Biblical 'Solomon's mines' confirmed by dating
* NewScientist.com news service
* Catherine Brahic
It's not every day that science and the Bible come together to tell a piece of history. Modern dating methods have determined that huge mines in Jordan are 3000 years old, supporting the idea that they were the Biblical mines of Edom ruled by King David and his son Solomon.
"The results are very, very consistent and leave no doubt as to the period [during which the mines were active]," says Tom Higham of the University of Oxford.
Higham and colleagues dated samples of charcoal used to smelt copper ore from the site.
The age of the Khirbat en-Nahas mines in the Faynan district of southern Jordan has been controversial for decades. The new evidence suggests that the site, one of the oldest, largest and best preserved mines in the world, really is the one mentioned in the Bible.
"We can't believe everything ancient writings tell us, but this research represents a confluence between the archaeological and scientific data and the Bible," says Thomas Levy of the University of California San Diego.
With Higham and a team of archaeologists, Levy has been excavating the site since 2002. In their latest study, they sampled charcoal from successive layers through a 6-metre-deep stack of smelting waste and dated them using carbon isotope ratios.
The carbon right at the base of the pit, at the transition point between virgin earth and smelting waste is 3000 years old. "The first main phase of activity began just after 950 BC," explains Higham. "This phase lasted for probably 40 to 50 years, then a large building was constructed and copper production continued until around 840 BC, perhaps a little more recently."
At what would have been floor level of the building, the archaeologists found two ancient Egyptian stone and ceramic artefacts: a scarab and an amulet. Neither is made of local materials and the team believe they were brought in by the military campaign of the Egyptian pharaoh Sheshonq I, known as "Shishak" in the Old Testament.
The artefacts are contemporary with the building's construction and an abrupt change in the rate of copper production 3000 years ago. "This could be evidence of the role Sheshonq I may have played in the disruption of the largest known Iron Age copper factory in the eastern Mediterranean," says Levy.
He now wants to determine who actually controlled the mines – whether David or Solomon, or regional Edomite leaders who do not figure in Biblical texts. He also intends to study how mining on such a large scale would have affected the local environment.
Journal reference: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0804950105)
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