The magnificent rock formations at Timna Park have always exuded mystique, as if they contained many hidden secrets from a rich past. Now one of those secrets, kept by the desert sands, is exposed thorough advanced technology.
According to a Tel Aviv University team of archeologists who studied the ancient Negev park, the mining activity at the site was at its height during the 10th century B.C.E., under the rule of kings David and Solomon. This essentially debunks the long-standing theory, devised almost 50 years ago, that the mines, used for the extraction of copper, were actually under the control of the ancient Egyptians. The discovery was made possible thanks to carbon-14 dating, a technology that was not available when the site was first explored.
"Two statues of ancient Egyptians greet everyone at the entrance to the site," said Dr. Erez Ben-Yosef. "But keep in mind that the entire park was called 'King Solomon's Mines,' a term coined by the mythological archeologist Nelson Glueck in the 1930s, until this term was abolished in the 1960s," he said. According to Ben-Yosef, the term was discarded after an ancient temple for the Egyptian goddess Hathor was found at the site, a discovery credited to the late archeologist Beno Rothenberg.
Rothenberg saw the new temple as proof that the entire site was operated under the New Kingdom of Egypt from the late 14th century B.C.E. until the first decades of the 12th century B.C.E. "Rothenberg was an excellent archeologist but carbon dating was not available when he conducted his research," he said.
The Tel Aviv team used 11 short-lived samples -- 10 date seeds and one olive pit -- taken from the hundreds of seeds and bones that had been found at the so-called "Slave Hill," an area first explored by Glueck that is near the temple and Solomon's Pillars -- naturally formed sandstone columns. That hill was believed to house the slaves who worked at the mines, although that has been disputed.
Ben-Yosef cautioned that the discovery cannot prove who worked at the site. "The is no evidence that would suggest Solomon or David were actually in the site, and we could not find any earthenware from Jerusalem, but that is fine as well. If you accept the biblical story line, the Israelites never operated the mines themselves."
"The events of the bible are consistent with the findings at Slave Hill, which suggest the local population present at the site was most likely an ancient group from the Edomite Kingdom that had been placed under Jerusalem's control in the wake of David's conquests," Ben-Yosef explained. "I believe Jerusalem had a garrison stationed there whose job it was to defend the area and collect taxes from the Edomites, as well as to oversee its operation."