A new study by Tel Aviv University and the Israeli Antiquities Authority indicates that a copper ore smelting workshop operated thousands of years ago in Beer Sheva, the capital of the Negev desert.
The study, conducted over several years, began in 2017 in Beer Sheva, when the workshop was first discovered during an emergency archeological excavation by the Israeli Antiquities Authority to protect threatened antiquities.
The new study it also shows that the site may have contained the world’s first proof of a revolutionary device for those times: the oven.
“The excavation revealed evidence for domestic production in the Chalcolithic period, about 6,500 years ago. Surprising discoveries include a small copper smelting workshop – a small tin plant in which copper ore was smelted – as well as a lot of copper slag, “said Talia Abulafia, director of the excavation on behalf of the Israeli Antiquities Authority. .
Although metalworking was already known in the Chalcolithic period, the tools used were still made of stone. The word “Chalcolithic” itself is a combination of the Greek words for “copper” and “stone.”
In the Chalcolithic period, when copper was first refined, the process was far from mine, unlike the predominant historical model by which kilns were built near mines for both practical and economic reasons.
The hypothesis is that the reason wanted to keep the technique secret
“It is important to understand that copper refining was the cutting-edge technology of that period. There has been no more sophisticated technology than this in the entire ancient world, ”says Prof. Ben-Yosef, of the Department of Archeology and Ancient Civilizations in the Middle East.
“Throwing pieces of ore in a fire will not get you anywhere. You need some knowledge to build special ovens that can reach very high temperatures while maintaining low oxygen levels. ”
Prof. Ben-Yosef also notes that, even in Chalcolithic settlements that possessed both stone and copper instruments, the secret of shiny metal was held by very few members of an elite.
“At the beginning of the metallurgical revolution, the secret of metal processing was kept by expert guilds. All over the world, we see metallurgical neighborhoods in Chalcolithic settlements, like the ones in the neighborhood we found in Beer Sheva. ”
Sign of social stratification
The study discusses the extent to which this society has been socially hierarchical or stratified, as the society was not yet urbanized.
The company seems to have consisted of a clearly defined elite, which possessed expertise and professional secrets and which kept its power being the exclusive source of shiny copper.
Copper objects were not made for use, instead they were used for ritual purposes and thus had symbolic value.
The copper ax, for example, was not used as a tool. It was an artistic and / or cult object modeled on the line of a stone ax.
Copper objects were probably used in rituals, while everyday objects used continued to be made of stone.