Thursday, April 26, 2012


Hello My Friend and Welcome. 

The term King Solomon’s Mines conjures up all sorts of images. Perhaps it does for you as well. The book, yes it was a book long, long before it ever became a movie, has been memorialized in film three times.  

It’s interesting to compare the three posters. It’s amazing how positively chaste Deborah Kerr looked in the 1950 version. Very in keeping with the Victorian time period in which the novel was set. Note also that she got star billing, not Stewart Granger who played the film’s lead character. In1985 Sharon Stone received equal billing with Richard Chamberlain, but her attire had become decidedly skimpier. Then there’s the 2004, made-for-TV version in which all the focus is on Patrick Swayze. Poor Alison Doody is so well hidden that no one but her immediate family even would have even known she was in it.  

Perennial favorites such as King Solomon’s Mines continue to fascinate. Not only do you have a serial character who continues for decades, but Hollywood can’t seem to get enough. The novel was written by Victorian adventure writer and fabulist Sir H. Rider Haggard. It tells the story of a search of an unexplored region of Africa by a group of adventurers led by Allan Quatermain. It is considered to have been the originator of the Lost World literary genre. 

It was published in September 1885 amid great fanfare. Billboards and posters around London announced it as The Most Amazing Book Ever Written. By the late 19th century, explorers were uncovering ancient civilizations around the world and King Solomon's Mines captured the public's imagination. It became an immediate best seller. It also became a cash cow for Haggard and his publisher. Eighteen Quatermain books were eventually published under titles such Hunter Quatermain’s Story, The Monster, The Treasure of the Lake, The Ancient Allan, and Allan and the Ice-gods. 

This new genre would eventually inspire Edgar Rice Burroughs’ The Land That Time Forgot, Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World, Rudyard Kipling's The Man Who Would Be King and HP Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness, even Michael Crichton's Congo. It also created the recurring male character who leads an exotic life, breaks all the rules, but succeeds anyway…think James Bond, Indiana Jones, etc., etc., etc. 
Enough nostalgia; this post isn’t about old books or movie heroes, it’s about the real for sure mines of King Solomon the Wise, the man who built the First Temple in Jerusalem. For nearly 3,000 years the location of these mines, and whether they existed at all, has remained a mystery. No longer.  Researchers using carbon dating techniques at a site in Khirbat en-Nahas (Arabic for Ruins of Copper) in southern Jordan have verified that copper production took place there around the time King Solomon ruled the Israelites.
Aerial View of the Mine Site
Copper? What happened to all the gold and diamonds and ivory and other neat stuff, you ask? This is where we separate fact from fiction. Sorry to say, it was never there to begin with. Haggard also sent Quatermain to darkest Africa on his quest instead of the Middle East. He’s not the only novelist who played fast and loose with the facts, but why quibble with success? Especially success on a scale such as this. 
Thomas Levy of the University of California San Diego, who led the research, said their work placed copper production at Khirbat en-Nahas in the 10th century BC in line with the biblical narrative of Solomon's rule. “…this research represents a confluence between the archaeological and scientific data and the Bible."

As you can see from the map, Solomon’s influence encompassed the entire region. Khirbat en-Nahas is an arid region south of the Dead Sea, which the Old Testament identifies as the Kingdom of Edom. As early as the 1930’s, archaeologists linked the site to the Edomite Kingdom, but their claims were dismissed in subsequent years because it was believed that the area was unsettled in Solomon’s time. “Now ... we have evidence that complex societies were indeed active in 10th and 9th centuries BC and that brings us back to the debate about the historicity of the Hebrew Bible narratives related to this period,” Levy said 
It's not every day that science and the Bible come together to tell a piece of history. Modern dating methods have determined that huge mines in Jordan are 3000 years old, supporting the idea that they were the Biblical mines of Edom ruled by King David and his son Solomon. 
The results of carbon dating on samples of charcoal used to smelt the ore were extremely consistent and leave no doubt as to the period during which the mines were active. This new evidence suggests that the site, one of the oldest, largest, and best preserved mines in the world, really is the one mentioned in the Bible.
Looking Down into the Dig
The team sampled charcoal from successive layers throughout a 20-foot-deep stack of smelting waste. The carbon at the base of the pit, the transition point between virgin earth,  is 3000 years old. This indicates that smelting activity began there around 1000 BC. This initial phase is estimated to have lasted about 50 years. After that a large building was constructed on the site and copper production continued until about 800 BC.  
In what would have been the floor level of the building, archaeologists found two ancient Egyptian stone and ceramic artifacts: a scarab and an amulet. Since neither one of them is made of local materials, they are believed to have been brought in during the military campaign of the Egyptian Pharaoh Sheshonq I, known as Shishak in the Old Testament. 
They are dated around the time of the building's construction when an abrupt change in the rate of copper production occurred. This is believed to be evidence for the role Sheshonq I may have played in the disruption of the largest known copper factory in the eastern Mediterranean. The unanswered question is who actually controlled the mines…David, Solomon, or the region’s Edomite leaders. Either way, it’s a fascinating discovery. 
Next time, we’ll return to our Foods of the First Century with a post on Ancient Grains. 
Until then, we wish you Peace and Blessings. 
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