The Beginning of Iron Age Copper Production in the Southern Levant: New Evidence from Khirbat Al-Jariya, Faynan, Jordan
Ben-Yosef, Erez, Levy, Thomas E., Higham, Thomas, Najjar, Mohammad, Tauxe, Lisa, Antiquity
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.
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Khirbat al-Jariya (KAJ) is located c. 3km north-east of Khirbat en-Nahas (KEN) (30.707[degrees]N, 35.452[degrees]E, c. 150m asl, Figure 1) in an enclosed valley hidden in the rugged terrain of the eastern Wadi Arabah. It extends over 7ha on both banks of Wadi al-Jariya and consists of shallow 'slag mounds', numerous architectural features, installations and some large structures preserved to a height of five courses and more (Figures 2 & 3). Deepening of the wadi bed over the past three millennia has eroded the site centre (c. 3ha) that was situated on the western bank of the wadi (see Figures 2 & 4). With the exception of several recent Bedouin graves and some robber trenches, the site has been relatively undisturbed since its abandonment in the Iron Age.
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Following fieldwork by Glueck (1935) and the German Mining Museum (Hauptmann 2007), our team surveyed and mapped the site in 2002 (see Figure 4) (Levy et al. 2003). The first stratigraphic probe took place at KAJ between 13-27 November 2006. Area A was selected in the southern portion of the eastern bank of the Wadi al-Jariya, where a rectangular structure found in survey (see below) seemed to be associated with one of the larger 'slag mounds,' resembling the situation in Area M at KEN (Levy et al. 2008). A grid of four 5 x 5m squares was established over the 'slag mound' and structure. The building was exposed to its floor level and the western half of the 'slag mound' to bedrock (Square F-16) where the accumulation of archaeological material appeared to be the thickest and six layers representing at least three occupation phases were recorded (Figure 5, Table 2).
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The 'slag mound' sounding: copper production at Khirbat al-Jariya
Although commonly regarded in the literature as piles of slag, 'slag heaps' or 'mounds' are rarely composed of only slag material. At KEN, approximately 20-30 per cent (in volume) of the excavated material of the 'slag mound' in Area M was slag in various forms and types with the remainder of material consisting of decomposed furnaces, tuyeres, charcoal, etc. At KAJ the situation is even more striking as only a very small volume of the excavated material was slag. The rest of the deposit consisted of fills with considerable amounts of domestic (not pyrotechnological) debris, including relatively large quantities of ceramic sherds, ash and other material (see below). This observation should be taken into consideration when calculating production intensities by estimation of slag mass from surface observations, as is commonly done in archaeometallurgical research around the world (see e.g. Ottaway 2002; Craddock & Lange 2003; Hauptmann 2007). The Area A 'slag mound' is 2.4m deep, and includes three distinctive activity horizons (layers A6, A4 and A1a/A2; Figure 5, Table 2), and two thick fill layers that accumulated as a result of deliberate disposal of waste in the direction of the wadi channel, which originally was a few metres to the west.
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Above the red sandstone bedrock (Salib Formation), is a layer that probably represents the initial occupation phase of the site (A6). Evidence for copper production-related activities was found here, including thin, cemented patches of fine crushed slag (L. 123 on Figure 5), small pits dug into the bedrock (related to crushing activity?), ash pockets and some copper ore fragments (Figure 6c) in a thin and noncontiguous layer of light brown sediment (L. 124). This supports the supposition that the raison d'etre of KAJ, like most Iron Age archaeological sites in the extreme arid environment of Faynan, was the exploitation of the copper ore deposits. There are no …
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Publication information: Article title: The Beginning of Iron Age Copper Production in the Southern Levant: New Evidence from Khirbat Al-Jariya, Faynan, Jordan. Contributors: Ben-Yosef, Erez - Author, Levy, Thomas E. - Author, Higham, Thomas - Author, Najjar, Mohammad - Author, Tauxe, Lisa - Author. Journal title: Antiquity. Volume: 84. Issue: 325 Publication date: September 2010. Page number: 724+. © 2008 Antiquity Publications, Ltd. COPYRIGHT 2010 Gale Group.
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