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Khirbat en-Nahas (Khirbet en-Nahas)

Updated July 15th 2019

Read: Edom & Copper: The Emergence of Ancient Israel’s Rival By Thomas Levy and Mohammad Najjar
in the Biblical Archaeology Review 32:4 -- July/August 2006


Biblical Archaeology Review

Khirbat en-Nahas or Khirbet en-Nahas is one of the largest copper mining and smelting sites of the ancient world, built around 3,000 years ago.[1] It is located in Wadi Faynan between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba, now in Jordan. There is evidence for sophisticated economic and political activity in the valley about 3,000 years ago and archaeologists think it may be the site of an early organized state.[1]

Archaeologist Thomas Levy of the University of California heads a dig at Khirbat en-Nahas that has uncovered an ancient copper mining operation on a scale that he says can have been organized by only "an ancient state or kingdom."[2]

It is through the ground stone tools assembled on site at Khirbat en-Nahas that much research for the understanding of Iron Age copper mining and production is being conducted.[3] [WikiPedia]

Page 774 in New Insights into the Iron Age Archaeology of Edom in Southern Jordan
by Erez Ben-Yosef, Thomas E. Levy, Mohammad Najjar (2014)

Reassessing the chronology of Biblical Edom: new excavations and 14C dates from
Khirbat en-Nahas (Jordan)
by Thomas E. Levy et al in Antiquity Volume 78 Issue 302
December 2004 Pages 865-879

Abstract: ... Occupation begins here in the eleventh century BC and the monumental fortress is built in the tenth. If this site can be equated with the rise of the Biblical kingdom of Edom it can now be seen to: have its roots in local Iron Age societies; is considerably earlier than previous scholars assumed; and proves that complex societies existed in Edom long before the influence of Assyrian imperialism was felt in the region from the eighth to sixth centuries BC.

Introduction: The archaeology of the Iron Age (circa 1200 – 586 BC) in the southern Levant has been fraught with controversy ever since its nineteenth century beginnings primarily because it is linked with issues concerning the historicity of the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible. Dating events and processes of change during the “Biblical” or Iron Age periods has been particularly problematic. The recent application of high-precision radiocarbon dates to Iron Age archaeological strata offers a less biased approach for establishing a reliable chronology for the region and for assessing Biblical and ancient Near Eastern textual and archaeological data (Bruins et al 2003; Finkelstein & Piasetsky 2003b). The archaeological evidence for the appearance of Iron Age ‘statelets’ throughout the southern Levant at the end of the Late Bronze Age (circa 1200 BC) is interwoven with ancient Near Eastern and Biblical texts (Joffe 2002). Some of these new polities include ancient Israel -- Judah -- Philistia and Phoenicia located west of the Jordan River; Aram in Syria and the Transjordan polities of Edom, Moab and Ammon east of the Jordan River.

The paper reports high precision radiocarbon dates from stratified excavations at the major Iron Age metal production centre of Khirbat en-Nahas. These have proved to be of key importance for reassessing and clarifying the evolution of the Edomite kingdom known from biblical sources (Bartlett 1992).

Khirbat en-Nahas: The Context

From the Early Bronze Age (circa 3600–2000 BC) the Faynan district was a centre of copper metal production that ended around 1950 BC at about the time that copper from the island of Cyprus began to dominate the eastern Mediterranean and Near East (Adams 1999, 2002; Hauptmann 2000; Levy et al 2002). During the Middle and Late Bronze Ages (circa 2000 – 1200 BC) Cyprus was the main supplier of copper in this region. At the end of the Late Bronze Age there was a general societal collapse around the eastern Mediterranean basin causing the breakdown of many complex societies such as the Mycenaeans, Hittites and others. This collapse probably promoted a ‘power vacuum’ that led to the emergence of the small Levantine Iron Age ‘statelets’ noted above. The social dislocation at the end of the Late Bronze Age may also have disrupted Cypriot metal production (Muhly, Maddin & Karageorghis 1982) and long-distance trade in copper and may have stimulated renewed interest in the copper ore deposits on the Levantine mainland in areas such as Faynan (Knauf & Lenzen 1987).

Recent excavations at the Iron Age copper production centre of Khirbat en-Nahas, located in the ancient mining district of Faynan (Biblical Edom), offer a new data set for reviewing the early Iron Age (circa 1200–1000 BC) as well as later developments in the tenth-ninth centuries BC both in Transjordan and in the southern Levant as a whole. Until recently it was assumed that the establishment of settled populations in the region and the establishment of the Kingdom of Edom occurred only in the eighth through sixth centuries BC and that the rise of the Edomite state was linked to the establishment of the Assyrian empire (Bienkowski 2001; Herr & Najjar 2001; Stern 2001). This view developed as a result of the limited archaeological excavations in the region which have favoured sites on the plateau relatively far from the copper ore sources in the lowlands of Edom.

In this paper we present the recent excavation results from a major stratified Iron Age Edomite lowland site that demonstrate significant settlement and copper production activities well before the seventh and sixth centuries BC based on high precision radiocarbon dates. These dates demonstrate a much earlier Iron Age occupation in Edom dating to the twelfth to ninth centuries BC when construction of massive fortifications and industrial scale metal production activities took place. Given the current debate concerning radiocarbon dating and the Iron Age of the southern Levant (Holden 2003) it is clear that the new data presented here demonstrate that a complex Iron Age polity existed in the Edomite lowlands much earlier than previously assumed.

Khirbat en-Nahas: The site

Khirbat en-Nahas (area = circa 10 hectares) is the largest Iron Age copper-smelting site in the southern Levant. The site is situated in an area where numerous outcrops of copper ore were mined in the Saharo-Arabian desert zone ... Khirbat en-Nahas was first discovered at the turn of the nineteenth century by the Czech orientalist Alois Musil (Musil 1907), visited by the German researcher Frank (Frank 1934) but made famous by the American archaeologist Nelson Glueck in the 1930s (Glueck 1935). In the early 1990s the Deutsches Bergbau-Museum (DBM) undertook archaeo-metallurgical investigations in the Faynan district (Hauptmann 2000) ... Khirbat en-Nahas is unusually rich in archaeological remains visible on the site surface including fortifications, towers, buildings, metallurgical installations and mounds of slag representing repeated metallurgical activities.

Recent investigations at Khirbat en-Nahas

Based on surface observations and pottery Glueck long ago (1940) suggested that the fortress at Khirbat en-Nahas dated to the beginning of the Iron II period (tenth century BC). Later scholars doubted this early date and most have ignored the presence of this fortress in assessing the history of ancient Edom. However MacDonald’s SGNAS Survey identified it as an entirely Iron Age site (MacDonald 1992) clearly logging the surface pottery from the site to the Iron Age I and II and also noted the presence of Negebite Ware at the site. Surface mapping of the Khirbat en-Nahas site in 2002 revealed over 100 building complexes.


Excavation at the gate of Khirbat en-Nahas in what was Ancient Edom. Khirbat en-Nahas was located in the Wadi Faynan
and was one of the largest copper mining and smelting sites of the ancient world circa 3,000 years ago

Khirbat en-NahasKhirbat en-Nahas Sun, Jun 18, 2006 – 76 · Honolulu Star-Bulletin (Honolulu, Hawaii) · Newspapers.com

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