site located at the eastern margin of the Wadi ῾Arabah, halfway between the Dead Sea and the Red Sea (30°37′36″ N, 35°29′ E). The Byzantine ruins of Feinan (Fenan, Phinon, Punon) are but one prominent archaeological site in a copper ore district that covers about 500 sq km (310 sq. mi.). It is part of the original sedimentary copper deposit of Timna῾-Feinan-Eilat-Abu Kusheiba, which is divided by the tectonic activities of the Wadi ῾Arabah rift valley. [See Timna῾ (Negev)]. In the Feinan area, more than 250 ancient mines and 150,000–200,000 tons of slag were discovered. The history and development of metallurgy in the area has been studied by archaeologists and scientists from the Deutsches Bergbau-Museum, Bochum, Germany, and the Jordanian Department of Antiquities since 1984. The area has been intensively surveyed and settlements from different periods and mines have been excavated (Wadi Ghwair 1, Tell Wadi Feinan, Wadi Fidan 4, Khirbet Hamra Ifdan, Barqa el-Hetiye, Wadi Khalid, Qalb Ratiye). Analytical work for provenience studies and reconstructions of smelting processes is done in the laboratory on ore, slag, and metal.

Archaeological excavation and the radiocarbon dating of fifty-two samples have made it possible to trace the exploitation of the ore deposit over a period of nine thousand years. The earliest settlements belonged to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period, when copper ores (“greenstones”) were utilized for making beads and for cosmetic purposes. The ores were traded as far as ῾Ain Ghazal in Transjordan and Jericho in ancient Palestine. Samples of pure copper ores have also been found at Tell Wadi Feinan (sixth/fifth millennium), some 2 km (1 mi.) west of the ruins of Feinan. Pyrometallurgy developed in the middle of the fourth millennium. Metal was smelted on a small scale inside of settlements (“household metallurgy”). High-grade secondary ores were used that left only very small amounts of slag. Copper ore was also traded to Abu Matar, Shiqmim, Wadi Ghazzeh, and Tell Maqass/῾Aqaba, where it was smelted inside the Chalcolithic settlements. [See Shiqmim.]

At Feinan, mining and smelting peaked in the Early Bronze Age II–III (first half of the third millennium). New technologies, such as the use of manganese oxide for fluxing, increased the exploitation of ores considerably. Twelve slag heaps in the area of Feinan point to a large-scale copper production that was the basis for the export of metal to cities in the Levant. The survey produced only sparse evidence for metal production there in the Middle Bronze Age. As at Timna῾, production increased again in the Late Bronze Age. Excavations at Barqa el-Hetiye/Feinan revealed Midianite pottery from the thirteenth/twelfth centuries BCE.

Innovations in mining and smelting developed during the Iron Age IIB and IIC, and copper was produced on an industrial scale. The industry was organized by the Edomite towns on the Jordanian plateau, such as Buṣeirah and Umm el-Biyara. [See Buṣeirah and Umm el-Biyara.] Remote parts of the ore deposit were made accessible by sinking shafts as deep as 70 m. Smelting was concentrated at two major centers—at Khirbet en-Naḥas (“ruins of copper”) and at Feinan—and led to the formation of the largest slag heaps in the southern Levant. This copper boom, which is paralleled in other copper districts in the Old World, arose in a period when the popularity of iron and steel increased.

Major mining activity resumed centuries later, in the Roman period (first century BCE—fifth century CE). By then the richest minerals appear to have been so completely exhausted that the Romans had to resort to low-grade copper ore. The church fathers Eusebius and Hieronymus (see Geerlings, 1985) describe the cruelty of the work in the mines of Feinan (“damnatio ad metallam”). One of the most impressive technological monuments is the mine at Umm el-Amad (6,600 sq m), some 15 km (9 mi.) south of Feinan. It is the only complete mine known from the Roman period. The Romans transported the ore over a distance of 12 km (7 mi.) to a central site located very close to the ruins of Byzantine Feinan. The large amount of metal produced here is demonstrated by the 50,000–70,000 tons of slag left behind.

After 500 CE, Feinan's role as a major copper supplier in the southern Levant ended; however, textual evidence and the remains of churches and a monastery indicate that the town maintained a certain importance as the bishop's see in the Early Byzantine period. In the Mamluk period, some minor mining and smelting activities took place there.

The copper produced at Feinan throughout history is characterized by a low trace-element content—except for lead, which sometimes ranges up to the percent level. This indicates that high-purity copper must not necessarily derive from native copper, clearly distinguishing Feinan copper from the copper-arsenic-antimony alloys found at Chalcolithic sites such as Naḥal Mishmar, Shiqmim, and Tell Abu Matar. The lead isotope ratios are clearly different from ore deposits in Cyprus, Anatolia, and the Aegean Sea, but it is difficult to distinguish between Timna῾ and Feinan.

[See also Mines and Mining.]


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Andreas Hauptmann