In the Hebrew Bible , the Edomites were the descendants of Jacob's brother Esau, but did an ancient Egyptian invasion trigger technological innovation
Erez Ben-Yosef, an archaeologist at Tel Aviv University, headed up the Central Timna Valley Project which excavated numerous copper-mining and smelting sites from the Late Bronze and Early Iron Ages to reconstruct 500 years of industrial progress. The team’s new evidence suggests that 3,000 years ago the Edomites underwent a significant technological leap , and the researchers believe it might have been sparked by an invading Egyptian pharaoh .
Biblical Accounts Point Fingers
At a 10th century BC copper production site known as Slaves’ Hill located in the Timna Valley in Israel, in what is now known as the area of Arabah, the archaeologists found layers of slag from which they reconstructed the technological changes in the region. In the scientists’ new paper, published in the journal PLOS ONE , Ben-Yosef said an Egyptian invasion may have changed the markets and trade demand for copper , catalyzing the technological leap monitored in the slag.
Location of Edomite copper smelting sites in the Timna Valley in the Arabah area, Israel. ( PLOS ONE )
A Live Science report states that the Book of Genesis refers to the Edomites as descendants of Jacob’s brother Esau – “the kings who reigned in Edom before any Israelite king reigned” (Genesis 36:31). And it also says King David of Israel defeated the Edomites and “killed every male in the kingdom” which now lies within the boundaries of Jordan and Israel.
However, the new research has shown that Edom had centralized its kingdom before the Israelites arrived and the paper says local tribes of the region had organized themselves under “one political body” to best exploit the copper minerals.
Systemization Under One Government
To date the site the researchers have examined spent slag piles (waste product from smelting copper), and Carbon 14 dated charcoal remains which had been used to heat the copper smelters. Also, the researchers analyzed the presence or absence of other minerals and metals within the slag to assess how production techniques evolved over the centuries.
Researchers examined spent slag piles, waste product from smelting copper. ( LevT / Adobe Stock)
The research suggests that across various sites in the Arabah area, from about 1300 BC through 800 BC, Edomite copper extractors improved their techniques only gradually, but that they worked under the supervision of a common government. According to the paper, over time, the copper measured in the waste products reduced from “1.49% to 1.14% over the 500 years” and this dropped to around 0.50% percent in the second half of the 10th century BC.
Ben-Yosef told Live Science that by this time the slag had become increasingly more similar across sites indicating that the workers were following a similar set of production rules – best practices.
The Egyptian Influence
Attempting to answer how this technological leap occurred the researchers say it coincided with an Egyptian military campaign by the Pharaoh Sheshonq I , or Shishak. Senshonq I, who founded the 22nd dynasty in Egypt. Known to have invaded the kingdoms of Judah and Israel around 925 BC, a scarab beetle inscribed with his name was discovered in southern Jordan suggesting his forces also invaded the rich copper deposits of the Edomites.
The scientists say that among the changes the Egyptians introduced included techniques such as smelting copper ore at varying temperatures, adjusting the ratio of added minerals and metals and altering the oxygen supply to the furnaces.
Scientists discovered that the Egyptian techniques improved the copper smelting of the Edomites. ( PLOS ONE )
Ancient Egyptian Copper Mines Identified
While a lot is known about ‘how’ Egyptians smelted copper, it had always been mystery as to where they sourced the raw materials. That all changed last year when Dr. Frederik W. Rademaker, of KU Leuven in Belgium, published a research paper in the Journal of Archaeological Science unveiling that ancient Egyptians got the red metal from the Eastern Desert and the Sinai Peninsula.
A second study by four Czech institutions analyzed 22 artifacts from the Egyptian Museum of Leipzig University in Germany which demonstrated similar production technologies but “diverse origins of the metal”, confirming that special metals had circulated around the ancient Near East earlier than previously thought. According to Ben-Yosef, “these two studies constitute not only a step forward in current knowledge on copper provenance, but they also add to the economic, social, and cultural insights into ancient Egypt”.
While much has been learned about how Egyptians might have influenced Edomite technologies the team of archaeologists will return to the valley over the winter to continue excavating, and according to Ben-Yosef, to also investigate any archaeological evidence of the Hebrew Bible’s account of the Israelites conquering the Edomites.
Top image: View of Timna Valley, Israel area of copper smelting study. Source: boris_sh / Adobe Stock.
By Ashley Cowie