Archaeology Magazine

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“Slaves’ Hill” Was Home to High-Status Craftsmen

Thursday, August 28, 2014

(CTV project at Tel Aviv University/American Friends of Tel Aviv University)TEL AVIV, ISRAEL—New information from excavations in southern Israel’s Timna Valley by Erez Ben-Yosef and Lidar Sapir-Hen of Tel Aviv University suggests that the laborers who smelted copper at the site 3,000 years ago were skilled craftsmen of high social status. Since the 1930s, it has been thought that the Iron Age camp was inhabited by slaves because of the massive barrier that had been unearthed and the harsh conditions created by the furnaces and desert conditions. The well-preserved bones, seeds, fruits, and fabric that have been recently recovered tell a different story, however. “The copper smelters were given the better cuts of meat—the meatiest parts of the animals. Someone took great care to give the people working in the furnaces the best of everything. They also enjoyed fish, which must have been brought from the Mediterranean hundreds of kilometers away. This was not the diet of slaves but of highly regarded, maybe even worshipped, craftsmen,” Sapir-Hen told Ben-Yosef adds that the wall at the site was probably used to protect sophisticated technology and valuable copper ingots. To read about the discovery of an Iron Age temple in Israel, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Artifact."