We’ve all heard of King Solomon’s mines, but that’s mainly because of the 19th-century adventure book that was made into quite a few movies. The mines are not mentioned in the Bible, but King Solomon was crowned in precious jewels and made extensive use of copper. In the 1930s, archaeologist Nelson Glueck found evidence of ancient copper mines in southern Israel’s Timna Valley. He declared the area the site of King Solomon’s mines.
By the 1970s, archaeology had grown skeptical of the designation, and as a discipline was starting to look askance at claims made by archaeologists with an agenda of proving Biblical claims. There was no concrete evidence that King David or his son King Solomon even existed. In Timna, an Egyptian temple was uncovered that long predated the era of Solomon, and the mines were deemed to be part of the northern reaches of the Egyptian Empire.
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Israeli archaeologist Erez Ben-Yosef took another look at the mines of Timna in 2009. He had no Biblical agenda; he was an agnostic looking for historical changes in the earth’s magnetic field. What he found were artifacts that carbon dating placed at 1000 BC, far later than the Egyptians, but right around the time of David and Solomon. Since then, many more artifacts have emerged at the mines from that time period, including fibers of purple fabric. The puzzle for archaeologists is that while there are plenty of artifacts, there are no buildings, no permanent structures, besides the much older Egyptian temple. It’s possible the mines could have been worked by Edomites, who were nomadic, or by Israelites, who also mainly lived in tents at the time. Read what we’ve found at Timna so far and what it could mean at Smithsonian.