In the Bible, the land of Edom—populated, according to Genesis, by the descendants of Jacob’s twin brother Esau—occurs frequently as a rival of the Israelites. Although the text specifies that the Edomite kingdom predates the reign of Saul and David, archaeologists have generally thought it was inhabited by tribal nomads up until the 8th century BCE, about 200 years later. A new discovery at an archaeological site in Jordan changes that, as Aaron Reich writes:
[New] research has uncovered the untold story of a thriving and wealthy society in the Arava desert—which spans parts of Israel and Jordan—that existed during the 12th and 11th centuries BCE.
According to [a just-published] study, . . . the kingdom’s wealth appears to have been built on a “high-tech network” of copper, the most valuable resource in the region at the time; . . . the production process for copper is incredibly complex. . . . [T]he research team analyzed findings from ancient copper mines in Jordan and Israel to create a timeline of the evolution of copper production from 1300 to 800 BCE, and found a significant decrease of copper in the slag—the waste product of copper extraction—at the Arava site, implying that the process became more efficient and streamlined.
Ezra Ben-Yosef of Tel Aviv University’s department of archaeology and ancient Near Eastern cultures, [who was one of the lead authors of the study], explains that “a flourishing copper industry in the Arava can only be attributed to a centralized and hierarchical polity, and this might fit the biblical description of the Edomite kingdom.”