Bible and archaeology news
A trove of 3,000-year-old fabric fragments has been uncovered during excavations of ancient copper mines at Timna in Israel’s Southern Aravah Valley.
The collection of fabrics is both vast and diverse, exhibiting different weave patterns, colors and decorations. The excavation efforts are being carried out by archaeologist Dr. Erez Ben-Yosef and his team from Tel Aviv University. The textiles date to the tenth century B.C.E., marking the first time fabric has been found from David and Solomon’s time.
Ben-Yosef described the novelty of the discovery in a Tel Aviv University press release:
“No textiles have ever been found at excavation sites like Jerusalem, Megiddo and Hazor, so this provides a unique window into an entire aspect of life from which we’ve never had physical evidence before,” said Ben-Yosef. “We found fragments of textiles that originated from bags, clothing, tents, ropes and cords.”
The find sheds light on the early Edomites, the peoples believed to operate the ancient mines in the Timna Valley during King Solomon’s time. Two classes would have been present in the ancient mines: those who mined the copper (usually slaves or prisoners), and those who smelted it.
In a recent study, Ben-Yosef and colleague Lidar Sapir-Hen discuss the reasons for the different statuses in the ancient mines in the Timna Valley:
“The people engaged in smelting were actually highly skilled craftspersons and were treated as such. This fundamental observation stems from the inherent complexity of the technology that demanded and created an idiosyncratic class of workers.”1
The arid conditions of the Aravah Valley in which the copper mines are located make for excellent preservation of organic materials, which would otherwise have disintegrated over time. Along with the collection of fabrics, the archaeologists also recovered from the mines a cache of seeds belonging to the Biblical “Seven Species.” Deuteronomy 8:7–8 mentions seven staple foods (wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates) that have blessed the Land of Israel.
Further research into the collection of fabrics and seeds discovered at the ancient mines in the Timna Valley will continue to shed light on Edomite society during King Solomon’s time.
Glafira Carr is an intern at the Biblical Archaeology Society.
1. Lidar Sapir-Hen and Erez Ben-Yosef, “The Socioeconomic Status of Iron Age Metalworkers: Animal Economy in the ‘Slaves’ Hill’ Timna, Israel,” Antiquity 88 (2014), p. 787. See also Hershel Shanks, “First Person: Life Was Not So Bad for Smelters,” BAR, January/February 2015.
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