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At the start of each new year it has become customary for news outlets to issue lists of various sorts concerning events of the previous year. Biblical archaeology is no exception. One item on the lists from 2017 caught my eye—donkey dung. Donkey dung? Yes, donkey dung. It was number three on the list on Todd Bolen’s BiblePlaces blog and number four on Christianity Today’s list. The unusual find was made in the Timna Valley, a vast ancient copper-mining site in the southwestern Wadi Arabah, which runs from the Dead Sea to the Red Sea’s Gulf of Eilat and is the border between Israel and Jordan. 

At the time of the discovery, Tel Aviv University archaeologist Erez Ben-Yosef had been excavating an ancient mining camp there for over four years. It is located on a sandstone mesa known as “Slaves’ Hill.”

Last year he and his team were uncovering the remains of several walled structures, including a fortified gate, when they discovered what appeared to be animal excrement of relatively recent origin.

“We thought maybe some nomads had camped there with their goats a few decades ago,” Ben-Yosef said, noting that the dung still contained undecayed plant matter. “But the [radiocarbon] dates came back from the lab, and they confirmed we were talking about donkeys and other livestock from the 10th century B.C. It was hard to believe.” . . .

“Until we started the project in 2013, this was considered to be a late Bronze Age site related to the New Kingdom of Egypt in the 13th and early 12th centuries B.C.,” Ben-Yosef says. There’s clear evidence of an Egyptian presence during those centuries, and modern-day visitors to nearby Timna Valley Park are greeted by signs depicting ancient Egyptians.

But high-precision radiocarbon dating of the dung, as well as textiles and other organic material, showed that the mining camp’s heyday was the 10th century B.C.—the era of the biblical kings David and Solomon.1

Since David subjugated this area and put garrisons there (2 Sm 8:13–14), and Solomon established the Red Sea port of Ezion-geber (1 Kgs 9:26–28), it is clear that the mines at Timna were under the control of the united kingdom of Israel.

So, what is the significance of this? It has to do with a long-standing debate between scholars concerning the historicity of the Bible. They are divided into two camps, the “minimalists,” who doubt the veracity of the Old Testament, and the “maximalists,” who believe the Old Testament to be a valid testimony of historical events. The minimalists claim that David and Solomon were fictitious characters or, at the most, just petty chieftains, and that Jerusalem was no more than a hill-country village. For years it seemed that the minimalists were carrying the day due to a lack of evidence to support the biblical account. But recent discoveries, such as the donkey dung, are turning the tide in favor of the maximalists. The dung samples not only yielded radiocarbon dates, but also included seeds and pollen spores so well preserved that Ben-Yosef’s team was able to determine the animals’ diet. This yielded another surprise: the feed was imported from an area more than 100 miles to the north, close to the Mediterranean coast. Jerusalem is another 90 miles beyond that. The industrial-scale mining and smelting operations at Timna and the long-distance trade are indicative of an ancient state or kingdom, not a chiefdom.

Timna copper minesThe Timna Chalcolithic copper mines. Credit: Todd Bolen /

The dung data is just the most recent example in a string of newly found evidences supporting the scriptural record. It began with the unearthing of the Tel Dan Stele in 1993. It is inscribed with the biblical phrase “House of David,” which establishes the validity of David and his dynasty. In 1997 Thomas Levy, a professor at the University of California, San Diego, began work at Khirbet en-Nahas, another ancient center of copper production—this one on the Jordanian side of the Wadi Arabah, 65 miles north of Timna. As with Timna, evidence for a complex society running the operation in the tenth century BC was uncovered. Then, in 2005, Israeli archaeologist Eilat Mazar unearthed a monumental structure in the City of David south of the Temple Mount, “the large stone building,” which she believes is David’s palace. This identification met stiff resistance from the archaeological community. The building is definitely royal in nature, but we can’t say for sure which king built it. The date of its construction is uncertain since it was in use for a long period of time.

Next came Khirbet Qeiyafa, a site 20 miles southwest of Jerusalem that was excavated from 2007 to 2013. Evidence was uncovered for a well-planned, fortified Judahite city dating to the late 11th–early 10th centuries BC, as determined by carbon-14 dating. After Mazar completed her work on the large stone building, she continued to excavate to the northeast. In 2010 she announced that she had found additional monumental structures from the tenth century BC, including a fortification wall 230 feet long and 20 feet high, a gate, and a tower. In reality, these structures had been excavated earlier and she merely dug a little deeper. Again, although they are definitely royal, the dating is questionable.

In 2012 Mazar made what was perhaps her most important find. While digging in the Ophel, the area between the Temple Mount and the City of David, she encountered another monumental building. A depression in the bedrock beneath the structure had been filled in with earth and seven broken pithoi (large store jars). One of these jars had an inscription just under its rim. ABR research associate Doug Petrovich published an in-depth analysis of the fragmentary eight-letter inscription in the Palestine Exploration Quarterly.2 He concluded that the letters were part of a wine docket and should be translated “[In the firs]t [(regnal) year]: pseudo-[win]e from [the garden of ??].”3 Doug theorized that inferior (“cheap”) wine in great quantity was provided to the workmen who were constructing the monumental building. Based on the type of pithos and the style of writing, he further concluded that the inscription dates to the tenth century BC and that the ruling king was most likely Solomon. This is the oldest Hebrew inscription found in Jerusalem, and it indicates that the monumental building was most likely constructed early in the reign of Solomon.

Timna Valley objectsTimna Valley toggle pin and cosmetic spatulas made of copper and bronze from the Late Bronze Age. Credit: A.D. Riddle /

All these findings point to an advanced, sophisticated, and well-organized society in Judah at the time of David and Solomon. The Bible tells how David subdued the surrounding nations and established a far-reaching kingdom. This was followed by a period of peace and prosperity under Solomon. The archaeological finds support this description. With each passing year, more and more evidence is found that adds to the database of information that substantiates the accuracy of God’s Word.

ABR is an important part of this undertaking. Although there are a number of organizations dealing with science and Creation, we are the only Christian ministry doing archaeological fieldwork and research to provide evidence that supports the truth of Scripture and refutes those who attack the Bible. Thank you for your faithful prayers and financial support of this endeavor.


Related articles from the ABR website for further reading:



1 Michelle Z. Donahue, “Found: Fresh Clues to Mystery of King Solomon’s Mines,” National Geographic, April 2, 2017,; brackets original.

2 Douglas Petrovich, “The Ophel Pithos Inscription: Its Dating, Language, Translation, and Script,” Palestine Exploration Quarterly 147, no. 2 (2015): 130–45,

3 Petrovich, 141.

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