Researchers say they have found the copper mines ruled over by the biblical king Solomon, bolstering the position of scholars who argue that Solomon was a historical figure and not a mythological one. In a controversial find, a team of archaeologists has dated charcoal samples from a copper ore smelting operation, and says the oldest samples date from the 10th century B.C. when the Bible says Solomon ruled Israel and Judah. “We can’t believe everything ancient writings tell us,” [lead researcher Thomas] Levy said. “But this research represents a confluence between the archaeological and scientific data and the Bible” [Telegraph].
The existence of Solomon 3,000 years ago has been questioned by some scholars over the last two decades because of the paucity of archaeological evidence supporting the biblical record and the belief that there were no complex societies in Israel or Edom capable of building fortresses, monuments and other sophisticated public works, such as large mines, in the 10th century BC. “This is the most hotly debated period in biblical archaeology today” [Los Angeles Times], said Levy.
The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences [subscription required], documents a new excavation at the Jordanian site Khirbat en-Nahas, which means “ruins of copper” in Arabic. Archaeologists have studied the dozens of mines and ancient buildings at the site for decades, but earlier researchers maintained that industrial mining and smelting didn’t begin until around 2,700 years ago. But Levy dug deeper into the site, excavating through 20 feet of smelting debris to find the earliest layer of charcoal; radiocarbon dating determined that the charcoal was burned around 3,000 years ago.
Skeptics like archaeologist Piotr Bienkowski still aren’t convinced that these findings have anything to do with Solomon. Bienkowski argues that much of the Old Testament was passed on orally until put in writing between the eighth and fifth centuries B.C., with earlier events being either invented or distorted for political purposes by the document’s writers…. “I still see no evidence for settlement or buildings there prior to the very end of the 10th century B.C. or beginning of the ninth century B.C.,” he says [Science News]. Bienkowski believes that nomadic groups used the copper mine and smelter, leaving behind the charcoal that Levy based his study on.
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Image: Thomas Levy/UC San Diego