Copper mines previously thought to have been built by ancient Egyptians in the 13th century B.C. actually originated three centuries later during the reign of the legendary King Solomon, they said.
Scholarly research and analysis of materials found in the area -- the Timna Valley in Israel's Aravah Desert -- suggest the mines were operated by the Edomites, a semi-nomadic tribal confederation mentioned in the Bible as warring constantly with Israel, a release from the American Friends of Tel Aviv University reported Tuesday.
"The mines are definitely from the period of King Solomon," Tel Aviv archaeology Professor Erez Ben-Yosef said. "They may help us understand the local society, which would have been invisible to us otherwise."
Excavation revealed a massive smelting camp containing the remnants of hundreds of furnaces and layers of copper slag, the waste created during the smelting process.
Cooperation among thousands of people would have been required to operate the mines in the middle of the desert, the researchers said.
"In Timna Valley, we unearthed a society with undoubtedly significant development, organization, and power," Ben-Yosef said. "And yet because the people were living in tents, they would have been transparent to us as archaeologists if they had been engaged in an industry other than mining and smelting, which is very visible archaeologically."