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Timna Valley

Timna Valley

Having visited in the beginning of this year the Timna Valley in Israel, I cannot help but share information about this unique place.

The Timna Valley is a depression located in the south of Arabah wilderness, 25 kilometers north of Eilat. This depression, resembling a horseshoe in its appearance, occupies around 60 sq. kilometers and is surrounded on three sides by overhanging cliffs. On the north it is boarded by drying up Timna Stream, while on the south — by Nehushtan, flowing from the side of the Arabah wilderness in the east. In the center there is the Timna Mountain, 453 meters high. The climate here matches the harsh climate of a desert.

Man appeared in the Timna Valley as early as in the Neolith period, since there are storages of copper ore here.

It is in Timna, where the copper mines that received the name of “King’s Solomon’s Mines” are situated. All the other copper mines mentioned in literature under this name, as it turned out, are false, and only the copper mines in the Timna Valley existed in reality.

Geologically speaking, the Timna Valley emerged millions of years ago due to formation of the Syrian-African fault. As a result, rocks and numerous minerals such as copper, iron, manganese etc. became accessible. The rocks here consist of various formations — volcanic, igneous, sediments and sand rocks of different colours.

The Timna Valley is located in the northern part of Arabic-Nubian tectonic plateau formed in the end of pre-Cambrian epoch. Processes of crystallization of magma in Timna led to formation of solid rocks including different kinds of granite. Gradual upheaval of the region occurred around 550 million years ago and was accompanied by intense erosion; this caused even more ancient igneous layers to be exposed. In the upper layers of the exposed rocks a process took place of washing out of the soil by streams of the rivers flowing from east to west. Sand formations that remained on the surface were almost entirely brought to naught as they were washed out by water streams in the beginning of Cambrian period, which led to exposure of dolomites and shale rock, which can be found at the present time in the upper part of the Timna Mountain and in the course of the Timna River. These rocks layered upon one another as a result of influx of oceanic waters into Eilat district during the Lower Cambrian. Apart from forming other rocks, the bedding of copper layers also took place in the Cambrian epoch.

After that a long period of eolation and erosion began, and around 320 million years ago (Carbonic Period), the process of forming of white sand rocks and numerous minerals resumed; deep penetration of those minerals into white sand rocks and other formations led to producing of different colours on the surface.

Very thick sediments including those up to 800 meters thick and a big number of marine fossils in the rocks including ammonites testify about the region’s once being under waters of Tethys Sea. The sea approaching from the north-west reached Timna around 100 million years ago (Cretaceous) and covered the region’s surface until Paleogene epoch (40 million years ago). During this period, massive layers of chalkstone, dolomites, limestone, clay, phosphates etc. took place. The process of the uprising of the entire region led to a gradual withdrawal of the Tethys, which took place in the end of Paleogene — Paleocene. Sediment rocks were brought up to the surface and a long process of erosion, which involved the majority of the mainland rocks located on the surface of the under-water layers, began. The majority of the precipices and slopes formed in the Timna are the earliest formations on the verge of Syrian-African Fault, which began to form 20 million years ago (Neogene) and still changes to this day. Upheaval and splitting of plates and rocks led to formation of massive slopes east of Timna. Opinions exist that the process of the fault started only 5 million years ago during the end of Neogene. Constant “sinking” of the Syrian-African Fault and the Arabah Valley led to exposure of the sediment rocks on the banks of the Rivers Timna and Nehushtan. Geology and topology of the local area as well as climate conditions have caused endless changes of the surface of the valley, washing out of riverbeds and changes of local topography.

Copper was the first metal man started to work and use for the purpose of making tools, weapons, furniture, decorations and religious items. In Timna traces of mining and processing of copper at all the stages of these processes were found.

Although as early as in the ancient times copper was mined in Timna (proved by researches conducted in the end of XIX century), but scientific attention and huge public interest were caused by work of Nelson Glueck in 1930s, who attached mining copper here to King Solomon (X century BC) and called this place “The Mines of King Solomon.” A later research showed that this section was not used during the X century BC, and at the time of King Solomon copper was not mined here. Nevertheless, the phrase “King Solomon’s Mines” is still associated with this very place.

Archeological examinations show that the copper mining industry started in the late period of Neolith and continued almost unceasingly until the middle Ages. Mining of copper in the Timna Valley reached its peak at the time of the rule of the pharaohs of the 18 and 19 Egyptian dynasties in XIV-XII centuries BC, when the Egyptians conducted copper-mining researches in cooperation with Midianites and local Amalekites, which turned the Timna Valley into a big center of copper mining. Having brought in deep knowledge about mining techniques, the Egyptians used metal chisels and hoes to cut square tunnel mines and make steps for feet in their sides for descent. As the Egyptians climbed down into the mines, they were able to mine copper at the depth of around 30 meters.

Solomon’s pillars are one of the main places of interest in the Timna Park. Solomon’s pillars are part of a stone cliff. They were naturally formed as a result of erosion of solid red sand rocks. They received their name after King Solomon. King Solomon, who built the first temple in Jerusalem according to God’s command, gave names to two bronze columns at the entry into the Temple – Boaz and Jachin. Jachin was a son of Simeon and Jacob’s grandson, while Boaz was a grandfather of King David and a nephew of Elimelech. It is these columns (pillars) that are called “Solomon’s Pillars,” while colossal rocks in Timna signify and embody the might of these main elements of the Temple.

The temple of Egyptian goddess Hathor built in the end of XIV century BC at the period of the reign of Egyptian pharaoh Seti I is located not far from Solomon’s pillars. The temple is built in a low stone wall closing a facility adjacent to the rock; it is made of white sand rock and granite in the form of an open yard, its size is approximately 15 by 15 meters. The steps of the temple lead to an engraving in the rock depicting Ramses III presenting gifts to goddess Hathor. In Egyptian mythology, Hathor is the goddess of heaven, love, womanhood and beauty as well as the spouse of Hor. Originally, she was believed to be daughter of Ra. Hathor is “the Goddess of Mines, the Woman-Hawk, the Goddess of Love, Emerald Goddess who keeps from spells.” Among other patronages, Hathor was believed to be the patron of miners and seekers of treasures, and it is one of the main reasons why Hathor’s temple was erected in Timna.

The temple was seriously damaged in an earthquake and was rebuilt at the time of reign of Ramses II with a yard of a bigger size, and floor paved with whitestone. The walls were erected of the sand rock and granite available on the site, while the façade was built of white sand rock shipped from the mine area. The temple with its two square columns bearing Hathor’s heads was supposed to be an impressive sight in the light of the rising sun. In the temple’s yard there was a small workshop for casting brass figures and items that were part of sacrifice rituals. Among the findings in the temple were inscriptions in hieroglyphs including cartouches (seals) of the majority of the pharaohs who reigned in XII-XIV BC. Many other items of sacrifice rituals made by Egyptians were also found including various brass products, vessels of alabaster, figures of cats and leopards made of china, seals, beads and scarabaei made of stone and copper as well as statues, tablets and sculptures of Hathor. Altogether several thousands of artifacts were discovered in the Egyptian temple.

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