Rare Artifacts in Timna Mine Provide New Insight on the Edomites
A team of archaeologists has discovered a collection of textiles of diverse dye colors and designs about 3,000 years old in an Edomite tin mine in Israel. Textiles this old are rare because they are made of organic materials and usually disintegrate long before modern times.
“The ancient copper mines in Timna are located deep in Israel's Arava Valley and are believed by some to be the site of King Solomon's mines,” says a press release from the American Friends of Tel Aviv University. “The arid conditions of the mines have seen the remarkable preservation of 3,000-year-old organic materials, including seeds, leather and fabric, and other extremely rare artifacts that provide a unique window into the culture and practices of this period.
Fabric sample discovered by archaeologists in the ancient Timna mines. (Tel Aviv University)
Dr. Erez Ben-Yosef of Tel Aviv University is the head of the team excavating the Timna mines. The Edomites are believed to have operated the mines. They were a semi-nomadic who had a complex society and warred with the kingdom of Israel.
According to Dr. Orit Shamir, a senior researcher at the Antiquities Authority and leader of the study of the fabrics, said the textiles, some measuring only 5 by 5 centimeters (1.97 by 1.97 inches), date to the time of kings David and Solomon. He also said that they vary in weaving technique and decoration. Additionally, they give insight into what the people of that time and place wore.
None of the ancient sites in Jerusalem, Megiddo and Hazor, have yielded textiles before, Dr. Ben-Yosef said. Thus, these fragments of cloth and textiles from bags, tents, clothing, ropes and cords provide a unique window into aspects of life that modern researchers have had no material evidence for before, he continued.
Rope made from the fibers of a date palm tree found at the Timna site. (Clara Amit, Israel Antiquities Authority)
Dr. Ben-Yosef further explained the importance of the fabrics in the press release from the American Friends of Tel Aviv University:
“The wide variety of fabrics also provides new and important information about the Edomites, who, according to the Bible, warred with the Kingdom of Israel. We found simply woven, elaborately decorated fabrics worn by the upper echelon of their stratified society. Luxury grade fabric adorned the highly skilled, highly respected craftsmen managing the copper furnaces. They were responsible for smelting the copper, which was a very complicated process.”
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In addition, the press release says that the team found the seven types of food mentioned in Deuteronomy: “A land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates; a land of olive oil and honey.” The researchers did radiocarbon dating of some of the thousands of seeds they found to confirm the age of the site.
The seven species with Biblical verses associated with them depicted in an Israeli stamp series from 1958. (Public Domain)
“This is the first time seeds from this period have been found uncharred and in such large quantities,” said Dr. Ben-Yosef. “With the advancement of modern science, we now enjoy research options that were unthinkable a few decades ago. We can reconstruct wine typical of King David's era, for example, and understand the cultivation and domestication processes that have been preserved in the DNA of the seed.”
Copper was a vitally important product of the times. It was used to make weapons and tools and was considered the most valuable resource. The miners who dug the ore at Timna were possibly prisoners or slaves, and the work was hard.
Smelting the ore (rock) into metal required enormous skill and organization, and the worker had to manage 30 to 40 variables to produce copper ingots.
“The possession of copper was a source of great power, much as oil is today,” Dr. Ben-Yosef said in the press release. “If a person had the exceptional knowledge to 'create copper,' he was considered well-versed in an extremely sophisticated technology. He would have been considered magical or supernatural, and his social status would have reflected this.”
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The Timna mines are in the middle of the desert, and food, water and other living materials, including textiles, had to be carried there. Some of the textiles were made a great distance form Timna, which says something about the trade and economy of the time.
“We found linen, which was not produced locally. It was most likely from the Jordan Valley or Northern Israel. The majority of the fabrics were made of sheep's wool, a cloth that is seldom found in this ancient period,” said Tel Aviv University Masters student Vanessa Workman. “This tells us how developed and sophisticated both their textile craft and trade networks must have been.”
Tel Aviv University’s Timna excavation team at work. (Central Timna Valley Project – TAU)
Dr. Ben-Yosef asserted that just because the Edomites were nomads doesn’t mean they were simple. The recent discoveries help researchers to understand the Edomites and give further revelations that they were an important presence in the region.
Featured Image: A fine wool textile dyed red and blue, found at Timna. The textile used the various colors of natural animal hair to create black and orange-brown colors for decorative bands. Source: Clara Amit, Israel Antiquities Authority
By Mark Miller