Studying ancient slag, archaeologists were able to uncover a complex geopolitical situation in the year 10,000 BCE

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at:, or follow me on Twitter.


Ben-Yosef’s team was exploring a concept called “punctuated equilibrium,” which suggests that societal changes comes through long-term stasis punctuated by short-lived episodes of rapid change as opposed to a slow-and-steady gradual change. To test the idea, the team examined over 150 samples of slag leftover from metallurgical technology in the Wadi Arabah region of the Levant in the Middle East, dating from 1300 to 800 BCE.

Slag, the glass-like byproduct from a metal’s smelting process, offered a perfect indicator of technological capability. Copper, an in-demand resource at the time, was used for everything from tools to weapons. Making it quickly, without much waste, would provide many advantages to the Edomites.

“We demonstrated a sudden standardization of the slag in the second half of the 10th century BC, from the Faynan sites in Jordan to the Timna sites in Israel, an extensive area of some 2,000 square kilometers, which occurred just as the Egyptians entered the region,” says Ben-Yosef. “The efficiency of the copper industry in the region was increasing. The Edomites developed precise working protocols that allowed them to produce a very large amount of copper with minimum energy.”

Like many other tech booms, the Edomite copper proficiency did not happen on its own. The region known as modern-day Israel had just faced invaders in the form of the Egyptian Pharaoh Shoshenq I.

“Based on the appearance of names from the Negev region in the description of this event in Egypt (topographical list at the Temple of Amun in Karnak) it has been suggested that one of the destinations of Shoshenq I’s campaign was the Wadi Arabah and its copper industry,” writes the team in their new paper describing their findings. “This hypothesis was strengthened recently by the accidental discovery of a rare scarab bearing the throne name of Sheshonq I in Faynan.”