000 tons of smelting debris have been uncovered on Slaves’ Hill, Ben-Yosef says, indicating industrial-scale production worthy of an ancient state or kingdom. Whether the Israelites or Edomites achieved such a level of development during the 10th century B.C. remains a hotly debated question, but Ben-Yosef is encouraged by the new finds, which were published in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports.
“Until recently we had almost nothing from this period in this area,” he says. “But now we not only know that this was a source of copper, but also that it’s from the days of King David and his son Solomon.”
Source: Read the full article at NationalGeographic