Thursday, August 16, 2018

Report on the Timna Valley excavation

ARCHAEOLOGY: Edom’s Copper Mines in Timna: Their Significance in the 10th Century (Prof. Erez Ben-Yosef and Dr. Aaron Greener,
Copper has been mined in the Timna Valley since the 5th millennium B.C.E. Recent excavations reveal that the height of activity in the region dates to the 10th century B.C.E. and thus domination of this remote region during this period would have meant control of the lucrative copper industry. Could this be the unwritten backdrop to the Bible’s account of David’s conquest of Edom and Solomon’s great wealth?
This is a nice, accessible report on the important archaeological work in the Timna Valley.

I am skeptical about any direct connection between the discoveries of the excavation and anything in the biblical narrative (cf. here) - unless the excavators find written documents that make such a connection clear. But the thing that interests me most about Timna is that it is one of the early sites (i.e. 10th century B.C.E. or earlier) where conditions may have preserved scrolls or scroll fragments. Textiles and other organic remains from the 10th century have been excavated there.

The conditions at the site are also optimal for the preservation of inscribed ostraca: broken pottery fragments that were used for informal written communications, such as receipts and personal and even business letters. The ink survives best in arid climates. I certainly hope the Timna staff are dipping potsherds to check for writing!

It is also possible that inscribed bullae may show up. A bulla is a piece of clay used (generally with string) to seal important documents. Often an inscribed seal would be pressed into the wet clay to identify the owner. The seal impression could be an image or the written name of the owner or the scribe. The sealed papyrus or parchment documents, of course, would almost certainly have deteriorated and be gone. But the clay seals sometimes survive, especially in a dry climate or if there has been a fire.

Several years ago some bullae from the tenth century B.C.E. were found at Khirbet Summeily. Unfortunately, these did not bear any writing. But maybe we will be luckier next time.

Background on the Timna Valley excavation and related matters is here and follow the links.

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