Oldest Metal Object from the Southern Levant Discovered
7,000-year-old copper awl found in Tel Tsaf excavations
August 28, 2014
The oldest metal object discovered to date in the southern Levant—a copper awl—was excavated from the site of Tel Tsaf. Photo: Courtesy of the University of Haifa.
During excavations at Tel Tsaf
in Israel’s Jordan Valley, archaeologists uncovered the oldest metal object
found thus far in the southern Levant—a copper awl. The copper awl–a pointed tool—dates to the late sixth or early fifth millennium B.C.E. and measures a mere 4 centimeters in length. Archaeologists discovered the copper awl in the grave of a wealthy woman and believe the rare metal object was a burial offering.
“The appearance of the item in a woman’s grave, which represents one of the most elaborate burials we’ve seen in our region from that era, testifies to both the importance of the awl and the importance of the woman,” said University of Haifa scholar Dr. Danny Rosenberg, one of the coauthors of a recent publication on the copper awl. “It’s possible that we are seeing here the first indications of social hierarchy and complexity.”
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Copper crown from the Late Chalcolithic period Nahal Mishmar hoard. Photo: Clara Amit © Israel Antiquities Authority.
Prior to this finding at Tel Tsaf, scholars believed the use of metals in the southern Levant began to emerge in the Late Chalcolithic (copper) period (mid-fifth to early fourth millennium B.C.E.). The discovery of the copper awl suggests that metal was used as early as the late sixth millennium B.C.E.—several hundred years earlier than previously thought. In a paper published in PLOS ONE
, Hebrew University, University of Haifa and German Archaeological Institute researchers concluded that the awl may have been imported from a distant source—perhaps the Caucasus, indicating that metal objects were first introduced in the southern Levant through exchange networks. Centuries later during the height of the metal revolution, copper metallurgy was mastered in local production centers in the southern Levant, ultimately setting the stage for the development of urban life in the Bronze Age
Read the University of Haifa press release
and the PLOS ONE report
Which finds made our top 10 Biblical archaeology discoveries of 2014? Find out >>
Read more about the Chalcolithic period in Bible History Daily:
The Prehistoric Diet and the Rise of Complex Societies
Culinary practices at prehistoric Tel Tsaf
Journey to the Copper Age: A Video Lecture by Thomas E. Levy
Mysteries of the Chalcolithic Age: Was Rogem Hiri the site of ritual excarnation?
Copper and Fire: Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University exhibit on art from the Copper Age