Stationary copper smelters dating back 6,500 years have been excavated near Beersheba, Israel.
In 2017, during excavations of the ancient site of Horvat Beter near the modern Israeli city of Beer Sheva, archaeologists discovered the remains of workshops equipped with smelting furnaces. Dating back to around 6,500 years old, they are the oldest evidence of the use of this technology. The find is reported in a new article published in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports.
The authors of the work – Erez Ben-Yosef and his colleagues from Tel Aviv University – note that metallurgy in the Levant appeared in the second half of the 5th millennium BC, but at first they used the simplest ceramic crucibles for copper smelting, and the transition to more efficient stationary furnaces was an important milestone in technological development. Note that beer brewing in the region appeared much earlier – 13 thousand years ago.
The settlement belongs to the Hasul culture of the early Copper Age, and its masters, apparently, used the ore of a deposit located about 100 kilometers away in what is now Jordan. The remains of copper slag and fragments of a tin boiler, which was used for metal smelting, were found in the furnaces. Archaeologists at Tel Aviv University were able to replicate key steps in this process during their own experiments to reconstruct ancient technology.
Scientists performed X-ray fluorescence analysis of 14 such fragments, as well as 18 fragments of the furnace itself and 26 fragments of slag, confirming that only copper was smelted in the workshop. At the same time, the detailed chemical composition in different workshops was different, as well as the size and shape of the melting pots, which, according to the authors, indicates active experiments carried out by the craftsmen in search of more perfect recipes and technologies.
It is assumed that ceremonial objects were subsequently smelted from the copper obtained here. In its pure form, this metal is too soft to make heavy tools from it, and the study of such artifacts – blades, hatchets, and the like – confirms that they were not used for their intended purpose. Most likely, they acted only as a “sacred image” of real instruments, which at that time were still mostly stone.