King Solomon’s Mines Discovered: Ancient Treasures - Part II
Have King Solomon's Mines really been discovered? Yes, indeed. In fact, they have been known about for centuries, and modern archaeological work on them started way back in the early 19th century. But the site's true significance has never been realized before, and so their role in biblical and popular history has never been fully understood.
If readers go to the Egyptian Museum, when it is safe to do so, they will inevitably go to see the Tutankhamen treasures, which are a wonder to behold. But what most tourists then do, is miss out the Tanis collection which is (was) in the adjoining room. I was filming there for two hours, many years ago, and only saw one tourist. And yet the Tanis collection is every bit as wealthy and wondrous as the Tutankhamen exhibits, with solid gold and silver artifacts of superb craftsmanship. However, bearing in mind the recent arrival of the 21st and 22nd dynasties into Egypt, as was explained in Part I of this article, where did all this wealth come from?
The gold funerary mask of Psusennes I. (CC BY 2.0)
We might ask the same question about the United Monarchy, which similarly sprang from the relatively impoverished Judges era and suddenly became the wealthiest and most influential monarchy in the region. The wealth of the United Monarchy is said to have come from a specific and mysterious location – the legendary King Solomon’s Mines – except that we do not know where these mines were located.
- Name from Davidic era found inscribed on 3,000-year-old vessel
- Has the legendary citadel captured by King David been found?
However, the previous article has demonstrated that King Psusennes was actually King David, and if these 'two' royal dynasties were actually one and the same, then we might be able to combine their histories and finally unravel this mystery.
Fig 1. The solid gold death-mask of King Solomon. If the Tanis pharaohs were one and the same as the United Monarchy, then this is the image of King Solomon. (Photo R Ellis.)
King Solomon’s Mines
The myths of King Solomon’s Mines are an enduring, if elusive, feature of the United Monarchy era, but where were they located? Since we have relocated King Solomon into Lower Egypt, at Tanis, the answer may well be contained in the complex political situation in Egypt during this era, for the 21st dynasty was a troubled time.
Granite block mentioning the Meshwesh (bottom row, middle) among captured foreign populations during the reign of Ramesses II. British Museum. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
There had been an invasion of the Meshwesh, who established the 22nd (and 21st) dynasties in the Nile Delta—the Tanis pharaohs of Egyptian history and the United Monarchy of the Tanakh. So Egypt was divided between north and south once more, just as it had been during the Hyksos era. Once more there was a civil war in the Two Lands, and once more the armies of the north and south clashed in Middle Egypt. This war cut Thebes off from the traditional grain shipments from the Nile Delta, and from the many supplies that used to come from abroad and traveled down the Nile. So Thebes was effectively under siege, and suffering great hardship as a result:
There are no clothes, no oil, no fish, no vegetables’, they said. ‘Send to pharaoh ... concerning them, and send also to the vizier our master that a means of sustenance be provided for us.’ (Strike Papyrus Ro2, 3-5.)
And if all this was not bad enough, this was also the era in which the tombs in the Valley of the Kings were being systematically robbed, and many of the royal mummies were reinterred in a secret cache behind the mortuary temple of Queen Hatchepsut to keep them safe. In his The Third Intermediate Period in Egypt, Kenneth Kitchen makes this royal relocation sound like a pious act of salvage: saving royal mummies from wicked thieves. And yet this explanation leaves many questions unanswered.
Fig 2. The Valley of the Kings, on the west-bank at Thebes. (Photo R Ellis.)
Follow the Money
What of the valuable gold and silver artifacts and sarcophagi from the royal tombs, what did the Theban officials do with these? If this was a pious re-burial of New Kingdom pharaohs, then why were the mummies stripped bare, even of all the jewelry within their wrappings, before they were re-interred? Conversely, if all this pillage and destruction was the work of thieves, then how did they rob so many tombs seemingly with impunity? Was security really so lax in the Valley of the Kings that vagabonds could tour the valley, deciding which tomb to plunder next? Could they really drag out massive pieces of funerary equipment, including granite sarcophagi, and sail them up the Nile without anybody noticing this activity?
General Wendebauendjed's funerary cups from the tomb of king Psusennes I at Tanis. (CC BY-SA 2.0)
The traditional argument, that the plunder of the Valley of the Kings was simply tomb-robbing by disaffected workers, is simply not credible. In reality, the tomb-robbing began at the very same time that the Tanis pharaohs of the 21st dynasty came to power, and so the alternate suggestion is that this clandestine plunder was actually state sponsored. And the evidence for this comes from the destination of this treasure.
As every professional villain knows, there is absolutely no point in stealing something unless there is a market for the goods. And while it is true that precious metals could be melted down and reworked, much of the funerary furniture and relics in these tombs were marked with the owner’s name and could easily have been traced back to the tombs from which they were stolen. There would have been no point in taking any of these items unless there was a reasonably secure market for this produce, and we know that the primary market for this plunder was Tanis because many of these artifacts were reused in the Tanis tombs.
Fig 3. Some of the many treasures discovered in the Tanis tombs. Some of these were of local Tanis manufacture, but others were taken from the Valley of the Kings. (Photo R Ellis.)
In which case, the more likely reason for the plunder of the royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings was extortion from Tanis - the demand for substantial tribute in return for not attacking Thebes, or an extortionate levy on shipments of grain to Thebes. And since this dispute had festered for a decade or more, Thebes had run out of tribute years previous, and so the Theban authorities had resorted to plundering the royal tombs to pay the Tanis pharaohs. And in the biblical record of these events, the Tanis pharaohs were actually King David and King Solomon.
Vast Riches Looted
The bitter truth is that King Solomon’s legendary mines were actually the royal tombs of the New Kingdom pharaohs in the Valley of the Kings. And the robbing of these tombs was not uncontrolled banditry by vagabonds, but a deliberate program of wealth-gathering, sanctioned and organized by the authorities in Thebes in order to pay tribute to Tanis. And according to the records from Tanis, the scale of this looting was simply prodigious.
Pharaoh Uasorkon I, the son of [King Solomon], compiled an inventory of the treasures that had been presented to the various temples in Egypt. The listed items comprise 20,500 deben (two tonnes) of gold and 72,800 deben (seven tonnes) of silver, while the larger donations (or grand totals?) suggest another 200 tonnes of silver and 230 tonnes of gold and silver were in the temple inventories. These records may be exaggerations, but they demonstrate the considerable wealth of the Tanis monarchy at this time.
But the majority of this great wealth has been dispersed across the continents over the centuries and millennia. Much of this treasure would have been spent on the maintenance of the Greek mercenary army and the Phoenician navy, while any remaining wealth would have been taken from the Tanis-Israelite capital cities when the Babylonians invaded Judaea and Egypt in the 6th century BC.
In turn, much of this same wealth would have subsequently been taken from Persia when Alexander the Great sacked the great Persian capital city of Persopolis. It is said that Alexander used 7,000 pack animals to transport the Persian treasures back to Athens, and no doubt much of that treasure originally came from Egypt. And the Romans probably helped themselves to anything that remained, when the power of Athens began to fade. The constant recycling of this treasure—with much being lost, buried, melted down and destroyed in the process—has left just a few items from this fabulous hoard still in current circulation.
King Solomon’s Mines once represented one of the largest treasure-troves in the history of mankind, but the politics and theology of this region has seen it squandered and scattered to the four winds.
Ralph Ellis, December 2002 © All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced by any means or in any form whatsoever without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the publisher.
Extracted from: Solomon, Pharaoh of Egypt by Ralph Ellis.
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Featured image: The ruins of Tanis. (Public Domain)
By Ralph Ellis