Solomon's Pillars in Timna Park.
(photo credit: TIIA MONTO/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
Families and the public are welcome to join an excavation in Timna Park in the southern Arava in time for Hanukkah break. From Tuesday through Thursday, wannabe-archaeologists and families can sift through excavated material in the famous geological and archaeological wonder.
For the eighth annual open excavation, volunteers have teamed up with staff from the Israel Antiquities Authority, Timna Valley Park and Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund to find copper slag, painted pottery, beads, animal bones and a pharaonic scarab.
The excavation is led by Dr. Tali Erickson-Gini, senior researcher at the Antiquities Authority, and Orit Afflo, head of the Negev Archaeology Education Center, also under the authority. The project has seen hundreds of people every year, usually whole families and sometimes three generations. Each group has their own 2x2 meter square, and is required to sift everything they find.
Pottery has included Egyptian, Canaanite vessels and North Arabian painted ware.
The event has drawn about 5,000 people annually over the years, said Hagit Gal, Timna’s park manager. Many volunteers camp overnight in the park, she added.
Timna has been actively excavated since 2009, when a team led by Dr. Erez Ben-Yosef examined an ancient smelting campsite. The Central Timna Valley project, also directed by Ben-Yosef of Tel Aviv University, began in 2013. The project has focused on the history of copper production in the area, and the types of technology involved between the 13th and ninth centuries BCE.
The 60 sq. km. desert site is home to an array of granite and sandstone formations which form a horseshoe surrounding the ancient mines. The copper-rich area was first mined in the fifth millennium BCE.
The site contains remains of an ancient Egyptian copper mining industry including workshops, furnaces, tunnels, shrines and mining camps. Most of the structures have been dated to the 12th and 13th centuries BCE.
The demand for bronze during the Bronze Age (3300 to 1200 BCE) drove the ancient Egyptians to invest heavily in copper mining at Timna. Under pharaohs Seti I through Ramses V, they performed a series of geological surveys and dug holes in Timna’s rocks, as well as excavating shafts and tunnels, along with the other infrastructure necessary for mining copper and smelting it with tin to create bronze.
The mines likely remained active during the biblical united Kingdom of Israel under King Solomon’s rule.
The latter Bronze period saw a decline in activity, until its revitalization during the Roman period (first to second centuries CE). The activity continued until the early Arab period.
A temple dedicated to Hathor, the Egyptian goddess of mining, was found at the base of the natural sandstone structures named Solomon’s Pillars by 1930s archaeologist Nelson Glueck. The shrine was likely built during the reign of Pharaoh Seti I at the end of the 14th century BCE for the miners.
Hieroglyphics, sculptures and jewelry found there affirmed the shrine’s purpose. A rock carving of Ramses III with Hathor is located at the top of a flight of stairs carved into a cliff adjoining the shrine. Midianites who took over the site attempted to erase markings of the Egyptians from the shrine. They erected a row of stelae, and filled the temple with pottery and metal jewelry.
The valley is also known for its many petroglyphs (rock drawings) dating from different eras.
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