Analysis of 3,000-year-old animal waste confirms that an ancient mining complex in Israel dates to the golden age of the biblical monarch.
Archaeologists discovered the 3,000-year-old dung in an ancient mining camp atop a sandstone mesa known as Slaves’ Hill. The area is dotted with copper mines and smelting camps—sites where the ore was heated and turned into metal.
University of Tel Aviv archaeologist Erez Ben-Yosef began excavating the site in 2013. Last year he and his team were uncovering the remains of several walled structures, including a fortified gate, when they discovered what appeared to be animal excrement of relatively recent origin.
“We thought maybe some nomads had camped there with their goats a few decades ago,” Ben-Yosef said, noting that the dung still contained undecayed plant matter. “But the [radiocarbon] dates came back from the lab, and they confirmed we were talking about donkeys and other livestock from the 10th century B.C. It was hard to believe.”
According to the Hebrew Bible, King Solomon was renowned for his great wisdom and wealth, and his many building projects included a temple in Jerusalem lavishly appointed with gold and bronze objects. Such a structure would have required large amounts of metal from industrial-scale mining operations somewhere in the Middle East, but the scriptures are silent as to their location.
In the 1930s American archaeologist Nelson Glueck (pronounced Glick) announced that he had found the famous mines while exploring the copper-rich Arabah Valley, a geological rift that stretches from the Dead Sea south to the Red Sea and straddles the border of modern Israel and Jordan.
“It is now known that along the entire length of the Wadi ‘Araba there are deposits of copper and iron,” Glueck wrote in an article entitled “On the Trail of King Solomon’s Mines” in the February 1944 issue of National Geographic. “These were intensely worked in ancient times, particularly during the time of King Solomon.”