Although the Edomites are mentioned more than 100 times in the Old Testament, many secular scholars have long considered their existence a myth. Now archaeologists have uncovered proof that the Kingdom of Edom not only existed but was well-organized and tech-savvy—for its time period.
Scholars from Tel Aviv University and the University of California excavated a 6,000-year-old copper production site, called Slaves’ Hill, in southern Israel’s Arabah Valley. In a paper published in the journal PLOS One, they describe using radiocarbon dating to show that Edom’s location was the site of rapid advancements, likely thanks to advice from Egyptians.
Edomites in the Bible
The Edomites were descendants of Abraham’s grandson Esau, while Jews descended from Esau’s twin brother, Jacob. (In Hebrew, Edom means “red,” and Esau had red hair.) Genesis 36 lists the names of eight Edomite kings “who reigned…before any king reigned over the Israelites” (verse 31).
As enemies of the Hebrews, the Edomites rejoiced when King Nebuchadnezzar enslaved the Israelites. They also helped plunder the city of Jerusalem. The Old Testament mentions thousands of Edomites being struck down in various battles.
Because most of their land was too dry for farming, the Edomites relied on trade. Researchers now believe this “archaeologically elusive biblical kingdom” was a major factor in the move from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age—and that it occurred “much earlier than previously thought.”
“Tech boom” Led to Advancements
Copper, used for tools and weapons, was in great demand during the 10th century BCE. Just when the Edomites experienced what had been considered an invasion by Egyptians, a “sudden standardization” apparently occurred in their mining.
“The Edomites developed precise working protocols that allowed them to produce a very large amount of copper with minimum energy,” says Erez Ben-Yosef, the project’s team leader. Rather than invading, he says, the Egyptians may have been opening trade borders and improving the industry. “As a super regional power, they may have had tech knowledge from other places, and gave tech tips to the Edomites’ R&D teams.”
While analyzing the region’s “slag heaps,” or mining sites, scientists found lower concentrations of copper than expected, meaning more had been extracted. Plus, all the mines had similarities, indicating they were operating under an organized “overarching political body.” Ben-Yosef says, “Now we know [the Edomites] had a complex social organization—well-organized and centralized under one leadership.”
This discovery, one reporter notes, “flies in the face of many historians who have dismissed the idea [of Edom] as a myth.”
Implications of These Findings
These new findings not only prove Edom’s existence but reveal that its people have been greatly underestimated. Instead of being “simple” tent-dwelling nomads, they “had a great geopolitical impact,” says Ben-Yosef, calling Arabah “the Silicon Valley of the period.”
The study goes even further, he notes, to show “the intricate interconnections between technology and society.” Ben Yosef’s team was examining “punctuated equilibrium,” a concept suggesting that change isn’t necessarily slow and steady. Rather, as Popular Mechanics explains, “Societal changes come through long-term stasis punctuated by short-lived episodes of rapid change.”