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Holman Bible Dictionary

Mines And Mining

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The extraction of minerals from the earth.

The Earliest Mines Early mining efforts in the Fertile Crescent sought to provide people with the stones necessary to make weapons and tools. While the earliest walled settlements in the region date back to before 6000 B.C., people had been mining stones for tools long before that. Before 10,000 B.C. people were using tools and weapons made of flint found on the surface of the ground. From exposed beds of obsidian (a black volcanic stone) and flint (chert) early people no doubt removed the stone necessary to produce the axes, knives, and scrapers used to kill and clean food. With the domestication of small animals, wheat, and barley, people found greater uses for stone tools. Sickle blades with serrated edges were chipped from flint, several pieces being fitted together in a bone or wood handle. Larger stone tools, such as the hand axe, were suitable for cutting and shaping wooden beams used in building. The greatest use of surface-mined stones was the making of weapons for hunting. Flake blades of all sizes served as knives. Finely worked arrowheads found alongside large quantities of animal bones indicated the dependence upon hunting by Neolithic man in Palestine. Flint scrapers and borers were used in the tanning and sewing of hides.

Copper The use of mined minerals to form metals began sometime around 6500 B.C. near Catal Huyuk in Asia Minor. While making pigment from crushed malachite, a greenish carbonate of copper, human beings probably stumbled upon the knowledge for smelting, ushering in the Chalcolithic Period, about 4500–3,200 B.C. (See Genesis 4:22 ). In the beginning, copper ore was taken from deposits above the ground. Soon, however, mine shafts and tunnels were cut into areas where surface deposits hinted at the larger ore supplies below. In the Arabah and Sinai, mining settlements were founded. Complex series of narrow shafts were bored into the mountains and hills of the Timna Valley to reach the valued copper deposits within the earth. Near the mines were constructed a series of huts, walls forming windbreaks, and areas for smelting to support the mining operations. The ruins of the mining center khirbet en-Nahas, seventeen miles south of the Dead Sea, possibly mark the location of biblical Irnahash, the “Copper City.” Palestine, however, was relatively poor in copper ore. Much of what was used had to be imported from regions with greater ore concentrations. Trade relations were established with settlements in Asia Minor, Armenia, and the Island of Cyprus. Copper sheets and ingots were shipped by sea and land thousands of miles to meet the growing needs for metal tools, weapons, and jewelry. In later years these ingots served as a crude style of currency. Before 3000 B.C. people discovered that copper could be mixed with arsenic to form a stronger alloy. Copper tools last longer than stone implements and could withstand greater abuse. Men continued to mine the veins of minerals which ran into the earth, often following the deposits with tunnels fifty yards long into the side of a hill. The widespread use of copper in the Ancient Near East is highlighted from the magnificent copper hoard discovered at Nahal Mishmar, near theDead Sea. Among more than 400 copper artifacts were numerous mace heads, chisels and adzes, scepters, and small, heavy “crowns.” The copper from Naham Mishmar was most likely imported from Armenia or Azerbaijan, hundreds of miles away.

Bronze Copper tools, however, were soon replaced. Around 3200 B.C., metalsmiths discovered that by combining nine parts copper with one part tin a much stronger metal—bronze—was formed. Easier to cast than copper, bronze became the most widely used metal of the period. The copper for bronze continued to be mined in the same manner it always had, although stone tools for digging out the ore were replaced with stronger bronze counterparts. Tin deposits in Mesopotamia made the growth of this new technology easier in the northern Fertile Crescent, while Palestine and Egypt, without local tin deposits and mines, were forced to import raw materials. The regions of modern-day Afghanistan exported the necessary tin throughout the Ancient Near East.

Around 2500 B.C. Phoenicians established colonies in Spain and Portugal to mine the vast local supplies of copper and tin. These and other European tin supplies were shipped throughout the Ancient Near East as late as the Roman period. Roman tin mines in Britain were worked by slave labor and had shafts cutting 350 feet deep into the ground. In Palestine, the Timna copper mines came under the control of the Egyptians during the Late Bronze period. Remains of a small open-air temple dedicated to Hathor, patron goddess of miners, have been discovered. The small enclosure has a small sacred area set with masseboth , standing stones dedicated to the deity. A central shrine with small niches carved into the overhanging face of a cliff was the focal point of the sanctuary, its “holy of holies.” The entire shrine was covered with a woolen tent. The design of the desert temple is similar to the Israelite tabernacle or tent of meeting. Before 1100 B.C. Kenites and Midianites occupied Timna, but no remains from between 1000,900 have been identified. It is hard to imagine, however, that Israel during the period of the United Monarchy, especially during Solomon's reign, would not have exploited these rich deposits within its domain.

Iron The chaotic political climate after 1300 B.C. disrupted the trade routes and commercial structures of the Ancient Near East. Copper supplies dwindled, and the import of tin and copper by Egypt and Palestine was disrupted, forcing metalsmiths to develop a new method for tool manufacture. Attention was turned to iron. Although small beads discovered in Egypt give evidence of the early use of meteoric rocks for iron smelting around 4000 B.C., the much higher melting point of iron (400 degrees higher than that of copper) necessitated the development of new smelting methods. So great was the heat needed that the Bible compares the enslavement of Israel in Egypt to the iron smith's furnace (Deuteronomy 4:20 ). More efficient bellows were created to produce the high temperatures needed to melt the iron ore. Since iron deposits lay close to the surface, they were much easier to mine than those of copper had been.

The Hittites were among the earliest people to use iron on a large scale. They traded iron tools and weapons to Egypt. For the most part, however, the Hittites protected iron as a monopoly. Only after the fall of the Hittite kingdom about 1200 B.C. did iron become more widely used. Still, Israel made little use of it. The Bible describes Canaan as a land “whose stones are iron and from whose hills you may mine copper” (Deuteronomy 8:9 NRSV). Only small amounts of both ores were available. Iron mines located in the Gilead near Ajlun at Magharat Warda probably served as one of the earliest iron sources in Palestine, possibly providing for the ion bedstead of Og, king of Bashan.

The Bible speaks of the Philistines as controlling the ironworking skills in Palestine (1 Samuel 13:19-22 ), an ability that prevented Israelite domination over the Philistine settlements in the Coastal Plain and Shephelah. The domination of iron technology by these “Sea-Peoples” points to the early development and usage of iron in the Aegean region, homeland of the Philistines. At Beth-Shemesh, a Philistine stronghold in the Jordan Valley, a large industrial area with bronze and ironworking facilities was discovered. Smelting ovens and flowpipes for the fires give evidence of the metalworking that occurred. Numerous iron weapons and pieces of jewelry were also found. However, excavation in other Philistine cities such as Ashdod and tel Qasile (near modern Tel Aviv) give little evidence of the widespread use of iron. While the Philistines may have controlled the use of iron to some degree, theirs was not a monopoly. For the most part, tools in Palestine continued to be made of bronze. Common tools such as sickles were still chipped from flint even after 1000 B.C. Iron chariots, spear points, knives and swords, and common tools such as sickles and plows became more common after 900 B.C., replacing earlier bronze counterparts. During the United Monarchy, Israel gained increased control of bronze and metal exports across the Ancient Near East, bringing great wealth to the empire of David and Solomon. Solomon created a virtual trade war between Israel and the Aramaeans to the north.

Other Minerals Other minerals were also mined in the Ancient Near East but were more difficult to obtain and work. Lapis Lazuli, a deep blue stone, was quarried for its beauty and used in jewelry. Egyptian faience was an attempt to produce a synthetic lapis. Lead was mined as early as 3000 B.C., but its soft nature made it unsuitable for tools or jewelry. Lead was later incorporated into bronze and, in the Roman period, was used in glassmaking. Silver was first mined in northeast Asia Minor and taken from a lead-silver allow. Electrum, silver mixed with small amounts of gold, was also mined. Raw gold is found in veins in quartzy granite. These veins, however, were not mined in early periods. Rather, the weathering of gold-bearing rocks put pea-sized and larger bits of the metal into streams and rivers, mixing it with alluvial gravel. Found mostly at the upper reaches of rivers in areas of Egypt, the Nubian desert, and the Caucasus, gold began to be mined rather late because of its more isolated location. Since the headwaters of rivers and streams were often in locales less accessible or desirable for pasturing flocks, gold mines only became widespread around 2500 B.C. Egyptian paintings depict the washing of river sand to extract nuggets, and authors such as Strabo and Pliny the Elder (60 B.C.) spoke in later periods of rich gold deposits in Spain. The rarity of gold made it synonymous with extravagant wealth and luxury. The apostle John's description of heaven as a city with walls and streets of gold provided the believer with a glimpse of the grandeur and glory of an eternity with God.

David C. Maltsberger


Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Mines And Mining'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hbd/m/mines-and-mining.html. 1991.


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