An aerial view shows remains of the gatehouse, indicating a “substantial investment in deterrence and defence.” Secondary metallurgical processes took place nearby.
Fable and fiction have often associated King Solomon’s mines with diamonds or gold. But Israeli archeologists say they’ve gained a new perspective on a 10th century BC site that produced the critical element of its time—copper.
An ancient smelting facility in southern Israel’s Timna Valley was discovered in 1934 but recent excavations have revealed a military fortification, shedding new light on long-distance trade and wars fought over a strategic metal.
“While there is no explicit description of ‘King Solomon’s mines’ in the Old Testament, there are references to military conflicts between Israel and the Edomites in the Arava Valley,” said archeologist Erez Ben-Yosef in a statement from Tel Aviv University. “According to the Bible, David travelled hundreds of miles outside of Jerusalem and engaged in military conflict in the desert—striking down ‘18,000 Edomites in the Valley of Salt.’ Now, having found evidence of defensive measures—a sophisticated fortification—we understand what must have been at stake for him in this remote region: copper.”
The reddish metal “was a rare product and very challenging to produce,” he continued. “Because copper—like oil today, perhaps—was the most coveted commodity, it landed at the very heart of military conflicts. The discovery of the fortification indicates a period of serious instability and military threats at that time in the region.”
Focus of ongoing study by Tel Aviv University, the Timna Valley hosts a number of ancient smelting operations and thousands of mine shafts.
“The historical accuracy of the Old Testament accounts is debated, but archaeology can no longer be used to contradict them,” Ben-Yosef added. “On the contrary, our new discoveries are in complete accordance with the description of military conflicts against a hierarchical and centralized society located south of the Dead Sea.”