Digging History

King Solomon-era fort in southern Israel reveals its secrets

The entrance complex with a two-room gatehouse flanked by animal pens and piles of dung (Erez Ben-Yosef et al).

The entrance complex with a two-room gatehouse flanked by animal pens and piles of dung (Erez Ben-Yosef et al).

Archaeologists in Israel are unraveling the complex history of an ancient military fortification dating to the reigns of Kings Solomon and David.

The gatehouse complex, which dates to the 10th century B.C., was unearthed in Southern Israel’s Timna Valley in 2014. Recent analysis of organic remains found within the fortification’s donkey stables, however, has given experts vital clues about the people who inhabited the fort.

Experts were able to study animal bones and dung preserved in the hyper-arid climate of the Timna Valley. “When we uncovered the stables, the material was so well preserved and ‘fresh’ that we could not believe it is 3,000 years old,” Erez Ben-Yosef of Tel Aviv University’s Institute of Archaeology, one of the excavation leaders, told FoxNews.com via email. “Only when the dates came back from the lab we were reassured that indeed these were the remains of stables and other activities from the time of David and Solomon.”

PILE OF SKELETONS FOUND INSIDE 2,400-YEAR-OLD TOMB IN IRAQ

Built of sturdy stone to defend against invasions, the fortification had pens for draft animals and other livestock. By studying pollen, seed and fauna in the dung, experts found that the animals were fed with hay and the remains of grapes, which was delivered from the Mediterranean coast hundreds of miles away.

The research, which was published recently in The Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, highlights the ancient community’s sophisticated defense system and trade links. “The evidence demonstrates long-distance connections with the Mediterranean region,” said Ben-Yosef.

In addition to transporting materials to other regions, the donkeys at the fortification would also have been used in copper production.

BONES UNEARTHED NEAR ANCIENT CITY OF TROY YIELD CLUES OF DEADLY INFECTION

The fact that the two-room fortification is located within one of the largest ancient smelting plants in the Timna Valley is particularly important, according to Ben-Yosef. “Until now we didn't have evidence for military conflicts in the copper mines of Timna at this period,” he told FoxNews.com. “Moreover, they are in accord with the biblical accounts depicting wars between David and the Edomites who inhabited this region.”

The archaeologist added that, with biblical historians hotly debating these accounts, any evidence is of great importance.

In a statement released this week Tel Aviv University notes the fabled mines of King Solomon are believed by some to be located among the ancient copper smelting camps of the Timna Valley. Ben-Yosef says, however, there is no explicit description of “King Solomon’s mines” in the Old Testament, but there are references to military conflicts between Israel and the Edomites.

MYSTERIOUS TINY MUMMY STUNS EXPERTS

The Timna Valley copper smelting site was first discovered in 1934 and was first thought to be an Iron Age slave camp. However, Ben-Yosef and his colleagues debunked the theory in 2014 by analyzing organic material and clothing discoveries, which they said indicated a hierarchical, sophisticated society.

Ben-Yosef led the research with and his fellow Tel Aviv University colleagues Lidar Sapir-Hen and Dafna Langgut. The team plans to continue exploring the ancient societies around the Timna copper mines. The excavations take place each winter as part of the Tel Aviv University’s Central Timna Valley (CTV) project.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers