One of the hot debates in Israel’s archaeological community is on the extent of the Jewish kingdom during the time of Kings David and Solomon (read about another town involved in this debate here). Were David and Solomon rulers over a vast kingdom as described in the Bible or simply tribal chieftains with a penchant for telling good stories?
One of the places this debate is playing out is deep in the southern Arava, north of Eilat in the valley of Timna. During the past few years, researchers have gone back and forth over the designation of the copper mines there as being the famed King Solomon’s Mines, popularized by the 1885 book by H. Rider Haggard.
Conventional archaeology conjectured that the lack of finds from the 10th century B.C.E., the time of David and Solomon, pointed to the site being unsettled then and shattered the Solomonic mines myth. Excavations at 2 sites during the past few years using advanced technology are changing the picture once again. Discovery of preserved mule dung and left over food from the miners which were examined with Carbon 14 dating may actually shore up the Biblical account.
Site 34, Slaves’ Hill, is an ancient site of copper smelting on a flat mesa at the center of the Timna valley. According to the C14 finds, this site was occupied during the Iron Age, during which David and Solomon were kings. The production of copper carried with it a well-organized, centralized society, such as is described in the Bible under David and Solomon. Not only that, but the food remains found in the dung show that the mule ate a diet of Mediterranean food products – the type which were found in David and Solomon’s kingdom around Jerusalem pointing to a connection between the miners and Jerusalem.
Other finds put the cessation of settlement at Site 34 to around 930 B.C.E. during the invasion of Shishak from Egypt, and the reorganization of supply lines which come with a change of sovereignty.
Nearby Site 30 was found to have a peak in copper production in the first half of the 10th century B.C.E. – exactly the time period of Kings David and Solomon.
The C14 studies in Timna bring to light archaeological questions, especially questions of societal complexity in tent-dwelling societies, which do not leave behind plentiful physical remains. Unless ancient people were engaged in unique activities, such as mining or smelting, they were completely transparent in common archaeological practice. New technologies can help to uncover these societies and contribute to a greater understanding of not only their particular social orders, but also the wider questions in archaeology.