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Early Bronze Age copper production systems in the northern Arabah Valley: New insights from archaeomagnetic study of slag deposits in Jordan and Israel

Architectural features at the Ashalim Site.

Architectural features at the Ashalim Site.

TitleEarly Bronze Age copper production systems in the northern Arabah Valley: New insights from archaeomagnetic study of slag deposits in Jordan and Israel
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2016
AuthorsBen-Yosef E., Gidding A., Tauxe L, Davidovich U., Najjar M., Levy T.E
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science
Date Published2016/08
Type of ArticleArticle
ISBN Number0305-4403
Accession NumberWOS:000382350100006
Keywordsarchaeomagnetism; Archaeometallurgy; Bronze Age; chronology; copper; Faynan; geomagnetic-field intensity; metallurgy; models; Negev; Old Kingdom; Paleointensity; southern levant

This paper presents results of an archaeomagnetic study of slag from four Early Bronze (EB) Age copper production sites in the Faynan Copper Ore District and the northern Arabah Valley (modern Israel and Jordan). The results provide age constraints for metallurgical activities at these sites. Together with previously published data, they indicate copper production around ca. 2900 cal. BCE (EB II-III transition) and between ca. 2600-1950 cal. BCE, spanning the later part of the EB III and the entire EB IV period. These data strongly suggest a direct link between Faynan and the Old Kingdom of Egypt, which is reflected in the most significant phase of copper production and trade in the northern Arabah prior to the Iron Age, and in a settlement wave in the Negev Highlands. In addition, the results indicate that during the late EB II copper was smelted up to 40 km away from the mines. This is evident at the unique cultic site of Ashalim, located on the main road between Faynan, southeast of the Dead Sea, and the settled areas in the core of Canaan. (C) 2016 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Short TitleJ. Archaeol. Sci.

Archaeointensity estimates are a useful tool for providing age constraints on heat-impacted archaeological materials. In this study, we retrieved archaeointensity data from ancient copper slag samples that were collected in both surveys and excavations at four EB Age copper production sites in Faynan and the northern Arabah Valley. These data, when compared to the LAC and analyzed according to their archaeological setting, provide the following insights regarding EB Age copper production in the largest ore district of the southern Levant:

  • KHI was the hub of copper processing and distribution of copper metal in the center of Faynan copper production system, channeling raw copper from smelting sites in its vicinity for further refining and casting of ingots and tools. The first small scale activity took place during the later part of the EB II, contemporaneous to the copper processing site of Barqa el-Hetiye. However, the main phase of activity was during the late EB III – early EB IV, with probable limited activity also in the late EB IV.
  • The main phase of copper production in EB Age Faynan strongly coincides with the rise and fall of the Egyptian Old Kingdom. This connection is best manifested in the settlement wave of the Negev Highlands, which predominantly reflects transport of copper in an east-west direction. This phase is the first large scale copper production in the region.
  • Copper metallurgy at the site of Ashalim is probably dated to the late EB II. The site, located on the main road between Faynan and Arad, is probably related to copper trade between Faynan and the fertile region of the southern Levant. This unique site includes, in addition to the metallurgical remains, dozens of standing stones, evidence of cultic activity that might be related to copper smelting and/or trade.
  • In addition, our study provides new data from two different sites (KHI and Giv’at Hazeva) that support the unique Iron Age archaeointensity ‘spikes’ (Ben-Yosef et al., 2009 and Shaar et al., 2011). The archaeointensity values from Giv’at Hazeva are the highest recorded to date (exceeding 300 ZAm2), and add to our understanding of the geomagnetic field, one of the more enigmatic phenomena of the Earth.
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