Wednesday 6 January 2010

Park Timnah. Perhaps not King Solomon's Mines, but still worth - a trip

 Dating back at least three millennia, the copper mines of Timnah at one time prepared metal for the ancient Egyptians, Kings of Judah and (possibly) for King Solomon himself. Perhaps that is why one of Israel's most astonishing natural wonders, formations made of Nubian sandstone rock are named after Israel's wisest monarch. One biblical passage even mentions "the pots, shovels and sprinkling bowls. All these objects that Hiram made for King Solomon for the Temple of the Lord were of burnished bronze ( an alloy of copper)." (1 Kings 7:45) The ancient Egyptians brought slaves to the Timnah Valley and forced them to dig a huge network of tunnels from which to extract copper from the earth. Smelting pots and industrial villages were established to produce pure copper, exported to the Nile cities. Aside from the remains of the copper industry, archaeologists have unearthed an Egyptian temple and, above it, a hieroglyphic picture of Ramses III presenting an offering to the Egyptian god Hathor. The discovery of fragments of writing in Proto-Hebrew, the earliest form of Hebrew, may even suggest who the workers might have been - although none has been translated as 'Solly woz 'ere!'. 

 Although explorers discovered the site some 150 years ago, another expedition in 1940 found seven copper smelting sites dating from the 10th -6th centuries BCE and the findings were published as "King Solomon's Mines", following the famous adventure story by H Rider Haggard. Israeli excavators, working 20 years later, discovered a stone built furnace of far greater antiquity, together with evidence of Egyptian mining activities from about the time of our slavery in Egypt. Finds of pottery of a Midianite type may throw additional light on the account of the relationship between Moshe and Yitro. The Timnah Park, now a major project of the JNF, is a fascinating day out from Eilat. The drive alone would be worth it, but there are beduin tents, a lake for boating (yes, really!), caves to scramble into and a cafe too.

Timnah Park is reached by a well signposted road just south of kibbutz Elifaz on Route 90 and is well worth a day trip from Eilat.
To see a Google map of this location, please click here

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