The Beginning of Iron Age Copper Production in the Southern Levant: New Evidence from Khirbat Al-Jariya, Faynan, Jordan

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Introduction

The resurgence of copper production in the southern Levant, at the end of the second or start of the first millennium BC, relates to the widespread civilisation collapse at the end of the Late Bronze Age (c. 1600-1200 BC) when new socio-economic opportunities became available to societies living on the periphery of the once vibrant cores such as Mycenae, New Kingdom Egypt, and the Hittite Empire of Anatolia and Syria. Recent excavations of copper mining and production sites in Jordan's Faynan district, the largest copper ore deposit in the southern Levant, shed new light on the nature of the reappearance of copper production following its demise in the Middle Bronze Age (early second millennium BC).

The excavations at the copper production sites of Khirbat en-Nahas and Khirbat al-Jariya in southern Jordan (Biblical Edom) provide the first detailed record concerning the timing, scale and social control of copper production at the beginning of the Iron Age when copper was still the most widespread metal produced in the eastern Mediterranean. These data relate to questions concerning the link between social and technological change and recent debates about the relationship between archaeology and history from a period when these data can first be linked to the biblical world. In the region of Faynan, these questions are specifically related to the emergence of the Iron Age polities of Edom and ancient Israel, since both had a potential interest in one of the most significant natural resources of the region.

The data presented in this paper are the result of the ongoing excavations of Iron Age copper production sites in Faynan, utilising on-site GIS recording (Levy & Smith 2007) coupled with high precision radiocarbon dating. The excavated materials and the radiocarbon dataset (from these excavations and other sites) help to establish a solid contextual and temporal foundation for assessing the impact of technology on major changes in the socio-political organisation of this region during the formative period of the early Iron Age (c. 1200-900 BC).

Iron Age copper production in the southern Levant

The two major copper ore deposits in the southern Levant, Timna (Rothenberg 1999a & b) and Faynan (Hauptmann 2007), are located along the margins of the Arabah Valley, separating Israel and Jordan. They were exploited from the ninth millennium BC to the medieval Islamic period, with one of the prominent peaks of exploitation occurring during the Iron Age (Levy et al. 2004b, 2005, 2008; Hauptmann 2007; Mattingly et al. 2007). At Timna, research showed that the flourishing Late Bronze Age copper production ceased in the mid twelfth century BC as a result of the decline in Egyptian economic power during the Twentieth Dynasty (Rameses V) (Rothenberg 1988: 270-78). Only Stratum I at Timna Site 30 was interpreted as a phase of revived copper production during the tenth-ninth centuries BC, again under Egyptian influence, but during the Twenty-second Dynasty (and in particular Sheshonq I, see Rothenberg 1980: 198-201). However, close examination of the radiocarbon dates for metallurgical sites in the southern Arabah Valley (Table 1) reveals a more complex situation with evidence of continuous metal production throughout the Iron Age I-IIA (c. 1200-900 BC), and possible ore exploitation in the late Iron Age as well.

In Faynan, c. 100km to the north, intensive archaeological work in recent years has resulted in a marked increase in high precision radiocarbon measurements for Iron Age copper production sites (Table 1, Figure 1). Excavations have been made at the Iron Age IIA cemetery of Wadi Fidan 40, at the Rujm Hamra Ifdan watchtower/enclosure, and copper processing sites of Khirbat Hamrat Ifdan and the c. 10ha central site of Khirbat en-Nahas (Levy et al. 2004b, 2008). The site of Khirbat al-Jariya reported here has provided survey indications of early Iron Age date (twelfth to eleventh century BC, Hauptmann 2007: 89, 131-2 and see Table 1 in this paper), and thus was presumed to precede and complement the archaeological and archaeometallurgical assemblage obtained from the mostly tenth- to ninth-century BC site of Khirbat en-Nahas. …