Archaeologists digging at the ancient copper mines in Timna, a valley in Israel’s southern desert, were surprised to discover the 3,200-year-old remains of an Egyptian woman, where no women had been thought to have tread.
The woman was in the early stages of pregnancy when she died. She was buried near an ancient Egyptian temple in the heart of what archaeologists once nicknamed “King Solomon’s Mines” because they believed that the site was controlled by the biblical king, an idea that remains hotly contested.
“It is very rare to find human remains in Timna, and it is the first time we find a woman,” says archaeologist Erez Ben Yosef, who leads the Tel Aviv University team that has been excavating the site since 2012.
The last time human remains were uncovered at the mines was in 1964. The reason such a find is so rare has much to do with the hellish climate of the area, and the way various ancient peoples exploited Timna’s copper mines over a period of 500 years, from the late 14th century B.C.E. to the early 9th century B.C.E.
“There are no water sources in Timna and it is very inhospitable, so no one ever settled there permanently,” Ben-Yosef says. “Home was close to water sources, and people only came for brief expeditions during the winter to mine copper.”
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