20120207-Treasure_of Nahal Mishmar.JPG
Treasure of Nahal Mishmar
Archaeologists usually shy away from assigning fixed dates to the Neolithic, Copper, Bronze and Iron Ages because these ages are based on stages of developments in regard to stone, copper, bronze and iron tools and the technology used to make and the development of these tools and technologies developed at different times in different places. The terms the Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age were coined by the Danish historian Christian Jurgen Thomsen in his Guide to Scandinavian Antiquities (1836) as a way of categorizing prehistoric objects. The Copper Age was added latter. In case you forgot, the Stone Age and Copper Age preceded the Bronze Age and the Iron Age came after it. Gold was first fashioned into ornaments about the same time bronze was.

David Silverman of Reed College wrote: “It is important to understand that terms such as Neolithic, Bronze Age, and Iron Age translate into hard dates only with reference to a particular region or peoples. In other words, it makes sense to say that the Greek Bronze Age begins before the Italian Bronze Age. Classifying people according to the stage which they have reached in working with and making tools from hard substances such as stone or metal turns out to be a convenient rubric for antiquity. Of course it is not always the case that every Iron Age people is more than advanced in respects other than metalworking (such as letters or governmental structures) than the Bronze Age folk who preceded them. [Source: David Silverman, Reed College, Classics 373 ~ History 393 Class ^*^]

“If you read in the literature on Italian prehistory, you find that there is a profusion of terms to designate chronological phases: Middle Bronze Age, Late Bronze Age, Middle Bronze Age I, Middle Bronze Age II, and so forth. It can be bewildering, and it is damnably difficult to pin these phases to absolute dates. The reason is not hard to discover: when you are dealing with prehistory, all dates are relative rather than absolute. Pottery does not come out of the ground stamped 1400 B.C. The chart on the screen, synthesized from various sources, represents a consensus of sorts and can serve us as a working model.

Websites and Resources on Prehistory: Wikipedia article on Prehistory Wikipedia ; Early Humans ; Prehistoric Art ; Evolution of Modern Humans ; Iceman Photscan ; Otzi Official Site Websites and Resources of Early Agriculture and Domesticated Animals: Britannica; Wikipedia article History of Agriculture Wikipedia ; History of Food and Agriculture museum.agropolis; Wikipedia article Animal Domestication Wikipedia ; Cattle Domestication; Food Timeline, History of Food ; Food and History ;

Archaeology News and Resources: : serves the online community interested in anthropology and archaeology; is good source for archaeological news and information. Archaeology in Europe features educational resources, original material on many archaeological subjects and has information on archaeological events, study tours, field trips and archaeological courses, links to web sites and articles; Archaeology magazine has archaeology news and articles and is a publication of the Archaeological Institute of America; Archaeology News Network archaeologynewsnetwork is a non-profit, online open access, pro- community news website on archaeology; British Archaeology magazine british-archaeology-magazine is an excellent source published by the Council for British Archaeology; Current Archaeology magazine is produced by the UK’s leading archaeology magazine; HeritageDaily is an online heritage and archaeology magazine, highlighting the latest news and new discoveries; Livescience : general science website with plenty of archaeological content and news. Past Horizons : online magazine site covering archaeology and heritage news as well as news on other science fields; The Archaeology Channel explores archaeology and cultural heritage through streaming media; Ancient History Encyclopedia : is put out by a non-profit organization and includes articles on pre-history; Best of History Websites is a good source for links to other sites; Essential Humanities provides information on History and Art History, including sections Prehistory

Copper Age

copper dagger

The 1,000-year-long Copper Age is also known as the Chalcolithic Period. It lasted from about 4500 B.C. to 3500 B.C., overlapping with the early Bronze Age. Some cultures and individuals used Copper Age technology after the Copper Age was over. The word Chalcolithic is derived from the Greek words “chalco” (copper) and “lithos”(stone). The oldest copper ornament dates back to around 8700 B.C. and it was found in present-day northern Iraq. There is evidence for copper smelting and recovery through processing of malachite and azurite in different parts of the world dating back to 5000 B.C.. Copper pipes used to carry water, dating back to around 2700 B.C., were found in one of the Egyptian pyramids. The Latin name for copper is Cuprum (Cu). It is believed that it has originated from the island of Cyprus where the Romans used to mine copper from its rich copper mines.

Copper was being fashioned into implements and gold was being fashioned into ornaments about 6,000 years ago, 3,000 years before the Greeks and Roman empires. Copper was the first metal to be worked by man on a relatively large scale in part because it is found in "large pure ingots in a natural state" in many different locations around the world. Axes, points and armor could be fashioned by simply hammering the metal; melting it wasn't necessary.

Gerald A. Larue wrote in “Old Testament Life and Literature”: In Palestine: “The Chalcolithic Age extended from the middle of the fifth to near the end of the fourth millennium B.C. During this period the art of smelting and molding copper was developed, and stone and bone tools were now augmented by a limited supply of implements made of this new substance. The skill developed by smiths in the handling of copper is amply illustrated in the several hundred beautifully fashioned cultic items from the end of the Chalcolithic period that were discovered in a cave near the Dead Sea in the spring of 1961. [Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,” 1968, <=>]

Andrew Curry wrote in Archaeology magazine, “Once largely ignored by the scholarly community, the Copper Age has become a hot topic. Since the collapse of communism in 1989 opened doors for western scholars in countries including Bulgaria, Romania, and Ukraine, a new appreciation for the region's prehistory is taking hold. The centuries between 5000 and 3500 B.C. are now seen as a crucial transition period during which early Europeans began to use metal tools, developed complex social structures, and established far-flung cultural and trading networks. [Source: Andrew Curry, Archaeology, March/April 2011]

"Far from being a historical footnote, Copper Age Europe was a technological and social proving ground. Archaeologists have found the earliest evidence of distinctions between rich and poor, rulers and the ruled. There is no evidence of social hierarchy prior to this period, in the Neolithic, or Stone Age. Until recently, scholars assumed the Copper Age was no more advanced. "Copper Age and Neolithic societies are always described as egalitarian, or as less complex," says German Archaeological Institute researcher Svend Hansen. The latest discoveries, however, suggest that humanity's first hesitant steps out of the Neolithic were probably taken as a result of the development of metalworking and the changes in society that came along with this technological breakthrough." [Ibid]

See Otzi, the Iceman

Making Copper

Some natural copper contains tin. During the forth millennium in present-day Turkey, Iran and Thailand man learned that these metals could be melted and fashioned into a metal---bronze---that was stronger than copper, which had limited use in warfare because copper armor was easily penetrated and copper blades dulled quickly. Bronze shared these limitations to a lesser degree, a problem that was rectified until the utilization of iron which is stronger and keeps a sharp edge better than bronze, but has a much higher melting point. [Source: "History of Warfare" by John Keegan, Vintage Books]

Smelting ore probably began in China or India and made its way westward. Much of the copper in ancient civilization in Mesopotamia, the Middle East, Egypt, Phoenicia, Greece and Rome came from Cyprus, whose name is the source of the word copper.

To melt copper out the rock it is necessary to keep a fire at least 1981̊F (1083̊C). This was most likely done in ancient Copper Age sites by continuously blowing a fire through tubes made from wood, bamboo or reeds. Archaeologists recreating the process need about an hour of constant blowing to produced several copper pellets the size of BBs. Producing copper for an ax using this method would take several weeks.

Rudna Glava and Ai Bunar: World’s Oldest Copper Mines

Rudna Glava in Serbia and Mechikladenets-Ai Bunar near Stara Zagora, Bulgaria are regarded as Europe’s — and perhaps the world’s — oldest copper mines. William A. Parkinson wrote in “Ancient Europe, 8000 B.C. to A.D. 1000 :Encyclopedia of the Barbarian World”: “Extensive research by eastern European scholars has reshaped our understanding of early copper ore mining techniques that were used during the Late Neolithic and Early Copper Age in the Balkans. Since the late 1960s, archaeological investigations at two copper mines—Rudna Glava and Ai Bunar—have revealed the complexity of early copper metallurgical techniques and revised our understanding of early copper exploitation strategies and their relationship to other socioeconomic processes. One of the most well-known prehistoric copper mines is the site of Rudna Glava in eastern Serbia. The site, located 140 kilometers east of Belgrade on the Romanian border, was a magnetite mine until the late 1960s. Archaeological excavations by Borislav Jovanović in the 1970s revealed over twenty prehistoric mine shafts that followed veins of copper ore throughout the limestone massif. [Source: William A. Parkinson, "Early Copper Mines at Rudna Glava and Ai Bunar." “Ancient Europe, 8000 B.C. to A.D. 1000: Encyclopedia of the Barbarian World.” /~\]

“The mine was excavated in antiquity using techniques that had been employed for thousands of years to exploit lithic resources, such as chert. Armed with stone mauls and antler picks, the prehistoric miners followed the vertical veins of copper ore into the hillside. They employed a method of heating and cooling to break up the ore and facilitate quarrying. First they would light fires along the wall face. Then they would throw water onto the hot rock, causing it to crack and thus making it easier to chip apart. Some of the veins were followed 15 to 20 meters into the center of the hill, with small horizontal access platforms extending off the main shaft. In those cases where the shaft appeared to be in danger of collapsing the miners built stone supporting walls out of the debris they excavated. /~\

“The mine at Rudna Glava is well dated to the Late Neolithic and Early Copper Age, a period also known as the Chalcolithic, which took place during the second half of the fifth and the first half of the fourth millennium B.C.. This dating is based on pottery from the Vinča culture that was found in the mine shafts. Jovanović recorded three different accumulations of pottery in the shafts. The oldest, which was found on an access platform in the mine along with a damaged antler tool and a large stone maul, dates to the transitional phase, known as the Gradac phase, between Early and Late Vinča, during the fifth millennium B.C. The two other pottery concentrations are characteristic of Late Vinča culture and date to the early fourth millennium B.C. /~\

“Another early copper mine was excavated at the site of Ai Bunar in northern Bulgaria in the Sredna Gora Mountains of central Bulgaria. The mine at Ai Bunar is roughly contemporary with the mine at Rudna Glava, and the miners used similar techniques. They excavated narrow open trenches to follow the veins of copper carbonates into the hills. As at Rudna Glava, archaeologists found antler picks and stone mauls in the mine shafts, in addition to two shaft-hole copper tools and the remains of three human individuals. /~\

“The ceramics found at Ai Bunar are characteristic of the ceramics found in the sixth layer at the Karanovo tell (Karanovo VI) and date to the late fifth millennium B.C. While this discovery demonstrates that the mines at Ai Bunar were in use during the later fifth millennium B.C., other evidence suggests the mines probably were in use somewhat earlier, possibly as early as the end of the sixth millennium B.C. Copper objects and ore that have been demonstrated chemically to have derived from the sources at Ai Bunar were found at several sites in south-central Bulgaria that are contemporary with Karanovo V, a phase that dates to the beginning of the fifth millennium B.C. /~\

“Chemical analyses, primarily lead isotope analyses, carried out by E. N. Chernykh, Noël H. Gale, and several Bulgarian specialists have demonstrated that Ai Bunar and Rudna Glava were not the only sources for copper ore in prehistory. The analysis of copper artifacts from several sites in south-central Bulgaria suggests that at least four other copper sources were exploited, though they remain unidentified. /~\

“A handful of other copper mines have been located in northern Thrace, one of which contained Karanovo V and VI pottery, and another prehistoric mine also is known to have existed at Mali Sturac, a site in the Rudnik mountain range in central Serbia. Unfortunately, none of these sites has been extensively explored, and little has been published about them.” /~\

Copper Age Settlements in the Middle East

Chalcolithic Age lasted in Palestine roughly from 4,500 to 3,300 B.C. Gerald A. Larue wrote in “Old Testament Life and Literature”: “Villages and towns of varying size were now spread throughout Palestine and permanent houses were built of stone, mud-brick and wood, although cave living was still common, and near Beer-sheba there was a whole village with underground living and storage quarters. A rich variety of stone, pottery and copper artifacts, fine flint work, paintings and carvings mark cultural growth in this period. New burial patterns were developed. Often the dead were interred in large storage jars, and at other times bodies were cremated and the remains placed in specially made pottery urns and interred in caves. [Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,” 1968,]

Exposed rocks in western Jordan, in the Wadi Faynan region, contain bluish copper ore that can easily be removed my hand. Around 4500 B.C. people discovered that the copper ore, when heated to temperatures yields a metal strong enough to make tools as well as religious objects and other items. [Source: Katherine Oziment, National Geographic, April 1999]

Copper Age stone and bone tools

The copper found in Wadi Faynan was moved along ancient trading routes from Jordan to Israel, mostly likely on foot and by donkey, to places like the Basheba Valley, where fertile alluvial soils along stream beds supported increasingly large populations.

A Copper Age village, with more than a thousand people and dated to 4200 B.C., was found in Shiquim in the Besheeba Valley in Israel in the 1970s. The people lived in mud brick and stone houses and built an extensive network of underground rooms used to store grain. Large structures used for religious, economic and social purposes were built.

Curry wrote in Archaeology, “Recent digs at Copper Age sites across Europe are overturning long-held beliefs about the continent's earliest cultures Beginning in the early 1970s, archaeologists excavating the Copper Age site of Varna, Bulgaria, uncovered evidence of the emergence of a class system in prehistoric Europe. In one grave , the remains of a man buried with more than two pounds of gold pointed to his economically and socially superior position in society." [Source: Andrew Curry, Archaeology, March/April 2011]

Objects from Middle East Copper Age Settlements

In Copper Age Middle East Period people living primarily in what is now southern Israel fashioned awls, axes, adzes, chisels, vessels, mace heads, ornate standards, crowns and eight-inch rings (probably used as ingots because they were easy to transport and store). In a canyon called Nahal Mishmar on west side of the Dead Sea, archaeologists found 429 objects, dated to 3500 B.C., in reed mats that showed incredible artistry and technical skill.

People from the Chalcolithic Period also made objects from ivory and stone such as figures with large noses and breasts carved from hippopotamus and elephant tusk, violin-shaped figures made of schist, granite and limestone that may have been goddesses from a fertility cult.

In 1993, archaeologists found a skeleton of a Copper Age warrior in a cave near Jericho. The skeleton was found in a reed mat and linen ocher-died shroud (probably woven by several people with a ground loom) along with a wooden bowl, leather sandals, a long flint blade, a walking stick and a bow with tips shaped like a ram's horns. The warrior's leg bone showed a healed fracture.

20120207-Treasure of Nahal Mishmar.JPG
Treasure of Nahal Mishmar

Nahal Mishmar Treasure

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “In 1961, a spectacular collection of objects dating from the Chalcolithic period (ca. 4000–3300 B.C.) was excavated in a cave in the Judaean Desert near the Dead Sea. Hidden in a natural crevice and wrapped in a straw mat, the hoard contained 442 different objects: 429 of copper, six of hematite, one of stone, five of hippopotamus ivory, and one of elephant ivory. Many of the copper objects in the hoard were made using the lost-wax process, the earliest known use of this complex technique. For tools, nearly pure copper of the kind found at the mines at Timna in the Sinai Peninsula was used. However, the more elaborate objects were made with a copper containing a high percentage of arsenic (4–12 percent), which is harder than pure copper and more easily cast. [Source: Department of Ancient Near Eastern Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2004 \^/]

“Carbon-14 dating of the reed mat in which the objects were wrapped suggests that it dates to at least 3500 B.C. It was in this period that the use of copper became widespread throughout the Levant, attesting to considerable technological developments that parallel major social advances in the region. Farmers in Israel and Jordan began to cultivate olives and dates, and herders began to use milk products from domesticated animals. Specialized artisans, sponsored by an emerging elite, produced exquisite wall paintings, terracotta figurines and ossuaries, finely carved ivories, and basalt bowls and sculpture.”

“The objects in the Nahal Mishmar hoard appear to have been hurriedly collected. It has been suggested that the hoard was the sacred treasure belonging to a shrine at Ein Gedi, some twelve kilometers away. Set in an isolated region overlooking the Dead Sea, the Ein Gedi shrine consists of a large mudbrick walled enclosure with a gatehouse. Across from the gatehouse is the main structure, a long narrow room entered through a doorway in the long wall. In the center of the room and on either side of the doorway are long narrow benches. Opposite the door is a semicircular structure on which a round stone pedestal stood, perhaps to support a sacred object. The contents of the shrine were hidden in the cave at Nahal Mishmar, perhaps during a time of emergency. The nature and purpose of the hoard remains a mystery, although the objects may have functioned in public ceremonies.” \^/

20120207-Treasure of Nahal_Mishmar.JPG
Treasure of Nahal Mishmar

World’s Oldest Crown: Used for Funeral Rituals Near the Dead Sea

A crown dating to about 3,500 B.C. discovered in the Cave of Treasures near the Dead Sea was used for burial ceremonies during the Copper Age. The Epoch Times and Times of Israel reported: “The Nahal Mishmar Hoard is a collection of copper, bronze, ivory and stone artifacts found wrapped in a reed mat in a cave by the Dead Sea. [Source: Epoch Times and Times of Israel, June 9, 2015]

“A team searching for Dead Sea scrolls in 1961 discovered the treasure hidden in a crevice, behind a boulder deep within the cave. Carbon-dating of the mat places it in the Copper Age between 4,000-3,500 B.C. The amazing find included mace heads, scepters, tools and weapons, many of which were unlike anything ever found.

“One object of particular interest is a crown, believed to be the oldest in the world. It is a thick copper ring with doors and vultures protruding from the top. Based on the symbolism, researchers believe it was used for funeral rituals. The crown was unveiled by New York University’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World as part of the “Masters of Fire: Copper Age Art from Israel” exhibit in 2015.

Rujm El-Hiri

Rujm El-Hiri is a megalith circle in present-day Israel that possibly dates to the Copper Age. S.E. Batt wrote for Listverse:: Also known as the “Wheel of Giants,” Rujm el-Hiri is a large, circular, megalithic structure near the Sea of Galilee. It appears as a giant stone wheel with inner rings and “spokes” that connect everything. Right in the middle of the ring, almost like a bull’s-eye, is a place for burial. [Source: S.E. Batt, Listverse July 1, 2016 ^^^]

“Not only are archaeologists unsure that the burial site was made at the same time as the wheel but further investigation of the site revealed that no burials actually took place in it. It’s thought that valuable artifacts were once here because there is proof that looters hit the site, including a Chalcolithic pin potentially dropped by a looter. ^^^

“As for proposed functions, archaeologists don’t believe it was a place built for dwelling or defense. Some believe that it was a calendar given how the sunrise on the solstices align with the entrances of the wheel. One popular explanation points to the burial site, claiming that people were placed there to undergo excarnation, the act of removing the flesh from a human body. The bones would be moved to another site, which explains the lack of evidence that a burial took place. However, it would be hard, if not impossible, to prove that this actually occurred at Rujm el-Hiri. Regardless, the site has been estimated to have taken 25,000 working days in total to build. Whatever purpose it was meant to perform, it was obviously very important.” ^^^

Chalcolithic Age Mesopotamia

Gerald A. Larue wrote in “Old Testament Life and Literature”: “In Mesopotamia, at Tell Halaf on the Khabour River, a tributary of the Euphrates, hard, thin pottery with a beautiful finish produced by high firing at controlled heats was found. This pottery from the middle of the fifth millennium is decorated with geometric designs in red and black on- a buff slip, but animal and human figures also appear. One figure appears to represent a chariot, thus indicating the use of the wheel. Houses were constructed out of mud brick, but reed structures plastered with mud were also built. Cones of clay, painted red or black or left plain, were often inserted in the mud walls to form mosaics and to protect the wall from weathering. [Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,” 1968, <=>]

“A small shrine of mud brick from Eridu belongs to the same period. Only foundations and a plastered floor remain, but it is surmised that the upper structure was plastered and painted. Later in the period the shrine was covered over with earth, and a second temple was built above it, placing the new building considerably above the surrounding plateau.<=>

Copper Age churn
“A more pretentious structure from the beginning of the fourth millennium was found at Tepe Gawra, near modern Mosul. Three large buildings of sun-baked brick were located on an acropolis and designed to frame three sides of an open court. Inner rooms were painted in red-purple, and exterior walls were red on one building, white on another and brown on the third. A fourth millennium temple was built at Uruk upon a staged, elevated mound, 140 by 150 feet at the base and 30 feet high. This man-made, mountain-top home for the gods was of pounded clay and layers of sun-dried brick and asphalt. Surmounted by a white-washed temple (65 x 150 x 14 feet) and approached by a steep stairway and a ramp, this structure is known as a ziggurat (from the Assyrian-Babylonian ziqquratu, meaning "to be raised up," hence "a high place") and is the prototype of loftier and more magnificent ziggurats of later periods.<=>

“For the first time the cylinder seal is found. Each of these small stone cylinders had distinctive patterns inscribed on its surface, and when rolled over soft, moist clay left a raised design, which could be used as a sign of ownership. About the middle of the fourth millennium, pictographic writing was developed and incised upon clay tablets. As the use of writing increased pictographs became more and more stylized, finally being reduced to wedge-shaped symbols or what is called cuneiform writing. Cuneiform characters were impressed upon a tablet of moist clay with a stylus, and if the document required a signature, a cylinder seal was used. The tablet was baked or allowed to dry, forming a permanent record.<=>

“A hearth or incense burner found in one of the caves near Beer-sheba was set in the center of the mud floor and consisted of an arrangement of large pebbles in the form of what has been called "a magic square." Each stone bears a mark in indelible red color, and it is possible that the hearth was used in divination by a priest-magician in the Chalcolithic age. The excavators lifted out the entire section of the floor that contained the hearth and mounted it in a special frame for study and display.<=>

“The precise identity of these Mesopotamian people is not known for sure, but on the basis of the sexegesimal arithmetical system utilized on some of the clay tablets, a system also used by the Sumerians, and from references to gods worshiped by the Sumerians, it is presumed that they were Sumerians. Where they came from and when is unknown,5 but they are neither Semites nor Indo-Europeans, and they refer to themselves as "the black-headed-people."<=>

Chalcolithic Age Egypt

Gerald A. Larue wrote in “Old Testament Life and Literature”: “In Egypt the Chalcolithic period is represented by Badarian culture, first found at al Badari. Unusual, ripple patterned pottery was produced in a variety of finishes. Green malachite ore, so important for the beautification of the eyes, was ground on slate palettes that were often ornamented. Skeletal remains indicate that the Badarians were a stocky people and that they believed in some form of afterlife, for the dead were buried in a flexed or sleeping posture with food and equipment. [Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,” 1968, <=>]

In burial urns from the plain of Sharon the deceased person was cremated and the ashes and bones were placed in these clay house-shaped ossuaries. Each urn is individualistic in design and structure, which may indicate stylistic variations in the architecture of the dwellings of the period. The significance of the "nose-like" projection is not known.<=>

“The succeeding culture, beginning with the fourth millennium, was called Amratian, after el-Amreh near Abydos, and was centered in Upper Egypt. A new people, tall and slender, appear. Some features of their artifacts demonstrate borrowing from the Badarians, but the extensive use of copper, magnificent flint work, and artistic expressions in slate, ivory and clay mark unique developments. Amratian dead were buried in oval pits in tightly flexed positions. In addition to the usual grave furnishings, ivory and clay figurines of women and slaves were included, leading to the hypothesis that these were miniature substitutions for an older practice of sacrificing living individuals to serve an important individual in the afterlife.<=>

“The Gerzean period began in the middle of the fourth millennium, and for the first time written documents appear in Egypt. Local towns or districts (later called "nomes" by the Greeks) were formed, each with a local symbol that was often mounted on ships to designate district of origin. By conquest, units were joined into larger districts. Gerzian tombs were elaborate: the poor were buried in oblong graves with a ]edge at one side to hold funerary offerings, the rich in tombs lined with mud brick. Gold is found for the first time along with silver and meteoritic iron. Figures on a clay vessel about 113/4 inches high from the late Gerzian period are in deep red against a cream colored background. The wavy handles on each side are known as "ledge handles" and are characteristic of vessels of the same period found in Palestine.<=>

“Within the next half millennium significant administrative changes occurred. Gerzean districts of Upper Egypt united under a single ruler who wore a tall white helmet as a crown. Delta nomes united tinder a king who wore a crown of red wicker-work. By 2900 B.C. the two areas had become one, and the single ruler wore both red and white crowns and was known as "King of Upper and Lower Egypt."<=>

Metal Tools in Ancient Egypt

Early tools were made from copper and later bronze. Egyptian bronze tended to be around 88 percent copper and 12 percent tin. Iron was introduced by the Hittites in the 13th century but wasn't common until the 6th or 7th century B.C.

James Harrell of the University of Toledo wrote: “Stones exploited for tools and especially weapons were progressively supplanted by metals, initially copper in the late Predynastic Period, then the harder bronze beginning in the Middle Kingdom (ca. 2030–1640 B.C.), and finally the still harder “iron” (actually low- grade steel) by the end of the Late Period (712–332 B.C.). These metals, however, never completely replaced the stone tools and weapons, and crushing and grinding were almost always done with stones throughout antiquity. [Source: James Harrell, University of Toledo, OH, Environmental Sciences, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2012, ]

According to Plumbing & Mechanical Magazine: “The Egyptians were quite skilled in working metals. They melted metal in a crucible over a super-hot fire, the intense heat provided by men fanning the fire with blowpipes made of reeds tipped with clay. The molten metal was poured out and allowed to cool, then beaten out with smooth stones into sheets of the required thickness. It was then cut to shape. One explanatory picture in a tomb chapel describes the process as “causing metal to swim.”“[Source: Plumbing & Mechanical Magazine, July 1989,]

Sculptures made of copper, bronze and other metals were cast using the lost wax method which worked as follows: 1) A form was made of wax molded around a pieces of clay. 2) The form was enclosed in a clay mold with pins used to stabilize the form. 3) The mold was fired in a kiln. The mold hardened into a ceramic and the wax burns and melted leaving behind a cavity in the shape of the original form. 4) Metal was poured into the cavity of the mold. The metal sculpture was removed by breaking the clay when it was sufficiently cool.

Copper Tools in Ancient Egypt

Ancient Egyptian surgical tools

A wide variety of copper tools, fish hooks and needles were made. Chisels and knives lost their edge and shape quickly and had be reshaped with some regularity or simply thrown out. In the Old Kingdom (2700 to 2125 B.C.) there was only copper. Copper-making hearths have been found near the pyramids. Reliefs found nearby show Egyptians gathering around a fire smelting copper by blowing into long tubes with bulbous endings.

André Dollinger wrote in his Pharaonic Egypt site: “Copper may have been the first metal to be worked in Egypt, even before the metallic gold. The ores had a 12 percent copper content and given the scarcity of fuel and the difficulties of transportation one may well marvel at the fact, that they succeeded at extracting copper at all. In the beginning it was probably worked cold. In early Egyptian graves copper ornaments, vessels and weapons have been found as well as needles, saws, scissors, pincers, axes, adzes, harpoon and arrow tips, and knives. [Source: André Dollinger, Pharaonic Egypt site, <|>]

“This wide array of tools made of a metal difficult to cast and even with tempering too soft to be of use with any but the softest stone and wood shows the urgent need people felt for tools more flexible than what could be made of wood and stone.” Much of the copper used in Egypt was mined in the Sinai. <|>

“Pure copper (like silver or gold) has a hardness factor of 2.5 to 3 on the Moh scale which is just about the same as limestone's. Naturally occurring copper is somewhat harder due to metallic impurities. Thanks to tempering, copper chisels and saws could be used to work freshly quarried limestone from the 4th dynasty onwards, but annealing with fire and hammering also rendered the tools more brittle. Because of the metal's softness, copper tools lost their edge quickly and had to be resharpened frequently. When cutting and drilling grit was probably used, which lodged itself in the edges of the soft copper bits and performed the abrasive action. <|>

“At first copper and bronze tools were similar to their stone equivalents, but soon the properties of the metal, among them malleability, began to influence their design. Fishing hooks were given barbs. Knives grew longer. Sowing needles were fashioned less than 1½ mm thick. Copper tools found at Kahun: 1) Piercer or bradawl with wooden handle; 2) Barbed fishing hooks; 3) Needle; 4) Pin; 5) Netting bobbin; 6) Hatchet; 7) Knives; 8) Chisel.

Cyprus—Island of Copper

Covering 3,570 square miles, Cyprus is situated in the northeastern corner of the Mediterranean Sea, south or present-day Turkey and west of present-day Syria. It is the third largest island in the region after Sicily and Sardinia.

Colette and Seán Hemingway of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “Cyprus was famous in antiquity for its copper resources. In fact the very word copper is derived from the Greek name for the island, Kupros. Cypriots first worked copper in the fourth millennium B.C., fashioning tools from native deposits of pure copper, which at that time could still be found in places on the surface of the earth. The discovery of rich copper-bearing ores on the north slope of the Troodos Mountains led to the mining of Cyprus' rich mineral resources in the Bronze Age at sites such as Ambelikou-Aletri. Tin, which is mixed together with copper to make bronze, typically at a ratio of 1:10, had to be imported. [Source: Colette Hemingway and Seán Hemingway, Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2004, \^/]

Roman-era copper slag from Cyprus

“True tin bronzes appear to have been made on Cyprus as early as the beginning of the second millennium B.C. In the nineteenth century B.C., the island is mentioned for the first time in Near Eastern records as a copper-producing country, under the name "Alasia," and it continued to be an important source of copper for the Near East and Egypt throughout most of the second millennium B.C. Scholars, however, are in disagreement as to the exact meaning of "Alasia": whether it refers to a specific site on Cyprus, such Enkomi or Alassa, or to the island itself, or, less probably, to another geographic location. \^/

“Cypriot copper and bronze working was relatively modest in the Early and Middle Bronze Ages, and metalsmiths manufactured a limited range of types, including tools, weapons, and personal objects such as pins and razors. Excavations have revealed increasing metallurgical activity at settlement sites in the Late Bronze Age. Nearly all of the major centers, including Enkomi, Kition, Hala Sultan Tekke, Palaeopaphos, and Maroni, provide evidence of copper smelting, as do smaller settlements, including Alassa and Kalavasos-Ayios Dhimitrios. \^/

“Metalwork of the first part of the Late Bronze Age continued to follow earlier conservative traditions. Despite the widespread evidence for metallurgical activity, there are few examples of actual bronzework from Cyprus between ca. 1450 B.C. until the late thirteenth century B.C., the Late Cypriot II period, because the metal was valuable and metal objects were melted down in subsequent periods for reuse. However, the recent discovery of the Ulu Burun shipwreck, which was carrying over ten tons of Cypriot copper ingots when it sank off the southwestern coast of Turkey in the late fourteenth century B.C., vividly demonstrates that Cyprus was a major producer of copper for international trade. Toward the end of the Late Bronze Age, the Cypriot metalworking industry was transformed under foreign influence. Cypriot smiths produced some of the finest bronzework in the eastern Mediterranean, most notably tripods and four-sided stands.” \^/

Prehistoric Cyprus

Colette and Seán Hemingway of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: Cyprus’s “unique culture dates from as early as the end of the ninth millennium B.C., when the first permanent settlers may have arrived from southern Anatolia or the Syro-Palestinian coast, bringing with them an already developed culture. However, there is evidence for the presence of seasonal hunters of pygmy elephants and pygmy hippopotami before then, ca. 10,000 B.C. The earliest Neolithic settlers had an organized society based on agriculture and animal husbandry. Several of their settlements have been excavated throughout the island, including Khirokitia and Kalavasos near the southern coast. During the latter part of the Neolithic period (ca. 8500 B.C.–ca. 3900 B.C.), islanders began to work clay, making vessels which they baked and often decorated with abstract patterns in red on a light slip. [Source: Collete Hemingway, Independent Scholar, Seán Hemingway, Department of Greek and Roman Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2004, \^/]

“The culture of the succeeding Chalcolithic period (ca. 3900 B.C.–ca. 2500 B.C.) may have been introduced to the island by a new wave of settlers who came from the same regions as the Neolithic settlers. Their art and religious practices were sophisticated. Clay and stone female figures, often with accentuated genitals, predominate, symbolizing the fertility of humans, animals, and the soil—the essential needs of an agrarian community. In the latter part of the Chalcolithic period, people began making small tools and decorative ornaments from the native copper (chalkos); thus the phase is termed Chalcolithic, referring to the transition from the Stone Age to the Bronze Age. \^/

“Little is known about the political system on Cyprus during the Late Bronze Age, although the island clearly maintained strong ties with the Near East, especially Syria. Urban centers with palatial structures of the fourteenth and thirteenth centuries B.C., such as Enkomi and Kition, have been excavated extensively, and rich cemeteries of the same period have yielded luxury goods in a variety of materials. From the beginning of the fourteenth century B.C., there was a significant influx to Cyprus of fine quality Mycenaean vessels, which are found almost exclusively in the tombs of an aristocratic elite. With the destruction of the Mycenaean centers in Greece during the twelfth century B.C., political conditions in the Aegean became unstable and refugees left their homes for safer places, including Cyprus, beginning the Hellenization of the island that would take root over the next two centuries.” \^/

Trade in Prehistoric Cyprus

Mesopotamia-era copper trade

Colette and Seán Hemingway of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “The unique geographic location of Cyprus at the crossroads of seafaring trade in the eastern Mediterranean made it an important center for trade and commerce in antiquity. Already in the Early Bronze Age (ca. 2500 B.C.–ca. 1900 B.C.) and Middle Bronze Age (ca. 1900 B.C.–ca. 1600 B.C.), Cyprus had established contacts with Minoan Crete and, subsequently, Mycenaean Greece, as well as with the ancient civilizations of the Near East (Syria and Palestine), Egypt, and southern Anatolia.[Source: Collete Hemingway, Independent Scholar, Seán Hemingway, Department of Greek and Roman Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2004, \^/]

“From the first part of the second millennium B.C., Near Eastern texts referring to the kingdom of "Alasia," a name that is most likely synonymous with all or part of the island, attest to Cypriot connections with the Syro-Palestinian coast. Rich copper resources provided the Cypriots with a commodity that was highly valued and in great demand throughout the ancient Mediterranean world. Cypriots exported large quantities of this raw material and other goods, such as opium in Small Base Ring Ware jugs resembling the capsules of opium poppies in exchange for luxury goods such as silver, gold, ivory tusks, wool, perfumed oils, chariots, horses, precious furniture, and other finished objects. \^/

“During the Late Bronze Age (ca. 1600 B.C.–ca. 1050 B.C.), copper was being produced and exported on a massive scale, and Cypriot trade expanded to include Egypt, the Near East, and the Aegean region. Correspondence between the pharaoh of Egypt and the king of Alasia, dating from the first half of the fourteenth century B.C., provides valuable information about the trade relations between Cyprus and Egypt. The Cesnola Collection has a number of objects of faience and alabaster that were imported into Cyprus from Egypt during this period. The scope of Cypriot maritime trade at this time is best exemplified by the fourteenth-century B.C. shipwreck at Ulu Burun recently excavated off the southwestern coast of Anatolia. Archaeological remains indicate that the ship was sailing west, having perhaps called at other harbors in the Levant, and that it had loaded 355 copper ingots (ten tons of copper) in Cyprus, as well as large storage jars, some of them containing fine Cypriot pottery and agricultural goods, including coriander. \^/

Culture and Art in Prehistoric Cyprus

Colette and Seán Hemingway of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: ““The pottery of the prehistoric Cypriots, especially that produced in the Early and Middle Bronze Ages, is exuberant and imaginative in shape and decoration. Terracotta figurines were also produced in fairly large numbers and placed in tombs throughout the Bronze Age. As in the Chalcolithic period, they most commonly depict female figures that symbolize regeneration. Other funerary objects, especially those buried with men, include bronze tools and weapons. Gold and silver jewelry, and cylinder seals appear on Cyprus as early as 2500 B.C. The island had a highly developed glyptic art, which shows influences from both the Near East and the Aegean region. \^/[Source: Collete Hemingway, Independent Scholar, Seán Hemingway, Department of Greek and Roman Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2004, \^/]

“Undeniable influence of the Aegean on Cypriot culture during the Late Bronze Age can be seen in the development of writing, bronzeworking, seal stone carving, jewelry production, and some ceramic styles, especially in the twelfth century B.C., when intermittent Mycenaean settlers were arriving on the island. From about 1500 B.C., the Cypriots began using a still undeciphered script, which very much resembles the Linear A of Minoan Crete. Long examples exist on baked clay tablets and other documents found at urban centers such as Enkomi (on the eastern coast) and Kalavasos (on the southern coast). Engraved and pointed characters of the script appear on a number of vases in the Cesnola Collection at the Metropolitan. \^/

“During the Late Bronze Age, Cyprus was also an important center for the manufacture of works of art that show an amalgam of local and foreign influences. Stylistic features and iconographic elements borrowed from Egypt, the Near East, and the Aegean are often mixed together in Cypriot works. Undoubtedly foreign motifs, and the significance they held, were reinterpreted as they became part of distinctive local artistic traditions. Cypriot artisans traveled abroad as well, and in the twelfth century B.C. some Cypriot metalsmiths may have settled as far west as Sicily and Sardinia.” \^/

Slave Hill, Biblical-Era Copper Mine: Solomon’s Mine?

Since 2012, Ben-Yosef Erez Ben-Yosef, an archaeologist from Tel Aviv University, has been overseeing an archaeological expedition in the heart of Israel’s Timna Valley, the second biggest source of copper in the southern Levant region. (The biggest is Faynan, farther north in Jordan.) Megan Gannon wrote in Live Science: “People have taken advantage of the copper deposits at Timna for millennia. There are dozens of smelting sites and thousands of primitive mining pits clearly visible in the region today. And the area is still used for copper production; the Mexican mining giant AHMSA has a stake in the region. [Source: Megan Gannon, Live Science, November 25, 2014 |~|]

“Recently, the Timna Valley team has taken a crack at Slaves’ Hill, a smelting factory on top of a mesa that was in operation during the 10th century B.C., the biblical era of King Solomon. Today, there are traces of ancient furnaces at the site and lots of slag, which is the rocky material that’s left over after metal is extracted from its ore. (Essentially, it’s manmade lava.). Nelson Glueck explored the region in the 1930s, he named this hilltop site Slaves’ Hill, assuming that its fortification walls were intended to keep enslaved laborers from running off into the desert. When he saw this very harsh environment, he assumed that the labor force had to be slaves,” Ben-Yosef told Live Science. |~|

“The site has a complicated scholarly history. When Glueck first explored the region, he thought he was looking at Iron Age mines that fueled King Solomon’s fabled wealth. Later research then cast doubt on Glueck’s interpretation. In 1969, an Egyptian temple dedicated to the goddess Hathor was discovered in Timna Valley. Archaeologists at the time took this as evidence that mining in the area was controlled by Egypt’s New Kingdom during the Bronze Age, a few centuries earlier than the supposed reign of King Solomon. |~|

“When Ben-Yosef’s team revisited the site, they took carbon dates at Slaves’ Hill, and found that most artifacts date to the 10th century B.C., when the Bible says King Solomon ruled. Still, there is no evidence linking Solomon or his kingdom to the mines (and little evidence outside of the Bible for Solomon as a historical figure). One theory is that the mines were controlled by the Edomites, a semi-nomadic tribal confederacy that battled constantly with Israel. |~|

“Last year, the team’s research at Timna Valley added another layer of nuance to the biblical narrative. Ben-Yosef and Sapir-Hen published an analysis of camel bones at Slaves’ Hill and other surrounding sites. The age of the earliest bones supports the theory that camels were not introduced to the region until at least the early Iron Age — in contradiction to the Old Testament, which refers to camels as pack animals as far back as the Patriarchal Age, which is thought to be around 2000 B.C. |~|

“The latest findings of the Central Timna Valley Project were detailed in the September issue of the journal Antiquity and were presented here last week at the annual meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research. The team will return to Timna Valley in February 2015. Ben-Yosef said that the researchers will investigate the smelting technology of the Egyptians who worked in the region during the Bronze Age, and will explore the actual Iron Age mines.” |~|

Workers at Slave Hill, Seemed to Have Lived Pretty Well

Metalworkers at Slave Hill appear to have been compensated for their work with fairly good meals. Megan Gannon wrote in Live Science: “The metalworkers’ diet included good cuts of sheep and goat, as well as pistachios, grapes and fish brought to the middle of the desert from the Mediterranean, according to an analysis of ancient leftovers at “Slaves’ Hill”...The findings imply that “Slaves’ Hill” might be a misnomer; the people who manned the furnaces probably weren’t slaves, but rather, they held a higher status because of their craft, archaeologists say.

“Somebody took care that these people were eating well,” said Erez Ben-Yosef, an archaeologist from Tel Aviv University. [Source: Megan Gannon, Live Science, November 25, 2014 |~|]

“Ben-Yosef and his colleague Lidar Sapir-Hen, another archaeologist at Tel Aviv University, looked at animal remains from Slaves’ Hill and found mostly sheep and goat bones, many with butchery marks. This supports the idea that this mining camp relied on livestock for food. Bones from the meatiest parts of the sheep and goats were found near the smelting furnaces. |~|

“The archaeologists also found the remains of 11 fish, including catfish, which would have come from the Mediterranean Sea, at least 125 miles (200 kilometers) away. The researchers found pistachios and grapes, too, which would have come from the Mediterranean region. The team also discovered a sea snail known as a cowrie, which would have come from a more local water source, the Red Sea, at least 19 miles (30 kilometers) to the south. |~|

“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.” |~|

“Metalworkers had to be multitaskers. They controlled nearly 40 different variables, from the temperature to the amount of air to the amount of charcoal in the furnace, Ben-Yosef said. “If they had mistaken something, the entire process would fail,” Ben-Yosef said. “On the other hand, if they do succeed, they are the guys who know how to make metal from rock.” |~|

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons except last picture from star-of-david, map by Betmatrho

Text Sources: National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Nature, Scientific American. Live Science, Discover magazine, Discovery News, Ancient Foods ; Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, BBC, The Guardian, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); History of Warfare by John Keegan (Vintage Books); History of Art by H.W. Janson (Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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