Bekat Timna, located in the south of the Arava, is one of the oldest copper mining areas in the world. Since the 1950s, it has been used as a field laboratory for the study of ancient metal technologies and human activity in arid regions. The size of the valley is about 90 square kilometers and it is located in the south of the Arava, and has an extremely arid climate. Many studies shed light on the lives and identity of the managers and workers of the Timna industry during the Iron Age.

The excavations at the “Slave Hill” yielded new information that revealed the wealth and high economic status of the copper engineers, and ruled out that they were slaves placed on the fortified hill as prisoners. The new studies are part of the polemics of biblical archaeology, among others the questions regarding the origin of the kingdom of Edom and the nomadic origin of the Israelites. More than once, researchers have proposed to link the copper of Timna to that of the Temple in Jerusalem and even to identify its mines as belonging to King Solomon who, according to the Bible, ruled over the land of Edom and built a port in Zion Geber on the shores of the Red Sea.

First, the use of copper began about 7000 years ago, precisely in making jewelry from the greenish raw mineral. The production of copper began in the Chalcolithic period (which means “copper-stone” and dates back to around the 5th millennium BC). The mines were used by the inhabitants of the area for thousands of years until the increased activity of the Cyprus mines led to the abandonment of Timna at the beginning of the 2nd millennium BC (beginning of Middle Bronze Age).

The new kingdom in Egypt, which annexed the land of Canaan in the 15th century BC (the beginning of the Late Bronze Age), revived the tinned copper industry, which continued directly even after the withdrawal of the Egyptians. Along with advanced smelting technology with the help of bellows, vertical mining also began into The layer of silt left behind by shafts in an aerial photograph looks like a field of “plates”. From this period there are many findings, among others the first phase of the temple to the Egyptian goddess Hathor, the wall engravings of Ramses III and many items such as scarabs that date to the reign of Ramses II. Egyptian copper was extensively studied by Prof. Beno Rothenberg who led the Arava expedition and was the chief archaeologist of Timna for 50 years.

The renewed research of Prof. Erez Ben Yosef, who began excavating at Timna in 2012 on behalf of Tel Aviv University, re-dates the peak of industrial activity to the period after the withdrawal of the Egyptians from Canaan, when there was no imperial supervision and management. This is through carbon 14 dating, a method that was less common in Rothenberg’s time, and the archamagnetism method, which began to be used in the 21st century. During the early Iron Age (12th to 10th centuries BC), Timna, along with Pinan (the corresponding production site in the northeast of the Arabah), was part of a successful trade network and experienced a significant increase in its activity along with technological intensification.

Timna was abandoned as early as the 9th century BC, probably due to overexploitation of the coal sources for the smelting furnaces. Mining continued in the classical period, but on a smaller scale than in previous periods. The smelting process took place outside of Timna in the area of ​​Be’er Ora, a central water source in the south of the Arava. Only In the early Islamic period, mining and production operations began again within the Valley.Copper mining ceased for hundreds of years until its modern revival in the State of Israel.


Ben-Yosef, E. (2018). The central Timna Valley Project. In: E. Ben-Yosef (ed.) Mining for Ancient Copper. Essays in Memory of Beno Rothenberg, 28-63. Tel Aviv University.

Ben-Yosef, E. (2019). The Architectural Bias in Current Biblical Archaeology. Vetus Testamentum, 69(3), 361-387.

Ben-Yosef, E., Langgut, D. & Sapir-Hen, L. (2017). Beyond Smelting: New insights on Iron Age (10th c. BCE) metalworkers community from excavations at a gatehouse and associated livestock pens in Timna, Israel. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 11, 411-426.

Rothenberg, B. (1999a). Archaeo-Metallurgical Researches in the Southern Arabah 1959–1990. Part I: Late Pottery Neolithic to Early Bronze IV. Palestine Exploration Quarterly 131(1), 68-89.

Rothenberg, B. (1999b). Archaeo-metallurgical Researches in the Southern Arabah 1959–1990. Part 2: Egyptian New Kingdom (Ramesside) to early Islam. Palestine Exploration Quarterly 131(2), 149-175.