Tuesday, October 28, 2008

KING SOLOMON'S MINES? Well maybe. But not diamond mines, alas. And not in Africa.
Jordan copper mines from biblical times could be King Solomon’s

Mark Henderson, Science Editor (The London Times)

An ancient copper works in Jordan may have been the location of the fabled King Solomon’s mines, new archaeological investigations suggest.

The dig at Khirbat al-Nahas, once a thriving copper production centre in the Faynan district, about 30 miles (50km) south of the Dead Sea, has found evidence that it dates back to the 10th century BC, making it at least two centuries older than was thought. The new date means that the mine was almost certainly active during the time of the biblical Jewish kings David and Solomon.

Any connection with Solomon or even the Kingdom of Israel, is entirely inferential and not based on any evidence from the excavation apart from the date:
Date seeds and sticks of tamarisk and other woods used for charcoal for smelting have produced dates in the 9th and 10th centuries BC, which are consistent with the likely dates of the reigns of David and Solomon, his son. Details of the research are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

What remains less certain for now is whether the Khirbat al-Nahas mine was actually controlled by the kingdom of Israel at this time. It lies in a region associated with the biblical kingdom of Edom, which was an enemy of ancient Israel.

Even if the mine was not controlled by the Jewish kings, the fresh date is important to biblical scholarship. It indicates firmly that the kingdom of Edom was sufficiently organised to have been a rival to Israel, a point that has been disputed by some historians.

Dr Levy said: “Now, with data from the first large-scale stratified and systematic excavation of a site in the southern Levant to focus specifically on the role of metallurgy in Edom, we have evidence that complex societies were indeed active in the 10th and 9th centuries BC and that brings us back to the debate about the historicity of the Hebrew Bible narratives related to this period.”
UPDATE: This is generating a lot of press. For some commentary and a little reining in of the excitement see the article "Return of the Kings?" in Science News. Excerpt:
Archaeologist Israel Finkelstein of Tel Aviv University disagrees. “I see no connection between Nahas and the biblical material on Solomon,” he says.

Scholars have long argued about whether Edom was organized as a kingdom early enough to have threatened the Israelites. During the 1930s, archaeologist Nelson Glueck surveyed southern Jordan and said that he had discovered King Solomon’s mines in the northern part of biblical Edom. His claim, and the Bible’s assertion that the kingdom of David and Solomon existed 3,000 years ago, came under attack in the 1980s. British excavations of Edom’s highlands in the 1970s and 1980s suggested that Iron Age copper production did not begin there until around 2,700 years ago, fueling skepticism.

Finkelstein and others now hold that much of the Old Testament was passed on orally until put in writing between the eighth and fifth centuries B.C., with earlier events being either invented or distorted for political purposes by the document’s writers.

Since 2001, many researchers have acknowledged that nomadic groups inhabited the Khirbat en-Nahas area and probably made copper around 3,000 years ago, remarks archaeologist Piotr Bienkowski of the University of Manchester, England. “I still see no evidence for settlement or buildings there prior to the very end of the 10th century B.C. or beginning of the ninth century B.C.,” he says.

Both Bienkowski and Finkelstein assert that the site was reused seasonally many times, leaving behind a complex mix of industrial debris and other material that is difficult to separate into distinct layers that form a timeline.
It sounds like an important and interesting discovery and it seems a pity that the tired issue of Bible verification is overshadowing it.