Institute of Archaeology

Institute of Archaeology
at Ariel University

Institute of Archaeology

Metal Production in the Southern Levant during Late Bronze and Early Iron Ages


Directed by Dr. Adi Eliyahu


Early Iron (Iron Age I-IIA) Smelting in the Southern Levant; Technological Aspects

Recent discoveries of iron production remains at Iron Age sites introduced new and pertinent data to the discussions surrounding the transition from bronze to iron use. Evidence for iron production was unearthed at Tell es-Safi/Gath and Tel Beth-Shemesh in the Shephelah, at Hazor in the upper Galilee, Megiddo in the Jezreel Valley and at Rehov and Tell Hammeh, in the Jordan Valley. In all six sites, iron production remains were dated as early as Iron Age IIA, well in accordance with the point in time when the number of utilitarian tools and weapons made of iron, surpass those of bronze.

Production remains from these sites suggest that iron was produced from its ores through the bloomery process. It was previously hypothesized that at least in some of these sites, iron ore was brought to the settlement sites and the whole process of production (i.e. from the smelting of the ore through the smithing and forging of the end product), was performed on site. This hypothesis was based on some analytical observations made on various process by-products such as blooms and slags (Eliyahu-Behar 2013). It was also noted that technological variations, most likely depending on ore choice as well as other process parameters existed between the various sites.

The aim of the current project is to investigate the apparent diversity in iron production and smelting technologies (reduction of the iron ores into iron metal), during the Iron Age II in the southern Levant. The research will focus on the reconstruction of smelting techniques including the choice of raw materials, the type of smelting installations used and the type of slag (by-products) produced. The research will combine deploying ‘experimental smelts’ using local ore sources together with enlarging our database of analyzed iron-production remains (mainly slags) from Iron Age sites. An emphasis will be directed on the identification of smelting and smithing slags using various analytical methods.

The study will also involve the development and application of new analytical methods for the provenancing of iron, which is done in collaboration with Naama Yahalom-Mack (Institute of Archaeology, Hebrew University) and Yigal Erel (Institute of Earth Sciences, Hebrew University) and Michael Brauns, Mannheim, Germany.

The project is generously funded by the Israel Science Foundation.


Analysis of Copper/Bronze production remains from Tel Burna

During the last two excavation seasons at Tel Burna (2017-1017) several copper/bronze crucibles and tuyère fragments dating to the Late Bronze Age were found in a small area, adjacent to the city wall. These artefacts together with copper-, tin- and lead-contaminated sediments identified through preliminary analysis, attest to metallurgical activity in the area during this period.

Crucibles during this period are predominantly used for re-melting and/or alloying of copper and bronze. Preliminary analysis of some of the crucibles revealed the presence of iron-rich fayalitic slag which is most likely evidence of the smelting of copper ores (i.e. the extraction of metal from mineral ores). Moreover, no alloying elements such as tin (to produce bronze) were identified. Thus, crucible smelting, as it appears at Tel Burna, is a unique and unprecedented phenomenon in this particular time and place. As such, it raises numerous questions as to the circumstances and the reasons for this activity. One such question is the origin of the ore used for smelting.

In this project we aim to verify and characterize the type of activity and metallurgical processes performed at Tel Burna. Using Lead Isotope Analysis (in collaboration with Naama Yahalom-Mack, The Hebrew University) we hope to establish the origin of the copper and provide significant new data to the already complex picture of inter- and intra-regional copper production and trade.

This project is undertaken in collaboration with Itzick Shai, Tel–Burna Expedition