Archaeologist's Recent Discovery- King Solomon's Notorious Copper Mines Shut Down Due To Long Period of Overexploitation

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Archaeologists recently found that "the biblical-era copper bonanza in southern Israel," ceased due to miners' overexploitation of the scant desert vegetation. According to an analysis of 3,000-year-old charcoal discoveries, the miners used it to fuel their furnaces. [i]

Timna desert mines in modern-day Israel were the source of copper that was bartered across the Mediterranean world. Despite explosive riches provided by the mines, nearly 3,000 years ago, "in the early ninth century B.C.E., this mega mining operation in the arid Arava Valley suddenly shut down." [ii]

Archaeologists have disclosed a new theory for why this occurred. Instead of the copper "becoming tapped out," they discovered that "the miners overexploited the already sparse desert vegetation for fuel." As a result, the "extraction of the mineral became unprofitable." Timna's surrounding ecosystem never fully recovered. Several species that once grew remain absent three millennia later. [iii]
Copper mines, Timna Valley, Negev Desert, IsraelZairon/Wikimedia Commons

The mines were nicknamed King Solomon's Mines. The Tel Aviv University team sent samples from the site for a carbon-14 dating test. In the Bible, Solomon, son of King David, was a king of Israel and known for his "fabled wisdom, power and his personal fortune, often described as one of the largest in the ancient world." [iii] [iv]

Research indicates that Timna's peak production spanned from the 11th to the ninth century B.C.E., during the Early Iron Age. Some researchers state that this time,

Roughly coincides with the supposed existence of the United Monarchy of David and Solomon over the biblical Israelites." [v]
Old Testament Scene - Solomon and King David - Slovak National GalleryGerard de Lairesse/Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

Researchers could determine the anatomical structures "of different species found in charcoals, as well as which parts of a plant, were used." They further indicate that "45 percent of the charcoal examined derived from white broom, a desert shrub, and some 28 percent from acacia trees." The sumac bush and the toothbrush tree were also represented. [vi]

The miners would have needed an enormous quantity of wood to fuel the smelting furnaces. Smelting is the process used to produce copper by producing metals from its ore. Smelting uses a chemical reducing agent, in this case, charcoal, and heat to decompose the ore and leave just the metal behind. View the video below for more information on how smelting works. [vii]

According to research, the mining operation is believed to have utilized more than 30,000 tons of wood, not accounting for timber used for "cooking, warmth and shelter." They also allege that rather than pruning the plants, the miners simply uprooted entire plants such that "much of the vegetation never grew back." [viii]

Ben-Yosef has researched Timna for years and believes that these sites were controlled "by a loose but well-organized kingdom that he identifies with the biblical Edomites who were thought to be nomadic." Accordingly, this theory supports,

The possibility that the biblical realm of David and Solomon did in fact exist and was also mainly populated by nomads, which is why researchers have failed to identify any major finds connected to it. . .leav[ing] open the possibility that the Bible was also truthful in claiming (2 Samuel 8:14) that David and Solomon subjugated the Edomites." [ix]

Watch the video below to learn more about the Edomites.


[i] Ariel David, Israeli Archaeologists Discover Why 'King Solomon's Mines' Went Bust 3,000 Years Ago, (Sep. 21, 2022)

[ii] Id.

[iii] Nir Hasson, Date and Olive Pits Dispel Mystery of King Solomon's Mines, (Sep. 3, 2013)

[iv] Barbara Maranzani, The Search Continues for King Solomon's Mines, (Sep. 5, 2013)

[v] Ariel David, Israeli Archaeologists Discover Why 'King Solomon's Mines' Went Bust 3,000 Years Ago, (Sep. 21, 2022)

[vi] Id.

[vii] L. Lu, D. Zhu, Quality requirements of iron ore for iron production, (2016)

[viii] Ariel David, Israeli Archaeologists Discover Why 'King Solomon's Mines' Went Bust 3,000 Years Ago, (Sep. 21, 2022)

[ix] Id.


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Currently pursuing a Juris Doctor at Western State, writer Charnell Gilchrist is writing her way through law school.

Aliso Viejo, CA

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