Based on the radiocarbon dating of material unearthed at a new site in Timna Valley in Israel's Aravah Desert, the findings overturn the archaeological consensus of the last several decades, researchers said. (Agencies)
The findings led by Erez Ben-Yosef of Tel Aviv University from an archaeological excavation in the area suggest the mines were operated by the Edomites, a semi-nomadic tribal confederation.
"The mines are definitely from the period of King Solomon. They may help us understand the local society, which would have been invisible to us otherwise," said Ben-Yosef.
Now a national park, Timna Valley was an ancient copper production district with thousands of mines and dozens of smelting sites, researchers said.
In February 2013, Ben-Yosef and a team of researchers and students excavated a previously untouched site in the valley, known as the Slaves' Hill.
The area is a massive smelting camp containing the remains of hundreds of furnaces and layers of copper slag, the waste created during the smelting process.
The researchers also unearthed an impressive collection of clothing, fabrics, and ropes made using advanced weaving technology; foods, like dates, grapes, and pistachios; ceramics; and various types of metallurgical installations.
The world-renowned Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit at the University of Oxford in England dated 11 of the items to the 10th century BC, when according to the Bible King Solomon ruled the Kingdom of Israel, researchers said.
The archaeological record shows the mines in Timna Valley were built and operated by a local society, likely the early Edomites, who are known to have occupied the land and formed a kingdom that rivaled Judah.
The unearthed materials and the lack of architectural remains at the Slaves' Hill support the idea that the locals were a semi-nomadic people who lived in tents.
The findings from the Slaves' Hill confirm those of a 2009 dig Ben-Yosef helped to conduct at "Site 30," another of the largest ancient smelting camps in Timna Valley.
He helped demonstrate that the copper mines in the valley dated from the 11th to 9th centuries BC, the era of Kings David and Solomon, and were probably Edomite in origin.
The findings were reported in the journal The American Schools of Oriental Research in 2012, but the publication did little to shake the notion that the mines were Egyptian, based primarily on the discovery of an Egyptian Temple in the center of the valley in 1969.
The Slaves' Hill dig also demonstrates that the society in Timna Valley was surprisingly complex. The smelting technology was relatively advanced and the layout of the camp reflects a high level of social organization.
Based on the radiocarbon dating of material unearthed at a new site in Timna Valley in Israel's Aravah Desert, the findings overturn the archaeological consensus of the last several decades, researchers said.