PHOTO BY DAFNA GAZIT, COURTESY OF THE ISRAEL ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY
Until about ten years ago, the vast copper mines of the Timna Valley were considered to be the project of the New Kingdom Egyptian empire, dating to the 13th and early 12th centuries BCE. However, when new excavations took place, it became clear that Timna thrived after the Egyptians left the region, with production peaking during the late 11th and 10th centuries. This intense production was orchestrated by local nomadic tribes, who together with the tribes of the northern Aravah, were part of the emerging Edomite kingdom.
The excavations revealed ample evidence for the existence of an elite class, including fragments of garments dyed with royal purple (Hebrew: argaman), an expensive dye made from Mediterranean sea snails. Other evidence included high-quality foods brought to the valley from hundreds of miles away, such as almonds, grapes, pomegranates, and Mediterranean fish, as well as a large collection of beads and other ornaments. These finds attest a wealthy and large-scale industry that included the operation of numerous copper mines—some more than 125 feet deep—and the use of advanced smelting technologies by highly skilled craftsmen.