The entrance complex with a two-room gatehouse flanked by animal pens. The entrance complex with a two-room gatehouse flanked by animal pens. The entrance complex with a two-room gatehouse flanked by animal pens. (Photo: Erez Ben-Yosef and CTV Project)

In search of King Solomon's fabled copper mines

Archaeologists discover a 3,000-year-old gatehouse that may have protected the quarry.

Thanks to 21st-century science, researchers believe they have found the fabled mines of King Solomon in southern Israel.

Dating techniques indicate the structure, which included a well-defined gatehouse complex, donkey stables and the previously uncovered copper smelting camps it protects, to be about 3,000 years old.

That would place it in the exact time frame of King Solomon's reign there.

The gatehouse complex at "Slaves' Hill", Timna, during excavationsThe gatehouse complex at Timna during excavations. (Photo: Erez Ben-Yosef and CTV Project)

The site of the discovery, part of a larger archaeological dig being conducted by Tel Aviv University in Israel's Timna Valley, included a remarkably intact two-room fortification.

"The gatehouse fortification was apparently a prominent landmark," Dr. Erez Ben-Yosef of Tel Aviv University's Institute of Archaeology said.

"It had a cultic or symbolic function in addition to its defensive and administrative roles. The gatehouse was built of sturdy stone to defend against invasion."

Crucible for copper refining found at the gatehouse complex of "Slaves' Hill", Timna. Copper was one of the most coveted materials in antiquity, used (as bronze) for the production of weapons and agricultural toolsThe copper refining crucible found at the gatehouse complex. Copper was one of the most coveted materials in antiquity, used (as bronze) for the production of weapons and agricultural tools. (Photo: Erez Ben-Yosef and CTV Project)

The complex featured pens for draught animals and other livestock. According to precise pollen, seed and fauna analyses, they were fed with hay and grape pomace.

"We found animal bones and dung piles so intact, we could analyze the food the animals were fed with precision. The food suggests special treatment and care, in accordance with the key role of the donkeys in the copper production and in trade in a logistically challenging region," Ben-Yosef said.

Climbing "Slaves' Hill" – an extensive copper smelting site dated to the 10th c. BCE in TimnaClimbing 'Slaves' Hill' – an extensive copper smelting site dated to the 10th century BCE in Timna. (Photo: Erez Ben-Yosef and CTV Project)

Originally called "Slaves Hill," the name was given by American archaeologist Nelson Glueck in 1934 because he believed it bore all the marks of an Iron Age slave camp. But in 2014, Ben-Yosef and colleagues debunked this theory. They revealed that the diets and clothing of the smelters – still perfectly intact thanks to desert conditions – pointed instead to a more sophisticated society.

An aerial shot of the path leading up to the gate house site.An aerial shot of the path leading up to the gatehouse site. (Photo: Erez Ben-Yosef and CTV Project)

Thanks to the climate of the area and modern research methods, the archaeologists believe more significant discoveries are on the horizon.

"The unique preservation of organic materials in Timna, coupled with 21st-century research methods including ancient DNA and residue analyses, bear the potential for additional significant discoveries in the future," said Ben-Yosef.

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