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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


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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