King Solomon’s Mines have been abandoned and become a desert wasteland. Here’s why.
Copper mines in Israel’s Negev desert — ancient sites that may have inspired the legend of King Solomon’s gold mines — were abandoned 3,000 years ago, according to a new study, when locals used all the plants to make charcoal to melt.
Researchers studied charcoal fragments from ancient furnaces in the Timna Valley near Eilat, where a thriving copper the industry flourished from the 11th to 9th centuries BC.
They found that the quality of the wood used to make charcoal had deteriorated over the roughly 250 years that the mines and smelters were in operation, as the people there used all the white broom and acacia trees nearby. and began to use much lower quality wood, such as trunks. of palm trees.
Around 850 BC. BC, the copper industry had been abandoned and the desolate desert that remained would not be exploited for another millennium.
Related: The mines of King Solomon in Spain? Unlikely, experts say.
“Over time, they use less and less of the wood they knew all along to be better,” study lead author Mark Cavanagh, an archaeobotanist and PhD student at the University of Tel Aviv. “And it looks like they’re collecting wood further and further.”
The Timna Valley was one of the earliest places in the ancient world where copper was made, Cavanagh said. The region is an extension of the Great African Rift, so many minerals made deep within Earthare exposed near the surface, including copper ores, he said.
Some early evidence of copper ore smelting in the Timna Valley (opens in a new tab) dates back approximately 7,500 years, during the Chalcolithic, or Copper-Stone period, to the late Neolithic, or New Stone Age. The secret to alloying tin with copper to make strong bronze would not be discovered for about 1,000 years.
For the latest research, published September 21 in the journal Scientific reports (opens in a new tab)Cavanagh and his colleagues studied charcoal fragments from a much later period: during the Iron Age around 3,000 years ago, when the copper industry in Timna was at its height.
The wood was first burned in underground pits with only a small amount of air to make charcoal, which burned much hotter and longer, during the copper smelting process, Cavanagh said.
To determine what types of wood were used to make the charcoal, the researchers used an electron microscope to examine the slag left over from the smelting. Their analysis revealed the cellular structures of the woods used, which showed that white broom and acacia were widely used in the early stages of the copper industry in Timna, but lower quality wood was used more late.
Eventually the mines were abandoned, perhaps in part because it had become so difficult to find good wood nearby, Cavanagh said. The copper industry in Timna would not restart for about 1,000 years, when the Nabataeans then the Romans started importing better wood for charcoal.
King Solomon’s Mines
Cavanagh suggested that timber hunting for charcoal in the Timna Valley contributed to the desert conditions there today, although it was a very dry environment to begin with.
“When you start chopping down trees, you trigger a snowball effect,” he said. Fewer trees meant fewer animals and less water throughout the ecosystem, and “some of the things that went away never came back.”
Related: Could the Sahara turn green again?
The period between the 11th and 9th centuries BC. J.-C. is that where the Bible Israelite kings David and his son Solomon are believed to have reigned in Jerusalem, although some scholars now believe that David and Solomon maybe didn’t exist (opens in a new tab)according to historian Eric Cline of George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
Image 1 of 3
Cavanagh has suggested that copper from Timna’s ancient industry may have given rise to the reputed wealth on display at Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem, which was later interpreted by ancient writers as gold.
In 1885, the Victorian writer H. Rider Haggard put his adventure novel “King Solomon’s Mines (opens in a new tab)in South Central Africa, assuming it was gold mining, and it’s been made into movies, comics, and TV and radio shows a number of times since. It’s not clear if Haggard borrowed the gold mining myth from Solomon or if he made it up.
Archaeologist Israel Finkelstein, a professor emeritus at Tel Aviv University who is not involved in the latest study, thinks David and Solomon were likely historical figures who lived around the 10th century BC.
But he thinks their importance and the scale of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah they ruled have been greatly exaggerated in the Bible.
“Archeology indicates that the territory ruled by David and Solomon was restricted and did not reach the southern copper sites,” he told Live Science in an email. “The first indication of the Judah’s expansion into the arid southern areas (and even then, not as far south as the copper sites) can be found in the 9th century – that is, a century after David and Solomon.”