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Technological Evolution, Social Processes and Environmental Impact as Reflected in Bronze and Iron Ages Copper Exploitation in Timna, Israel (the Central Timna Valley Project, CTV)

Final Report Summary - CTV (Technological Evolution, Social Processes and Environmental Impact as Reflected in Bronze and Iron Ages Copper Exploitation in Timna, Israel (the Central Timna Valley Project, CTV))

The Central Timna Valley (CTV) Project of Tel Aviv University (TAU) is a multi-year multidisciplinary research attempting to elucidate various aspects of the archaeological record in the vicinity of the copper ore deposits of the southern Aravah (Israel), one of the best-preserved ancient metal production districts in the world. The EU-supported project is based on excavations, surveys and complementary laboratory analyses designed to address a number of critical issues in the Late Bronze and Iron Age archaeology of the southern Levant. These include the history of copper production technology and the introduction of iron, historical issues concerning the nature of 13th – 9th c. BCE desert societies and the impact of the intense copper production on social processes, regional and global political interactions and the economy of the southern Levant at that period.

The most significant results of the CTV Project are related the chronology of copper production in the region of Timna during the turn of the 1st millennium BCE: the fine-tuning of the different archaeological contexts was based on several analytic methods through collaborations with different laboratories (14C – Oxford, OSL – Geological Survey of Israel, Archaeomagnetism – Scripps Institution of Oceanography). This enabled us to establish connections between the copper production enterprise and the emergence of the local kingdom of Edom – known in the Old Testament and in Egyptian and Assyrian sources. This is a major shift in our understanding of the archaeology of the southern Levant, as prior to the CTV Project most of these contexts were mistakenly dated to the Late Bronze Age and attributed to the New Kingdom of Egypt.

The new chronology enabled studying social and technological processes in high time resolution, based on the materials surveyed and excavated in various copper mining and smelting sites within the Timna Valley (work based on the Israel Antiquities Authority Permits numbers: G3/2013, G-4/2014, G-7/2015, G-5/2016, G-5/2017). The most important site, which was excavated in all of the field seasons and yielded the most substantial assemblages of material culture, is Site 34 (“Slaves’ Hill”). This is one of the largest smelting camps in the Timna Valley; it was dated as part of the CTV Project to the late 11th – 10th centuries BCE, a key period in the history of the region as this is the time ascribed by the accounts in the Old Testament to the United Monarchy in Jerusalem (kings David and Solomon). Thus, the results of the project brought back into the scholarly discussion the question of “King Solomon’s Mines”. As stated above, different lines of evidence demonstrate that the society operating the mines should be identified as the early Edomites. The results so far do not allow directly connecting the mines in Timna and Jerusalem; however, evidence of long distance trade, including with the Mediterranean, was found in several different studies of the CTV Project.

The project resulted in more than twenty high quality (peer-reviewed) scientific publications, summarizing the results of the different studies, including: (1) establishing chronologies by radiocarbon dating of short-lived organic materials (together with the University of Oxford); (2) investigating human impact on the ancient environment – studies based on identification of charcoal and pollen (Dr. Dafna Langgut and Mr. Mark Cavanaugh); (3) investigating ancient mining technologies – evolution and innovation as represented in the Timna Valley (Mr. Craig Smitheram, Dr. Naomi Porat); (4) investigating evolution and innovation of copper smelting technologies in the Late Bronze and Iron Age transition (Mr. Omri Yagel, Dr. Lente Van Brempt); (5) establishing age constraints on metallurgical remains by magnetic dating of slag deposits (Ms. Ilana Peters, Prof. Lisa Tauxe); (6) investigating diet and trade connections by identifying and analyzing botanical remains (Dr. Yuval Sapir, Mr. Omer Bar and Prof. Ehud Weiss); (7) investigating ceramic typologies (Mr. Assaf Kleiman and Ms. Sabina Kleiman-Metzer) and composition (using pXRF, Mr. Assaf Kleiman); (8) characterizing the ground stone assemblage (Dr. Aaron Greener); (9) investigating faunal remains (Dr. Lidar Sapir-Hen and Dr. Omri Lernau); (10) studying ancient textiles (Dr. Orit Shamir, Ms. Vanessa Workman, Dr. Naama Sukenik); and (11) investigating mining technologies by experimental archaeology (Mr. Georges Verly and Dr. Frederik Rademakers).

Preliminary results, links to publications and media items can be found in the project’s website: Final publication, to appear in the monograph series of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University, is currently in preparation.

Several studies of the CTV Project were conducted in the newly founded archaeo-metallurgical laboratory at TAU headed by the project’s PI – Dr. Erez Ben-Yosef. The establishment of the laboratory has been fundamental to the integration of the PI in the faculty of the Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures and the Institute of Archaeology at TAU. During the first years of the project Ben-Yosef was promoted to Senior Lecturer with tenure and became a member of the management board of the institute. In addition, in June 2015 Ben-Yosef was invited to be a member of the newly-founded Scientific Commission on Archaeometry of the Union Internationale des Sciences Préhistoriques et Protohistoriques (UISPP) (see: This achievement is also the result of Ben-Yosef’s engagement in archaeo-metallurgy, and the establishment of the Laboratory of Archaeometallurgical Research at TAU as part of the CTV Project.

Furthermore, the CTV Project resulted in tight collaborations with seven universities (University of California, San Diego [UCSD], the Hebrew University of Jerusalem [HUJI], University of Haifa, University of Leuven, University of Belgrade, University of Cambridge and University of Oxford) and four research institutions (Geological Survey of Israel [GSI], Israel Antiquities Authority [IAA], Royal Museum of Art and History in Brussels, Deutsches Bergbau Museum [DBM] in Bochum). Some of these collaborations have initiated new research on topics beyond those defined for the CTV Project. This is part of the current work conducted in the new archaeo-metallurgical laboratory of TAU, which aims at studying the role of metals and metal production technologies in ancient societies.