Khirbat en-Nahas Fortress:
(Part of Solomon's network of military border fortresses)
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This is the largest copper mine in the entire Arabah valley. The true to colour image above shows the piles of black copper slag stacked all around the site.


Introduction document: Solomon's network of military border fortresses

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K. Ajrud

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  1. Khirbat en-Nahas (KEN) is a fortress built by Solomon and the Edomites probably had nothing to do with it. The pre-occupation level under the fortress, is more likely Moabite or Amorite.
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  2. KEN is larger than Timna. "The excavations at Khirbat en-Nahas, the largest Iron Age copper production centre in the southern Levant" (Reassessing the chronology of Biblical Edom, Thomas E. Levy, 2004 AD) Learn more about: Timna.
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  3. Apart from the obvious shortcomings of Radiocarbon dating, we feel the work of Thomas Levy's team is excellent. For an examination of radiocarbon dating see click here.

A. Khirbat en-Nahas is in Moabite, Amorite territory not Edom!

  1. Please become familiar with maps of Moabite and Amorite and Edom territories.
  2. Edom was a nation at the time of Moses (1446 BC). After Israel vacated Kadesh Barnea at Petra in 1406 BC, Edom moved into Kadesh and called it "Sela" (Rock) after the Rock that Moses struck.
  3. It is entirely predicable that the Edomites were mining at Khirbat en-Nahas just before the time of David. This would be the best explanation for the occupation layer that preexisted the fortress Solomon built at the site. David and Solomon captured and controlled the transjordan territory of Edom about 1000 BC. All this fits nicely with what Thomas Levy excavated at KEN.
  4. Edom lived Transjordan from 1446 BC down to the Babylonian captivity, when they moved into the vacant territory of Judah in about 586 BC.
  5. Also familiarize yourself with the location of Kadesh Barnea at Petra which is just north of the Edomite border in 1406 BC.
  6. Especially review the southern border of Judah. Notice that the southern border came down from the Dead Sea to just past Petra and the northern border of Edom, then it turned west towards the Wadi el-Arish.
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  7. When Thomas Levy and his team first published his excavations from Khirbat en-Nahas , it caused a stir among archeologists around the world. Here was proof that Edom functioned as a nation 300-400 years before conventional accepted date of about 700 BC. Levy says: "The new dates and the range of artefacts recently found at the site, such as architecture, ceramics, scarabs, and arrowheads indicate that Iron Age secondary state formation in Edom was much earlier than previously assumed. The key to understanding the rise of the Biblical kingdom of Edom may lie in the copper ore-rich lowlands, rather than the highland plateau where most excavations have been conducted to date. The emergence of the Edomite kingdom was not contingent on the region having been dominated by the neo-Assyrian empire during the eighth and seventh BC. State formation more likely began several centuries earlier, rooted in local processes of social evolution and interaction amongst the smaller Iron Age 'statelets' of the southern Levant (Edom, Moab, Ammon, Israel, Judah, Philistia, etc.)." (Reassessing the chronology of Biblical Edom, Thomas E. Levy, 2004 AD)
  8. Problem with all this is that the Bible says Edom was a functioning kingdom at the time of the Exodus in 1446 BC and the Conquest in 1406 BC. Joshua asked both the king of Moab and the king of Edom for passage through their lands from Kadesh (at Petra) and were refused. They had to move south past Mt. Hor to the Red Sea, the east past Ezion Geber, (which was part of Edom's territory) the due east, then north.
  9. We find it as amusing as we do puzzling, that Levy's good work at KEN created any stir among archeologists because it "proved" Edom existed 300-400 years before 700 BC., when in fact the Bible says this new date of 1100-1000 BC, is 300-400 years after Joshua was refused passage by the King of Edom in 1406 BC.
  10. These scholars and archeologists who were surprised by Thomas Levy's conclusions, reminded us of the Bible scoffers of the 19th century, who viewed the Bible as myth rather than real world history . For example, the Bible makes over 40 references to the great Hittite Empire. You see, 100 years ago, no archaeological evidence had ever been found to prove it really did exist. "Just another Bible myth!" skeptics charged in an attempt to destroy our faith in the Bible. This, however, cannot be said today, for in 1906, Hugo Winckler uncovered a library of 10,000 clay tablets. These ancient records fully documented the long lost Hittite Empire and confirmed the reliability of the Bible. Later excavations uncovered Boghazkoy, the capital city of this "mythical" empire.
  11. But there is a very real problem with the assumed premise of Thomas Levy's work at Khirbat en-Nahas. Levy has suggested that this site proves the Edomites kingdom existed in 1000 BC, by incorrectly mapping the territory of the Edomites at this time. Khirbat en-Nahas is not even in Edomite territory and we strongly suspect Edomites may have had nothing to do with the copper smelting there. Having said this, if there was evidence that Edom was at KEN, we would not be surprised, since they moved north into Petra in 1406 BC and remained there until displaced by the Nabataeans, (or became the Nabataeans.)
  12. At the time of the Exodus, 1446 BC, what would eventually become Khirbat en-Nahas, was 38 KM north of Kadesh Barnea at the Petra area. Kadesh Barnea was located at the east/west border between Moab and Edom. Joshua asked BOTH kings for passage and was refused.
  13. Ken is 38 KM due north of Petra which is more likely beside (not in) the territory of Moab or the Amorites in 1000 BC when mining operations were active at KEN.
  14. After the Conquest of 1406 BC, Judah displaced the Amorites Transjordan across the Arabah valley into modern Jordan: "The border of the Amorites ran from the ascent of Akrabbim, from Sela (Petra) and upward." Judges 1:34-36. The Moabites were in turn displaced north and east of the Dead Sea.
  15. At no time in history (except perhaps during the Babylonian captivity) has KEN been inside Edomite territory. Edom went from Kadesh Barnea (Petra) south to Ezion Geber at the Red Sea. Ezion Geber is located where modern Aqaba is, not the Egyptian sea port Island of Jezirat Faraun.
  16. We note that in both published works by Levy on Khirbat en-Nahas, they have not uncovered anything that specifically ties the site to the Edomites. The pottery they recovered is typical of all the border fortresses that Solomon built and occupied in the Negev. We kept reading and reading and the only reason why they said KEN was and Edomite fortress, is because, it was in Edomite territory. But as we have seen, this assumption is wrong, since KEN is north of the kingdom of Edom, which stretched from Petra south to the Red Sea.

B. Solomon's mine at Khirbat en-Nahas:

  1. At the time of David and Solomon (10th century), occupied and controlled the Edomite kingdom from the Red Sea north.
  2. It seems probable that the Amorites or Moabites discovered the copper and started mining operations. Solomon came in and took over the operation and built the square fortress.
  3. In the same way, Solomon restarted the copper mines at Timna that the Egyptians had mined with the Kenites from 1406 - 1250 BC. It is strange that Solomon did not built a fortress at Timna. A logical reason would be that KEN needed a fortress since it was a hostile take over, whereas Timna was restarting a mining operation that had been dormant for 300 years. Also, the fortress at Elat/Kheleifeh would better serve to protect Timna.
  4. This mine at KEN was the largest in the Arabah valley.
  5. Timna is often called "Solomon's Mines" even though there is nothing from the Bible that says Solomon had mines. Archeology has not verified that Solomon ever mined in Timna, although it would be a rather obvious conclusion, given the fortress he built at Elat. A much better choice for "Solomon's Mines" would be Khirbat en-Nahas since it has a 10th century fortress. Solomon may have mined Timna, but there is no evidence that he did:
    "We know today that the Timna copper mines and all contemporary copper mines on the west side of the Arabah and in the Mountains of Elat belong to the period between the end of the fourteenth century and the middle of the twelfth century BC and were operated by Pharaonic expeditions of the 19th to 20th Dynasties. There is no evidence whatsoever of any copper mining or smelting activities in the western Arabah later than the twelfth century BC until the renewal of the industry in the Roman period. There is no factual and, as a matter of fact, no ancient written literary evidence of the existence of 'King Solomon's Mines'. More so, the negative results of the Timna excavations as far as the 'Mines' are concerned, are well corroborated by 1 Chronicles 22:3; 'And David prepared iron in abundance for the nails for the doors of the gates, and for the joinings; and brass in abundance without weight and 1 Chronicles 18:8 ; 'Likewise from Tibhath, and from Chun, cities of Hadarezer [King of Zobah], brought David very much brass, wherewith Solomon made the brazen sea, and the pillars and the vessel of brass." (Timna, Beno Rothenberg, 1969 AD)

C. Radiocarbon dating of Khirbat en-Nahas:

  1. For an examination of radiocarbon dating see click here.
  2. The science of radiocarbon dating and the process which dates are selected is rather unreliable at best. Typically a single sample will be tested and retested until a date close to what the person who submitted it is looking for is produced. Then, that result is chosen as "the date" even though 20 other dates were rejected. This is well documented, but not well known by the general public. For example "1470 Scull" was tested over 40 times until they got the date they were looking for. Skull 1470 discovered by Richard Leakey is supposed to be an ancestor to man, too. Leakey and others obtained 41 potassium-argon dates for this skull, all of which they rejected because the date obtained was not "right"? Finally Leakey used an argument based on the size of pigs teeth found in the strata to get the date for skull 1470 that he thought was correct. Here is a discussion specifically about radiocarbon 14 dating.
  3. The dates that Thomas Levy's team produced from radiocarbon dating of KEN
  4. "The dates obtained range from the twelfth to the ninth century BC" (Reassessing the chronology of Biblical Edom, Thomas E. Levy, 2004 AD)
  5. The recent excavations at Khirbat en-Nahas show conclusively that Iron Age social complexity, and perhaps the emergence of the kingdom of Edom known from biblical texts began some 200-300 years earlier than previously assumed (Bennett 1992; Bennett and Bienkowski [eds.] 1995b; Bienkowski 2001a, 2001b). It is not necessary to look to a core civilization (Assyria or Egypt) to explain the rise of the Edomite kingdom (Porter 2004)—we should look for local processes of change, especially the relationship of the small neighboring polities such as Israel and Judah with Edom at the end of the Late Bronze Age, Iron I, and early Iron II periods. For ancient Edom, the key to the emergence of social complexity is in what happened in the lowlands—in the Faynan district, close to the rich copper ore resources. With the recent large scale excavations at KEN, there is now evidence that control of copper production and trade in copper was probably the main catalyst for the rise of social complexity in Iron Age Edom. While many researchers (Bienkowski 1992a; Bienkowski and van der Steen 2001; Finkelstein 1992a; Knauf-Belleri 1995) have argued that large scale trade in other goods, especially from Arabia, was the key factor in the rise of Edom as a state, this assertion has not been demonstrated with archaeological evidence—certainly not on the scale of the metallurgical evidence discussed here. The architecture, in situ excavations of copper industrial remains and imports confirm two major phases of production in the 12-11th centuries BCE and 10-9th centuries BCE at Khirbat en-Nahas. We are now at the beginning of being able to engage the Hebrew Bible and extra-biblical sources for gleanings of historical fact and historical processes. However, the current suite of 37 radiocarbon dates from KEN are not without problems (see Higham et al. [Chapter 11, this volume]) and it is clear that many more samples must be tested from sealed archaeological deposits associated with 'cleaner' assemblages of ceramics, scarabs, seals and other archaeological evidence. While the current dates push the occupational history of Edom back to the 12th-9th centuries BCE, the sample size is too small to confront the arguments concerning the High and Low Chronologies for the Iron Age in Israel/Palestine. These dates do bring the Iron Age archaeology of Edom back, to a certain degree, to historical questions raised long ago by Nelson Glueck (1940) concerning the Iron I and Iron Ila. While lack of space prevents a detailed discussion here, the fact that Edom is mentioned no less than 99 times in the Hebrew Bible justifies a re-examination of some historical issues in relation to the new archaeological excavations in the lowland region to establish some working hypotheses for the Iron Age history of Edom. (The Bible and Radiocarbon Dating, Thomas E. Levy, Thomas Higham, 2005, p159)

D. The largest copper mine in the area:

  1. See our page on Timna.
  2. "The excavations at Khirbat en-Nahas, the largest Iron Age copper production centre in the southern Levant. (Reassessing the chronology of Biblical Edom, Thomas E. Levy, 2004 AD)
  3. "Khirbat en-Nahas (area = c. 10 ha) is the largest Iron Age copper-smelting site in the southern Levant. The site is situated in an area where numerous outcrops of copper ore were mined in the Saharo -Arabian desert zone, at the eastern margin of the Araba/Arava valley that separates modern Jordan and Israel. The amount of slag left by the Iron Age metallurgists at the centre of Khirbat en-Nahas as evidence for a mass production of copper (c. 50 000 to 60 000 tons) should be considered in close context with Iron Age metallurgical activities at the nearby sites of Khirbat Faynan and Khirbet el-Jariyeh, where roughly another 40 000 tons of slags were produced (Hauptmann 2000). In comparison, contemporaneous copper production at Timna was much smaller (Rothenberg 1999), while New Kingdom activities at Bir Nasib, on the Sinai Peninsula, possibly left another 100 000 tons of slag (Rothenberg 1987). Khirbat en-Nahas was first discovered at the turn of the nineteenth century by the Czech orientalist, Alois Musil (Musil 1907), visited by the German researcher F. Frank (Frank 1934), but made famous by the American archaeologist, Nelson Glueck in the 1930s (Glueck 1935)." (Reassessing the chronology of Biblical Edom, Thomas E. Levy, 2004 AD)

E. Pottery:

  1. See our pottery page.
  2. The pottery found at KEN is typical of what is found at all of the Negev fortresses: Midianite pottery is the trademark pottery manufactured at Qurayyah in Arabia and brought to Israel through the Kenites. Negev pottery is the disposable home made dinnerware of the Negev "factory workers".
  3. It is important to note that nothing was found at the site the specifically identifies Edomite occupation.
  4. "Several artefacts were found in association with later contexts which, although probably residual, corroborate the early Iron Age (c. 1200 -1000 BC) date of the first occupation. For example, a leaf-shaped metal arrowhead (B. 7559, L. 344) in Stratum S3, and two scarabs from Strata 1 and 2a in Room 4 of the Area S building are especially significant. The partially broken 'walking sphinx' scarab (Figure 5.1) originally included the now headless body of a royal sphinx on top of a nb sign that served as an exergue, and apparently a hieroglyph that is now lost." (Reassessing the chronology of Biblical Edom, Thomas E. Levy, 2004 AD)
  5. "Initial observations on the pottery corpus suggest that much of the pottery should be taken as very early Iron Age II, and dated to the tenth-to-ninth centuries, although there are slight indications that some of the material may be earlier and dated to the Iron Age I, of the twelfth -to-eleventh centuries. Collared-rim jars, large jugs, carinated bowls and monochrome and bichrome ring-painted bowls dominate the local assemblage. Included in the local assemblage are a large number of hand-made bowls and holemouth jars that have often been referred to in other reports as Negebite Ware, and taken as indications of an early date. In the context of Khirbat en-Nahas they are clearly associated with local production since they have slag temper, and are not a useful tool for dating." (Reassessing the chronology of Biblical Edom, Thomas E. Levy, 2004 AD)
  6. "The presence of 'Midianite' and Qurayah ware pottery found in both the gate and four-room building taken together with the Walking Sphinx scarab may be an indication of activities at Khirbat en-Nahas as early as the twelfth century BC." (Reassessing the chronology of Biblical Edom, Thomas E. Levy, 2004 AD)

F. The occupation level below the fortress of Solomon:

  1. "The calibrated date for Stratum A4a shows the highest probability associated with the range 1130 - 970 BC, or twelfth to tenth centuries BC. ... It is important to note that this strata pre-dates the construction of the gate and reflects metallurgical and occupation activities before the construction of this monumental gateway." (Reassessing the chronology of Biblical Edom, Thomas E. Levy, 2004 AD)
  2. "As can be seen in Figure 7 in conjunction with the late Iron I small finds described above, there are two main phases of metal production: in the twelfth - eleventh centuries BC and during the tenth - ninth centuries BC. These new data necessitate a re-examination of the role of the lowlands in the control of metal production during the rise of the Edomite kingdom." (Reassessing the chronology of Biblical Edom, Thomas E. Levy, 2004 AD)
  3. "In summary, the expanded sample of radiocarbon dates for Area A at KEN indicates that in the 12th-11th centuries BCE, prior to the construction of the gate, Iron Age metal production activities had already begun at KEN. During the 10th century BCE, the Four-Chamber Gate was constructed in Stratum A3 and used for less than a century. In the following Stratum A2b, in the early 9th century BCE, the four-room gate ceased to function as a gate, was filled in and used for metal processing activities. By the end of the 9th century BCE, a second, more ephemeral phase (Stratum A2a) of metal production took place in and around the abandoned gate complex." (The Bible and Radiocarbon Dating, Thomas E. Levy, Thomas Higham, 2005, p144)

G. The Fortress of Solomon:

  1. "The ca. 73 x 73 m= fortress at KEN had never been excavated before the 2002 field season and its dating was only speculative." (The Bible and Radiocarbon Dating, Thomas E. Levy, Thomas Higham, 2005, p136)
  2. "In order to clarify the dating of the fortress and obtain an 'architectural signature' of the fortress (c. 73 x 73 m) pointing to its date and cultural affinity, roughly half of the western gate complex was excavated by our team in 2002" (Reassessing the chronology of Biblical Edom, Thomas E. Levy, 2004 AD)
  3. "The new excavations in the gateway of the Iron Age fortress thus place its construction at the beginning of the tenth century BC. The perimeter of the gate structure measures 16.5x10 m and follows the plan of the four-chamber gate that is well known from numerous contemporary Iron Age sites in Israel/Palestine (Mazar 1990), including the known desert forts in the Araba/Arava region, such as Hatzeva (Cohen & Yisrael 1995) and Tell el-Kheleifeh (Glueck 1965) . The gate is somewhat smaller than four-chamber gates found in Israel (Herzog 1992) but this can be expected since Khirbat en-Nahas is an industrial site, while the Israelite gates belong to towns." (Reassessing the chronology of Biblical Edom, Thomas E. Levy, 2004 AD)
  4. "That study also showed that occupation began at KEN at least as early as the 11th century BCE and that the monumental fortress was built in the 10th century BCE. It also showed that complex societies existed in Edom that where heavily involved in the extraction of copper ore and production of copper long before the influence of Assyrian imperialism was felt in the region from the 8th-6th centuries BCE. To holster the study of KEN and its chronological position in the Iron Age of Edom, an additional 27 carbon samples were processed from KEN for dating at the Centre for Isotope Research, Groningen, the Netherlands and are reported on here. (The Bible and Radiocarbon Dating, Thomas E. Levy, Thomas Higham, 2005, p134)
  5. Fortress may have been destroyed by Shishak after the death of Solomon: "The highly specialized nature of the KEN fortress which serviced the metal production activities of 10th-9th-century BCE Edom is thus enigmatic. The gate can be considered a mid-size example of the typical Iron IIA examples found in the southern Levant that was linked to a single role—helping to ensure the operation of copper production at KEN at the beginning of the Iron IIA period. If the perimeter of the KEN fortress is compared with other 10th-9th-century BCE fortresses in southern Israel, Jordan, and the Sinai Peninsula (Table 10.3), at ca. 73 x 73 m2, the KEN fortress is one of the largest fortifications from this period in the southern Levant. The closest parallel to the KEN gate and fortress complex is the one excavated by Glueck (Glueck 1938, 1939b, 1940b) at Tell el-Kheleifeh near Aqaba on the Red Sea which he dated to the 10th (Period I), 9th (Period II), and 8th (Period III) centuries BCE (Glueck 1993). Although Pratico (1993a, 1993b) has gone to great lengths to re-date Tell el-Kheleifeh to mostly the 8th-6th centuries BCE, the similarities between the KEN gate and fortress and Tell el-Kheleifeh, as well as the ceramic assemblages, are so striking that we suggest that in light of the corpus of 14C dates from KEN, the dating of Tell el-Kheleifeh needs to be reassessed once again in conjunction with future radiocarbon dates. Thus, a working hypothesis can be constructed that suggests that during the 10th and possibly the 9th centuries BCE, the KEN fortress played a pivotal role in the exploitation of copper ore and metal in the Faynan district and that it was part of an Iron IIA trade network that incorporated the early Hazevah fortress (Cohen and Yisrael 1995) on the western side of the Wadi Arabah with land trade routes leading to Israel and the Mediterranean and Tell El-Kheleifeh controlling seaborne trade to the south. As will be seen in the discussion of the following strata (A2b-A2a), considering the considerable energy that went into the construction of the KEN fortress, it is extremely puzzling that the KEN fortress seems to have had a relatively short-lived use." (The Bible and Radiocarbon Dating, Thomas E. Levy, Thomas Higham, 2005, p139)
  6. "The dating work undertaken at KEN thus far in the gate complex in Area A and the slag processing building in Area S have demonstrated incipient copper production from at least the early 10th century BCE in the Faynan area. It is clear that the areas of KEN that have been excavated do not date to the 8th-6th centuries BCE. We obtained close agreement with shorter-lived specimens dated at the radiocarbon facilities at ORAU and Center for Isotope Research—Groningen. However, problems in obtaining universally short-lived species resulted in some samples, comprising probable old wood, being dated. The Bayesian analysis of the radiocarbon dates supported this, and showed that there were more outliers in the data compared with what one might expect were the variation purely derived from statistical uncertainty alone. The results of the modeling show that there is an expansion in copper production evident at the site from about 950 BCE. The impressive gate structure in the fortress at KEN appears to have been utilised for its intended purpose for a brief period (ca. 5-10 years) after which it too was devoted to the processing of copper. In both areas, we determined an overall span of time of about 100-150 years. Towards the end of the 9th century BCE, activity in both areas ceased but further excavation and dating is required to determine whether this occurred across the site as a whole, or was more circumscribed." (The Bible and Radiocarbon Dating, Thomas E. Levy, Thomas Higham, 2005, p177)


  1. There was an occupation level below a fortress built by Solomon.
  2. The mines were likely discovered by the Amorites or Moabites and taken over by Solomon.
  3. There is no evidence of Edomite presence at the site.
  4. KEN is located north of Edomite territory and directly beside the area the Bible says that the Amorites controlled in 1000 BC.
  5. However, if further excavations prove and Edomite occupation of the site, it would not surprise us.


By Steve Rudd: Contact the author for comments, input or corrections.

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