The Jerusalem Post

Timna mines supplied Egypt with copper in biblical times, study suggests


Did a massive trade route exist some 3,000 years ago between Egypt and Timna, home to the iconic copper mines that have become famous as “King Solomon’s Mines,” located in the southern region of modern Israel?

A new innovative study led by Dr. Shirly Ben-Dor Evian, Israel Museum curator of Egyptian archaeolog­y, and

Prof. Erez Ben-Yosef, head of the archaeomet­allurgical laboratory at Tel Aviv University and director of excavation at Timna, suggests that the answer is yes.

The study analyzed the bronze compositio­n of four 3,000-year-old figurines from the museum’s collection found in the necropolis of Tanis, an Egyptian city in the Delta region that served as the capital of its regional kingdom. The researcher­s were able to ascertain that the copper used to produce the metal was mined at Timna.

The findings – recently published in the academic journal Journal of Archaeolog­ical Science – shed new light on the relations between Egypt and the population­s of the Levant.

According to Ben-Yosef, the findings support his view that a nomadic kingdom at the time could constitute a wealthy and sophistica­ted society capable of entertaini­ng complex commercial relations with foreign entities. The findings offer important insights not only into what was happening in Timna – which he believes was, at the time, part of the biblical Kingdom of Edom – but also into the Jerusalem of King David and King Solomon.

The four artifacts – known as shabtis – are typical funerary figurines that were used in Egypt for millennia.

“In ancient Egypt all subjects were required to devote some time during the year to forced labor for the kingdom,” Ben-Dor Evian said. “Only the members of the elites received a special exemption from the king. However, there was a fear that this exemption would not be granted in the afterlife. For this reason, the members of the upper classes were buried with these figurines, which they thought would act as their servants and work on their behalf.”

The Egyptologi­st noted that sometimes the shabtis in a tomb numbered in the hundreds – one for every day of the year. Some special figurines would act as supervisor­s, and there were also a few extras, in case any of the servants were not able to work. The artifacts often featured elements such as baskets or agricultur­al tools.

While for several centuries shabtis were manufactur­ed out of several materials, including faience – a primitive form of glass – pottery

heat, most of them in the summer, the organizati­on said.

“We have participat­ed in discussion­s on the topic at the Knesset for years,” Eshel said. “These new regulation­s were very important because they have the potential to save lives.”

Approved in March, the law would have demanded that a safety system be installed in a car, for every child under the age of four, that would alert the driver if a child was forgotten through an alarm or a notificati­on on their smartphone.

The enforcemen­t was scheduled to start only in January 2022 – violators would have received a fine of NIS 250 and received four points on their driving record.

Critics of the law, however, said that the requiremen­t would place an economic burden of hundreds of shekels on families – especially those with several young children. They also lamented the lack of competitio­n from devices approved as safe to add to existing car seats – as opposed to buying new “smart” ones.

When a similar law was adopted by Italy last year, parents were offered a €30 coupon (about NIS 115) to buy the device.

In light of the debate about the measure after Michaeli took office last month, she instructed a team of experts to examine all aspects and opinions.

On Tuesday, the ministry announced that the regulation would come into effect next year, and that the time would be used to examine alternativ­es to current options. cannot afford to purchase advanced systems,” its CEO, Moshe Cohen, said. “We call on the ministry to continue the campaign to promote awareness of the use of devices to prevent children from being forgotten in vehicles, and thus continue the trend testifying to a decline of such incidents in recent years.”

However, according to Eshel, the postponeme­nt was not the correct solution to the new provision’s weak points.

“We are aware of the challenges that the law presented, but we think that the days until the law was scheduled to come into effect could have been used to address them,” she said.

Eshel said that more solutions could have been authorized to enhance competitio­n, and that possible tools of financial support could have been discussed with the Finance Ministry.

The issue has been discussed already for years in the Knesset.

“There is no question that the political instabilit­y has had a negative impact,” Eshel said. “But we should not forget that our children should not pay the price. They do not care if the government is left-wing or right-wing.”

The expert said it is not too late for the Transporta­tion Ministry to reverse the postponeme­nt.

“We call on the minister to change her decision and to use all the time between now and August 1 to find new solutions,” Eshel concluded. “Delaying the regulation is not the solution and will cost children’s lives.” and wood, during the Third Intermedia­te Period (1070– 664 BCE) bronze became a very popular material, including for the funerary figurines.

“For decades the prevalence of bronze objects has represente­d an archaeolog­ical mystery because we do not know of any mining site in Egypt at the time,” Ben-Dor Evian said.

For this reason, the researcher had the idea of examining the bronze of a group of artifacts featured in the museum collection. The figurines were chosen because they carried the name of King Psusennes I, his wife and the chief of his army, well-known historical figures dating to the second half of the 11th century BCE.

At the time, Egypt was divided and not as powerful as just a few centuries before.

“Yet, we see how it continued to influence the Levant region, as it emerges, for example, in the iconograph­y of the area, including in some of the seals used by the King of Judah,” Ben-Dor Evian said. “We could describe it as cultural influence. We know that trade can be a powerful source for it.”

The expert contacted Ben-Yosef and, with a group of PhD students, they conducted the lead isotope analysis on the figurines. For all of them, the copper was traced to Timna.

“Before our study, only one other similar study had been conducted, on an individual bronze object in Germany,” Ben-Yosef said. “Also in this case, the copper came from Timna.”

While it might still be premature to affirm that the vast amount of copper used in Egypt at the time was all mined at Timna, the fact that five objects analyzed all came back with the same result offers a strong argument to suggest that an important trade route between the two regions existed.

ACCORDING TO Ben-Yosef, this developmen­t shed further light on the sophistica­tion of the society present at Timna.

The mines at Timna were traditiona­lly associated with King Solomon and the Kingdom of Israel, until an excavation at the end of the 1960s revealed a small Egyptian temple which was brought as evidence that the mining activity was related to Egypt,

and dated back to the 13th

century BCE, some 200 years before King David.

After Ben-Yosef

to excavate again in 2013,

radio-carbon dating of organic material found proved that the most intense activity of the site happened around 1,000 BCE, the time of David and Solomon, when Egypt was not powerful anymore.

While the archaeolog­ist believes that Timna was part of the Edomite Kingdom, which is prominentl­y featured in the Bible, he has also suggested that what was happening at Timna was still very connected to the vicissitud­es of contempora­ry Jerusalem.

Jerusalem could have indirectly controlled the mines – as the biblical text itself suggests when it narrates how David conquered Edom.

Some scholars think that the kingdom of David and Solomon could not have been as powerful as described in the Bible, since the archaeolog­ical remains from the time are very scarce. However, according to Ben-Yosef, findings at Timna as well as the massive scale of its mining operation without any evidence of prominent buildings offer proof that a rich and powerful territoria­l entity could have existed without leaving behind such archaeolog­ical remains.

Ben-Dor Evian does not believe that at this juncture the cultural affiliatio­n at Timna can be proven, but agrees on the importance of its operations.

For the future, the researcher­s hope to understand more about the centuries that followed, and especially what happened in terms of the relations between Egypt and the Levant under Sheshonq, who ascended to the throne of Tanis around 950 BCE and is known to have launched a military campaign against the Kingdom of Israel, both from archaeolog­ical evidence and the biblical text.

“In the fifth year of King Rehoboam, King Shishak of Egypt marched against Jerusalem and carried off the treasures of the House of the Lord and the treasures of the royal palace. He carried off everything; he even carried off all the golden shields that Solomon had made,” reads a passage in the Book of Kings.

How did the war influence the copper trade? A lead isotope analysis of contempora­ry artifacts might be able to

provide answers.

 ??  ?? SEVERAL SHABTIS – Egyptian funerary figurines, like those analyzed in the study – in different materials. (Rossella Tercatin)
SEVERAL SHABTIS – Egyptian funerary figurines, like those analyzed in the study – in different materials. (Rossella Tercatin)

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