Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

Special Introductory Offer!

Oldest Metal Object Unearthed in the Middle East

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Israel-Copper-AwlHAIFA, ISRAEL—Archaeologists excavating at an ancient village in the Jordan Valley dating between 5200 and 4600 B.C. have discovered a copper awl that is believed to be the oldest metal object yet unearthed in the Middle East. According to a University of Haifa press release, the awl was discovered in the grave of a 40-year-old woman who was also buried with a belt made of 1,688 ostrich-egg shell beads. “The appearance of the item in a woman’s grave, which represents one of the most elaborate burials we’ve seen in our region from that era, testifies to both the importance of the awl and the importance of the woman, and it’s possible that we are seeing here the first indications of social hierarchy and complexity,” says dig leader and University of Haifa archaeologist Danny Rosenberg. The discovery pushes back the appearance of metal in the area by several hundred years, and chemical testing of the awl has revealed it was made of copper from the Caucasus Mountains, more than 600 miles away, suggesting long-range trade may have been more prevalent during the period than previously thought. To read about the elaborate burial of a Copper Age woman unearthed in England, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "High Status Burial Unearthed in Windsor."