Lost biblical copper mine found?

King Solomon was big on brass accessories. He ordered two enormous brass pillars, plus other brass items, for the temple the monarch commissioned for Jerusalem.

And where might all of this copper – a key ingredient in brass – have come from? Archaeologists from the US, Jordan, Britain, and Switzerland report that they have excavated an industrial-scale copper center in southern Jordan and dated it to the 9th and 10th centuries BC. If the dating stands up to further scrutiny, the peak of its smelting activity would coincide with the reigns of David and Solomon. It also would resurrect a currently discredited time frame for existence of the kingdom of Edom. The smelting center occupies a spot that lies within Edom’s boundaries. In the Old Testament, Edom was one of ancient Israel’s troublesome neighbors.

The results are likely to be controversial. In the 1980s, Bible scholars began to challenge the historical accuracy of accounts of people and events earlier than the 5th century BC, the research team says. In addition, some ceramic and radiocarbon evidence suggested that Edom didn’t emerge until the 7th century.

The latest work is based on excavations in 2002 and 2006 at Khirbat en-Nahas. The team used an arsenal of high-tech tools to document the dig and more-advanced radiocarbon techniques to analyze what they found. They conclude that the site bears strong evidence of copper smelting at dates that suggest Edom was thriving some 200 years earlier than the currently accepted period. The results appear in this week’s issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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