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Wadi Arabah in the Great Rift Valley)

SEE ALSO: Wadi Feinan -- Rujm Taba -- Bir Madhkur

Wadi Fenan on the East Side of Wadi Araba Was a Source of Copper -- Perhaps Used Intermitently from the Chalocolithic Period (4500-3200 BC) Until the Roman Times

Wadi Arabah begins at the southern end of the Dead Sea and extends southward for 112 miles to the Gulf of Aqabah. Along the length of the center of Wadi Araba runs the boundary between the modern states of Israel and Jordan. It is an arid depression from six to twelve miles wide -- in reality a continuation of the Great Rift Valley. This section has been known from ancient Biblical times as the Arabah. Beginning at 1292 feet below sea level the valley gradually ascends as it goes southward for 67 miles to a watershed which rises 660 feet above sea level. From here it quickly descends until 45 miles further southward it reaches the Gulf of Aqabah at Ezion Geber. Surface explorations along with minor digs carried on by Doctor Nelson Glueck revealed a number of ruined villages and many copper and silver mines from which ore was dug in the time of Solomon (900-1000 B.C.) and during the time of the Nabateans (300 BC to AD 100) ...

Encyclopedia Judaica --- Second Edition (2007)

See ARABAH in the Jewish Virtual Library

THE ARABAH (Hebrew הֲָעָרָבה, Aravah, Arabic al-ʿAraba; “[arid] steppe” “desert”): name of two stretches of depressed ground extending north and south of the Dead Sea. The biblical Arabah, except in one instance, refers to the northern Arabah, i.e. the Jordan Valley from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea (which is also known as the “Sea of the Arabah”). Thus the land conquered by Moses in Transjordan included “the Arabah also, the Jordan being the border thereof from Chinnereth even unto the sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, under the slopes of Pisgah eastward” (Deuteronomy 3:17); or more simply “and all the Arabah beyond the Jordan eastward even unto the sea of the Arabah under the slopes of Pisgah” (Deuteronomy 4:49). It was left to Joshua to conquer “the Arabah” on the other side of the Jordan (Joshua 11:16). Within the northern Arabah the plains of Jericho are called “the Araboth [plural of Arabah] of Jericho” and those across the stream “the Araboth of Moab”. Only in Deuteronomy 2:8 does the Arabah refer to the Rift Valley south of the Dead Sea but in the course of time the term was applied only to this southern area.

The Arabah is now mainly a sandy desert with an average yearly rainfall of up to 1 inch. Oases are few and far between. The water has a salt content of up to 17 percent and vegetation is restricted to hardy desert plants such as the tamarisk and acacia. Temperatures vary from 57° f to 93° f (14° c to 34° c) with an average of 73°–75° f (23°–24° c). Traces of ancient agriculture are especially abundant in its northern portion where the Nabateans irrigated and cultivated large areas near Zoar and other places. The cultivation of sections of the Arabah continued into Byzantine times. The copper mines of the Arabah (especially of the Punon (Feinan) region) were exploited as early as the Chalcolithic period (fourth millennium B.C.E) and were perhaps one of the reasons why the kings of Israel and Judah so often fought over this barren wasteland with the kings of Edom. Another reason was to obtain domination of the Red Sea harbor of Eilat at the southern end of the Arabah. Exploitation of the copper mines was resumed in the Roman and Byzantine periods. The Arabah is now divided between Israel and Jordan; the Sodom-Eilat road passes through its western side. At the beginning of the 21st century the Arabah area had a population of 4,500 living in five moshavim, ten kibbutzim and three urban communities. Residents developed special farming techniques suitable to the area’s climate and also operated fisheries.

Michael Avi-Yonah / Shaked Gilboa

The History of the Ancient Near East Electronic Compendium