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Impressive cooperation would have been required for thousands of people to operate the mines in the middle of the desert.

Based on the radiocarbon dating of material unearthed at a new site in Timna Valley in Israel's Aravah Desert, the findings overturn the archaeological consensus of the last several decades.

Scholarly work and materials found in the area suggest the mines were operated by the Edomites, a semi-nomadic tribal confederation that according to the Bible warred constantly with Israel.

"The mines are definitely from the period of King Solomon," says Dr. "They may help us understand the local society, which would have been invisible to us otherwise." Slaves to history Now a national park, Timna Valley was an ancient copper production district with thousands of mines and dozens of smelting sites. Ben-Yosef and a team of researchers and students excavated a previously untouched site in the valley, known as the Slaves' Hill.

The unearthed materials and the lack of architectural remains at the Slaves' Hill support the idea that the locals were a semi-nomadic people who lived in tents. Levy at the University of California, San Diego, he helped demonstrate that the copper mines in the valley dated from the 11th to 9th centuries BCE—the era of Kings David and Solomon—and were probably Edomite in origin.

The findings from the Slaves' Hill confirm those of a 2009 dig Ben-Yosef helped to conduct at "Site 30," another of the largest ancient smelting camps in Timna Valley. The findings were reported in the journal The American Schools of Oriental Research in 2012, but the publication did little to shake the notion that the mines were Egyptian, based primarily on the discovery of an Egyptian Temple in the center of the valley in 1969.

Power without stone The Slaves' Hill dig also demonstrates that the society in Timna Valley was surprisingly complex.The smelting technology was relatively advanced and the layout of the camp reflects a high level of social organization.The area is a massive smelting camp containing the remains of hundreds of furnaces and layers of copper slag, the waste created during the smelting process.In addition to the furnaces, the researchers unearthed an impressive collection of clothing, fabrics, and ropes made using advanced weaving technology; foods, like dates, grapes, and pistachios; ceramics; and various types of metallurgical installations.The world-renowned Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit at the University of Oxford in England dated 11 of the items to the 10th century BCE, when according to the Bible King Solomon ruled the Kingdom of Israel.The archaeological record shows the mines in Timna Valley were built and operated by a local society, likely the early Edomites, who are known to have occupied the land and formed a kingdom that rivaled Judah.