Jordan copper mines from biblical times could be King Solomon’s

Khirbat al-Nahas, Jordan - An ancient copper works in Jordan may have been the location of the fabled King Solomon’s mines, new archaeological investigations suggest.

The dig at Khirbat al-Nahas, once a thriving copper production centre in the Faynan district, about 30 miles (50km) south of the Dead Sea, has found evidence that it dates back to the 10th century BC, making it at least two centuries older than was thought. The new date means that the mine was almost certainly active during the time of the biblical Jewish kings David and Solomon.

Scientists who conducted the excavations are now working to establish whether the kings controlled the copper mine at this time. “Given the unambiguous dating evidence presented here for industrial-scale metal production at Khirbat al-Nahas during the 10th and 9th century BC in ancient Edom, the question of whether King Solomon’s copper mines have been discovered in Faynan returns to scholarly discourse,” the researchers said.

King Solomon’s mines were made famous by the 19th century novel of the same name by H. Rider Haggard. Biblical scholars and archaeologists have long speculated about whether the legend was founded on real mines, and an American archaeologist named Nelson Glueck claimed in the 1930s to have discovered their site in Faynan, though this was dismissed in the 1980s. The new dig, led by Thomas Levy, of the University of California, San Diego, and Mohammed Najjar, of Jordan’s Friends of Archaeology, suggests that Glueck might have been on to something after all.

In 2006, the team began to dig through more than 20 feet of slag and industrial debris at Khirbat al-Nahas, meaning “ruins of copper” in Arabic. The lowest layers have yielded fresh radiocarbon dating evidence of its age.

Date seeds and sticks of tamarisk and other woods used for charcoal for smelting have produced dates in the 9th and 10th centuries BC, which are consistent with the likely dates of the reigns of David and Solomon, his son. Details of the research are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

What remains less certain for now is whether the Khirbat al-Nahas mine was actually controlled by the kingdom of Israel at this time. It lies in a region associated with the biblical kingdom of Edom, which was an enemy of ancient Israel.

Even if the mine was not controlled by the Jewish kings, the fresh date is important to biblical scholarship. It indicates firmly that the kingdom of Edom was sufficiently organised to have been a rival to Israel, a point that has been disputed by some historians.

Dr Levy said: “Now, with data from the first large-scale stratified and systematic excavation of a site in the southern Levant to focus specifically on the role of metallurgy in Edom, we have evidence that complex societies were indeed active in the 10th and 9th centuries BC and that brings us back to the debate about the historicity of the Hebrew Bible narratives related to this period.”