Early Bronze Age Metallurgy: A Newly Discovered Copper Manufactory in Southern Jordan

By Levy, Thomas E.; Adams, Russell B. et al. | Antiquity, June 2002 | Go to article overview

Early Bronze Age Metallurgy: A Newly Discovered Copper Manufactory in Southern Jordan


Levy, Thomas E., Adams, Russell B., Hauptmann, Andreas, Prange, Michael, Schmitt-Strecker, Sigrid, Najjar, Mohammad, Antiquity


The Early Bronze Age (EBA, c. 3600-2000 BC) represents a time of fundamental social change in the southern Levant when the first fortified towns and urban centres evolved. Since the 1930s, scholars have linked advances in metallurgy with the emergence of urbanism and the rise of some of the earliest civilizations (Childe 1930). Recent excavations at the site Khirbat Hamra Ifdan (KHI) in the copper-ore-rich Faynan district of southern Jordan have revealed the largest Early Bronze Age metal workshop in the Middle East, and have yielded thousands of finds related to ancient copper processing. This unique assemblage of archaeometallurgical remains includes crucible fragments, prills and lumps of copper, slags, ores, copper tools (e.g. axes, chisels, pins), copper ingots, a few furnace remains and an extensive collection of ceramic casting moulds for ingots and tools. The archaeometallurgical data from this site provides vital information for accurately reconstructing EBA metal processing as well as some of the dimensions of trade relations that were linked to significant changes in social evolution in that period. The `manufactory' (Costin 1991) complex at KHI survived in a remarkable state of preservation due to the structures being sealed by wall collapse as a result of earthquake activity at the end of the Early Bronze III (c. 2700-2200 BC). Thanks in part to this `Pompeii effect', KHI represents the first near-complete EBA metal workshop in the ancient Near East. Use of on-site Geographic Information Systems (GIS) data recording has greatly streamlined and facilitated the recognition of activity areas linked to ancient metal production at the site (Levy et al. 2001). The analysis of the metallurgical data from KHI will enhance our understanding of the copper production processes and provides an important analytical lens for monitoring the oscillations in social change in a region traditionally viewed as a periphery to the ancient EBA centres of civilization--namely Egypt and Mesopotamia.

The Faynan district, ~50 km southeast of the Dead Sea, was the most important resource area for copper in the southern Levant (FIGURE 1). The Jabal Hamrat Fidan (JHF) represents the western `Gateway' to Faynan, a region which contains evidence for numerous single and multiple occupation sites dating to the entire span of the EBA and was the largest source of copper ore during this period in the southern Levant. Sites such as KHI provide ideal `open-air laboratories' for investigating the social dimensions of these ancient production centres.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

The Faynan district is best known from biblical texts as the location of Punon, one of the 40 stations mentioned in the book of Numbers (Numbers 33: 42-43; generally identified with the Greek Phaino, the present Khirbet Faynan, Jordan) and in the archaeological literature for extensive evidence concerning ancient mining and smelting sites spanning the Chalcolithic (c. 4500-3600 BC) through the Islamic periods (Hauptmann 1989; 2000; Hauptmann et al. 1992).

KHI is situated on a naturally defended mesatop plateau or `inselberg' aproximately 25 m above the wadi channel, and located in the middle of a seasonal drainage known as the Wadi Fidan. The area was first visited by Frank (1934), in part by Glueck (Glueck 1935; Adams 1992), and reported on by several other survey projects (Knauf & Lenzen 1987; MacDonald 1992). The site was first probed by Adams (1999; 2000), whose early excavations demonstrated the rich potential of the site for examining the technological and scalar changes in copper production during the EBA. In 1999-2000, the first large-scale excavation work was carried out at the site under the direction of T.E. Levy and R.B. Adams aimed at providing a foundation for examining the social context of EBA metallurgy (Levy et al. 1999).

EBA metallurgy in context and at KHI

The earliest metal production sites in the southern Levant date to the Chalcolithic period (c. …

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