British Tin Made the Israelite Bronze Age Possible

September 18, 2019 | Amanda Borschel-Dan
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To historians of the ancient Near East, the period from the late fourth millennium BCE until around 1200 BCE—that is, the biblical period through the time of Moses—is known as the Bronze Age because of the common use of bronze weapons, tools, and other items. It was followed by the Iron Age, which was in full swing by the time of King David in the 10th century BCE. But archaeologists have long been puzzled about how the ancient residents of the region produced bronze, which requires the smelting of copper—which is abundant in the Levant—with tin—which is not. A new study, based on a comparison of the age of various samples (which can be determined chemically) suggests it was imported from Britain, as Amanda Borschel-Dan writes:

According to the authors [of the study], the most likely suppliers of the 13th- and 12th-century BCE tin ingots from Israel were tin mines from Cornwall and Devon. . . . The scientists studied samples that were discovered . . . off the coasts of Mochlos, Crete and Uluburun, Turkey as well as in three locations near Haifa.

An earlier find of a 13th‐century BCE shipwreck at Hishuley Carmel in 2012 also was a source of the study’s tin ingots. That shipwreck, [one of the study’s authors wrote in an earlier article], “provides direct evidence for marine transport of copper and tin along the Israeli coast and may indicate inland and maritime trade‐routes of metals in the Mediterranean.”

Knowing the origin of the Israeli tin ingots points to a complicated and far-reaching ancient trade route.

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