Public Release: 

UC San Diego archaeologists discover largest bronze age metal factory in Middle East

University of California - San Diego

Working in a remote desert area in southern Jordan, archaeologists from the University of California, San Diego have discovered the largest Early Bronze Age metal factory in the Middle East, dating to ca. 2700 BC. The discovery was reported in the June 2002 issue of the British journal, Antiquity.

The project was funded primarily through the C. Paul Johnson Family Charitable Foundation (Napa, CA) and the National Geographic Society Committee on Research and Exploration. The National Geographic story on the discovery can be viewed at:

Hundreds of clay casting molds for manufacturing copper ingots, axes, chisels, and pins were found on the ancient 'factory floor,' according to UCSD anthropologist Thomas Levy, who led the international team, along with UCSD research associate Russell Adams. Thousands of stone hammers, anvils, crucibles, metal objects and ancient metallurgical debris were also unearthed at the site, making the discovery much larger than other known contemporary Bronze Age metal production centers in Turkey, Cyprus, Israel, Oman and other parts of the Middle East.

The discovery of the Early Bronze Age metal factory in Jordan and its vast assemblage of artifacts, is due in large part to an earthquake that buried the deposits in place for over four thousand years. The team, led by Levy made extensive excavations at the site of Khirbat Hamra Ifdan in the Faynan district, some 50 km south of the Dead Sea in Jordan. During two field seasons in 1999 and 2000, Levy and Adams, leading teams of students from the U.S., England and Canada and assisted by local Bedouin workers, excavated a large section of this important metal production site that corresponds with the rise of the first cities throughout the eastern Mediterranean.

Using new applications of Geographic Information Systems (GIS), the UCSD team was able to map out and reconstruct all the stages in the production of copper tools and other objects that played an important role in ancient Near Eastern trade networks that stretched across southern Jordan and Israel to Egypt more than 4,500 years ago. Lead isotope studies by project archaeometallurgist Professor Andreas Hauptmann of the German Mining Museum (Bochum) have identified the Early Bronze Age 'recipe' for producing high quality copper metal. In addition, the chemical evidence for linking objects found in Israel with those recently discovered in Jordan are helping to identify the actual ancient trade routes that crossed this part of the Middle East during the Early Bronze Age.

As part of UCSD's research project in Jordan, the site of Khirbat Hamra Ifdan and other locales excavated by the team have been prepared for eco-tourism following an innovative conservation plan modeled along the lines of those used at state parks in the southwestern U.S. Working closely with team member Dr. Mohammad Najjar, director of excavations at the Jordan Department of Antiquities, trails, site restoration work and signs in Arabic and English have been established at the excavated sites.

"Despite the ongoing tensions in the Middle East, we plan to continue our project in the Faynan district by examining sites related to metal production in the Iron Age (ca. 1200-586 BC) when the Biblical Edomites established their first kingdom," said Levy. "While the current political climate may not be good for eco-tourism, we are helping to establish the infrastructure of eco-tourism for future visitors in one of the most economically depressed regions of Jordan. We hope and pray for better times in the Middle East."

Over the last two decades, Levy has directed and co-directed numerous archaeological digs in the Middle East, including a major excavation in Israel's Negev Desert, which led to the discovery of an ancient Egyptian colony in 1996. In 1997, he directed a National Geographic expedition in Southern Jordan, where he led a team of scientists, by donkey, with the aim of discovering the ancient copper trail and reconstructing the mining and smelting technologies used more than 6,000 years ago.


Note: Photographs of metallurgical finds available at:
Photo Credits: UCSD Levantine Archaeology Lab

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