Copper-Bottomed History for Jordan

By Young, Penny | History Today, July 1997 | Go to article overview

Copper-Bottomed History for Jordan


Young, Penny, History Today


Archaeologists believe that one of the most beautiful wadis in Jordan could turn out to have been the site of the biggest copper mining centre in the Middle East.

Over the next ten years, experts from Britain and Jordan will be carrying out a detailed survey of the area around Wadi Faynan which is said to be the most important unexplored archaeological complex in southern Jordan.

As well as the copper mines dating back at least 6,500 years, the site offers the chance to investigate some of the biggest and best preserved Byzantine cemeteries of their kind and to explore how the infrastructure and way of life at Faynan was adapted during the Islamic period

`Although the mines have been explored in the past, the area as a whole is relatively untouched', says Alison McQuitty, the Director of the British Institute Of Archaeology in Amman, which will be co-ordinating the Wadi Faynan project. `It's unique because of the range of archaeological remains there. from neolithic to Islamic times'.

Wadi Faynan is situated in the spectacular sandstone and granite mountains of southern Jordan close to the Dead Sea and about 50 miles north of Petra, the rock city of the Nabataeans. It is part of the huge Wad Araba that runs between Jordan and Palestine. Wadi Faynan was ideally positioned on the busy ancient trading routes northwards into Syria and Mesopotamia, southwards to Arabia Felix and westwards to me Mediterranean. Scholars believe Rameses II referred to Faynan as one of the regions inhabited by nomads. The Wadi is also mentioned twice in the Old Testament. `Pinon' was one of the tribes of Edom listed in Genesis and `Punon' was on the itinerary of the Israelites from Egypt on their way to the promised land.

The Romans sentenced Christians to work in the Faynan copper mines during the persecutions of the early fourth century. Eusebius records how one governor gave orders that heir ankles should first be disabled by hot irons, He also details the beheadings and burnings of Christians from Egypt and Gaza in his `Martys of Palestine'. After the Roman Christian conversion. Faynan became the seat of a bishopric under the patriarchate of Jerusalem -- the Byzantine graves testify to its importance.

Excavation work by a German team from Bochum has already revealed that copper mining and smelting started as early as the Chalcolithic period and continued during the Bronze. Iron, Persian. Nabataean, Roman and Islamic periods. Visitors to the site now crunch over the piles of slag still scattered over the entire area --around 13 square miles.

It has been established that Faynan was the major copper mining centre on the east side of Wadi Araba. …

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