Remnants of copper slag – the waste product left over from the metal’s extraction – provide evidence that the biblical kingdom of Edom existed in the Arava Desert today occupied by Israel and Jordan, according to archeological finds by Tel Aviv University scientist
The researchers, who have published their findings in the journal PLOS One, said that the kingdom of Edom flourished in the Arava Desert in during the 12th and 11th centuries BCE.
The Edom Kingdom supported itself largely from the caravan trade among Egypt, the Levant, Mesopotamia and southern Arabia, along the Incense Route. Astride the King’s Highway, the Edomites were one of several states in the region for whom trade was vital due to the scarcity of arable land. It is also said that sea routes traded as far away as India, with ships leaving from the port of Ezion-Geber. Edom’s location on the southern highlands left it with only a small strip of land that received sufficient rain for farming.
“These are the kings who reigned in the land of Edom before any king reigned over the Israelites,” the Bible says in the 36th chapter of Genesis. “Those are the clans of Edom—that is, of Esau, father of the Edomites—by their settlements in the land which they hold.” But the archeological record has led to conflicting interpretations of this text.
Expert analysis of specimens found in copper production sites in the Arava – performed by Prof. Erez Ben-Yosef of the university’s Department of Archeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures and Prof. Tom Levy of the University of California, San Diego – revealed the untold story of an affluent, flourishing society led by a copper “high-tech network.” The findings also suggest the Egyptian pharaoh’s influence on Edom turned the kingdom into “copper powerhouse.”
Ben-Yosef’s analyses show a clear statistical decline in the amount of copper in the slag over time, indicating that production had become expertly streamlined for efficiency.
Copper was used in ancient times to produce tools and weapons and, as a result, became the most valuable resource in the Ancient Near East. Copper production is a complex process, requiring different stages and levels of expertise.
Ben-Yosef’s team analyzed hundreds of findings from ancient copper mines in Israel (Timna) and Jordan (Faynan) to reconstruct the evolution and refinement of the copper manufacturing industry over 500 years –
spanning the beginning of the first millennium BCE (1300 to 800 BCE).
They identified dramatic changes in the copper slag discovered at the Arava sites. Using technological evolution as a proxy for social processes, we were able to identify and characterize the emergence of the biblical kingdom of Edom,” noted Ben-Yosef. “Our results prove it happened earlier than previously thought and in accordance with the biblical description.”
The researchers attribute this sudden improvement to one of the most famous Egyptian invasions of the Holy Land: the military campaign of Pharaoh Shoshenq I (the biblical “Shishak”), who sacked Jerusalem in the 10th century BCE.
The new research indicates that when Egypt intervened in the land of Edom, it did not cause destruction, but rather it triggered a “technological leap” that included more efficient copper production and trade.
“We demonstrated a sudden standardization of the slag in the second half of the 10th century BCE, from the Faynan sites in Jordan to the Timna sites in Israel, an extensive area of some 2,000 square kilometers, which occurred just as the Egyptians entered the region,” said Ben-Yosef. “The efficiency of the copper industry in the region was increasing. The Edomites developed precise working protocols that allowed them to produce a very large amount of copper with minimum energy.”
But Egypt at this time was a weak power, he continued. While its influence in the region is clear, it probably did not command the copper industry, which remained a local Edomite enterprise.
“As a consumer of imported copper, Egypt had a vested interest in streamlining the industry. It seems that, through their long-distance ties, they were a catalyst for technological innovations across the region. For example, the camel first appeared in the region immediately after the arrival of Shoshenq I,” Ben-Yosef continued.
“Our new findings contradict the view of many archeologists that the Arava was populated by a loose alliance of tribes, and they’re consistent with the biblical story that there was an Edomite kingdom here,” he concluded. “A flourishing copper industry in the Arava can only be attributed to a centralized and hierarchical polity, and this might fit the biblical description of the Edomite kingdom.”