A gatehouse has been uncovered during recent excavations at an ancient mining camp in southern Israel. The building dates back to the 10th century B.C. and includes donkey stables. The gatehouse was unearthed at a hilltop archaeological site in the Timna Valley known as Slaves’ Hill. (Credit: Erez Ben-Yosef, Tel Aviv University)

After the exciting discovery of a wall that once stood 16.5 feet tall and hundreds of meters long and a gatehouse at a site known as “Slaves’ Hill,” coupled with previous finds, archaeologists believe that the mining camp in the Timna Valley dates to the 10th century BC (conventional dating). This would place it in the biblical era of King David and King Solomon in the southern part of the contentious border region between Israel and the Kingdom of Edom. It would also substantiate the biblical story of the capture of Edom in the time of King David.

And David made a name for himself when he returned from striking down 18,000 Edomites in the Valley of Salt. Then he put garrisons in Edom; throughout all Edom he put garrisons, and all the Edomites became David’s servants. And the LORD gave victory to David wherever he went. – 2 Samuel 8:13-14 (ESV)

Archaeologist Erez Ben-Yosef points to a trench at Slaves’ Hill, a copper smelting camp in Timna Valley where recent excavations revealed a gatehouse. (Credit: Tel Aviv University, Central Timna Valley Project)

Led by Erez Ben-Yosef of Tel Aviv University, archaeologists think these features show that the settlement, “had a highly organized defense system and depended on an impressive network of long-distance trade”, as noted in Live Science.

Location of Timna Valley in modern day (credit: Google Maps).

The area is known for its rich resources in copper and had been mined for hundreds of years. Previous evidence shows that the miners ate well, which suggests that they were respected for their craft. According to an article, published in 2014, Live Science reported:

The archaeologists said they think that whoever was running this mining camp was importing food and saving the best cuts of meat for the metalworkers, not the people who were doing auxiliary tasks, such as cooking the food, crushing the ore and preparing the charcoal, nor slaves who might have been working in the actual mines.

“What we found was that the guys working at the furnace, which is supposedly very hard work with very high temperatures above 1,200 degrees Celsius [above 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit], these people were treated the best,” Ben-Yosef said. “They were highly regarded. It goes together with the need for them to be highly specialized and very professional.”

When it was discovered in the 1930s, this site was the thought to be a camp for slave laborers. At the time of its discovery, it was believed that the high walls were to keep laborers in, now it’s believed to be to protect a copper smelting camp. (Credit: Erez Ben-Yosef, Tel Aviv University)

Copper was a valuable resource in the 10th century B.C., and would stand to reason that the camp would have had a gatehouse at its only entrance to track the flow of goods and people. (Credit: Erez Ben-Yosef, Tel Aviv University)

In 2014, during the excavation, Ben-Yosef and his team focused on the only entrance on the top of the mesa leading into the camp. It is believed that the mine was thus able to keep tight control of the flow of people and products in and out of the mining camp. Copper was very valuable to the way of life.

Copper is the main component of bronze, which was used extensively by King Solomon and his successors in their building projects. The ongoing use would have required some type of source. While the evidence suggests the workers here were Edomite, it is unclear who employed them.

…He also took away all the shields of gold that Solomon had made, and King Rehoboam made in their place shields of bronze, and committed them to the hands of the officers of the guard, who kept the door of the king’s house. – 1 Kings 14:26-27 (ESV)

Also of possible importance are the number of sling stones found near the site. They could be evidence of the battle mentioned in 2 Samuel 8:13, the researchers noted.
“While there is no explicit description of ‘King Solomon’s mines’ in the Old Testament, there are references to military conflicts between Israel and the Edomites in the Arava Valley,” Ben-Yosef said in a statement.

As reported in Breaking Israel News, the Bible describes a battle between the Edomites, a semi nomadic tribal confederacy, and King David’s army in the Arabah (also spelled Arava) Valley. The historical accuracy of this account is debated, but the discovery of elements of a sophisticated fortification at Slaves’ Hill suggests that copper might have been the resource at stake during military struggles in the region, Ben-Yosef said.

Ben-Yosef continued, noting that, “Copper was a rare product and very challenging to produce. Because copper — like oil today, perhaps — was the most coveted commodity, it landed at the very heart of military conflicts. The discovery of the fortification indicates a period of serious instability and military threats at that time in the region.”

For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper. – Deuteronomy 8:7-9 (ESV)

Inside the gatehouse, rooms were found that archaeologists believed were used as stable for donkeys. The researchers found intact dung piles outside both rooms of the gatehouse. After the dung was investigated, the contents revealed that rather than being fed straw, the donkeys were fed hay and grape pomace (the skins, pulp and stems of grapes). They believe that this is further evidence of trade as these would have likely been delivered from the Mediterranean region, hundreds of miles away. “The food suggests special treatment and care, in accordance with the key role of the donkeys in the copper production and in trade in a logistically challenging region,” Ben-Yosef said.

Outside of the rooms, archaeologists found piles of dung and interpreted these areas as donkey stables. (Credit: Erez Ben-Yosef, Tel Aviv University)

Examining the donkey dung (shown in B), researchers identified what the animals ate. They were fed with food items from as far away as the Mediterranean. (Credit: Erez Ben-Yosef, Tel Aviv University)

“We have plenty of archaeological proof to determine that the miners who worked the Timna mines weren’t humble slaves, as had been assumed, but rather expert miners who oversaw the complex, demanding work by apprentices,” said Dr. Erez Ben-Yosef of Tel Aviv University, who headed the biblical archaeology team that uncovered the wall” He added, “Today, we are discovering more and more evidence of a concentrated, hierarchical society that interacted extensively with its neighbors, which matches up with texts from the Bible and other sources.”