Geoarchaeology in Timna Valley

July 6th, 2013

StephChalcolithicMine070613MITZPE RAMON, ISRAEL–Wooster senior Steph Bosch is a double major in archaeology and geology. Rather than do a joint Independent Study project, she is actually doing two theses, which will no doubt be challenging this coming academic year, but she is more than a match for the task. Because of her interest in ancient mining, after our trip to Eilat we stopped by Timna Valley to look at some of the oldest mines in the world. Here she is inside a Chalcolithic copper mine at least 6000 years old. It was carved into the relatively soft Cambrian sandstone with stone tools, the marks of some of which can still be seen on the walls. (Elyssa Belding Krivicich will remember sitting in that same place for a photograph back in the day!) I am amazed we could crawl through a warren of these ancient mines, but then the surrounding mountains are riddled with hundreds that are well protected.

TimnaMushroom070613The landscape is fascinating, especially for geologists. The Cambrian sandstone is colorful and easily eroded, producing hoodoos like these as remnants on an intrusive igneous rock substrate.

TimnaArches070613That soft sandstone also weathers into natural arches, two of which you should be able to find in this view of the western wall of the valley.

TimnaSmeltingCamp070613During the 14th through the 12th centuries BCE, the Egyptians had an elaborate and extensive mining and production system at Timna. Here are the remains of a smelting camp where ore was processed to make ingots of copper. In this area is the smelter, a shrine, and a work building that had several rooms, each for a particular industrial purpose.

TimnaSmelter070613The smelter is easy to find because it is still to this day surrounded by fragments of black, glassy slag, a byproduct of the process.

OreCopperTimna070613The copper ore itself is easily seen as green-blue veins in the nearly white sandstone. The sandstone is very porous (it apparently represents the cross-bedded deposits of ancient braided streams) and is easily penetrated by hot waters generated by magmatic activity below. It appears to me to be the copper silicate mineral Chrysocolla.

Timna was a great place to look at the intersection of geology and archaeology.

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