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6,500-year-old copper workshop uncovered in the Negev Desert’s Beer Sheva

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6,500-year-old copper workshop uncovered in the Negev Desert's Beer Sheva
Work on the dig in Beer Sheva. Credit: Anat Rasiuk, Israel Antiquities Authority

A new study by Tel Aviv University and the Israel Antiquities Authority indicates that a workshop for smelting copper ore once operated in the Neveh Noy neighborhood of 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 uncovered during an Israel Antiquities Authority emergency archeological excavation to safeguard threatened antiquities.


The new study also shows that the site may have made the first use in the world of a revolutionary apparatus: the furnace.

The study was conducted by Prof. Erez Ben-Yosef, Dana Ackerfeld, and Omri Yagel of the Jacob M. Alkow Department of Archeology and Ancient Near Eastern Civilizations at Tel Aviv University, in conjunction with Dr. Yael Abadi-Reiss, Talia Abulafia, and Dmitry Yegorov of the Israel Antiquities Authority and Dr. Yehudit Harlavan of the Geological Survey of Israel. The results of the study were published online on September 25, 2020, in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports.

According to Ms. Abulafia, Director of the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “The excavation revealed evidence for domestic production from the Chalcolithic period, about 6,500 years ago. The surprising finds include a small workshop for smelting copper with shards of a furnace—a small installation made of tin in which copper ore was smelted—as well as a lot of copper slag.”

Although metalworking was already in evidence in the 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.) An analysis of the isotopes of ore remnants in the furnace shards show that the raw ore was brought to Neveh Noy neighborhood from Wadi