This is the first evidence that there was a continuous and long-term trade of metals from the Levant region to Anatolia already in the 17th century BC, about 500 years before the Iron Age when the use of silver coins became common in the area
A new joint study by the University of Haifa and the Hebrew University reveals for the first time the beginning of the use of silver coins as a means of payment in the ancient southern Levant (Land of Israel), already in the Middle Bronze Age, about 3600 years ago. The study even identifies Anatolia (Turkey) as the source from which the money came, which indicates continuous and long-term trade with Asia Minor. "Transitioning to an economic method based on silver coins, which do not spoil and have a small volume and weight compared to, for example, grain, brings with it many advantages and new possibilities that surely contributed to the urban and economic development of the entire space. But he also must have the silver coins continue to arrive frequently, evidence of long and stable trade relations with Anatolia, which were unknown to researchers at this time," said Dr. Tsila Eshel from the University of Haifa, who led the study.
The use of silver coins as a means of payment was known in Mesopotamia as early as the third millennium BC, however, in the southern Levant region, known in the Bible as the Land of Canaan, until now it was common to think that such use was common only in the Iron Age, starting from the 12th century BC, and this on Although silver trading between Hazor and Mari (in Syria) is mentioned in financial documents found in Hazor from the Middle Bronze Age. The silver coins are pieces of silver whose unpolished form clearly indicates that they are not jewelry or ornamental objects and the fact that they were usually found together, wrapped in cloth and kept in pottery indicates that they were used as a means of payment.
In previous studies by the team of researchers, Dr. Eshel together with Prof. Yigal Aral and Prof. Naama Yahlom-Mack from the Hebrew University and Prof. Ayelet Gilboa from the University of Haifa, they dealt extensively with silver hoards from the Iron Age and locating their origin. However, the research into the silver finds exposed Dr. Eshel to the fact that in previous excavations, some from recent years and some even decades ago, hoards of silver were found from earlier periods, from the end of the Middle Bronze Age and the beginning of the Late Bronze Age, approximately the 16th-17th centuries BC. However, so far there has not been a comprehensive research look at these findings and the concept that the use of silver coins in the southern Levant began in the Iron Age continued to be the dominant concept.
In the current study, the researchers examined silver hoards from Tel Shiloh and Tel Gezer, which were dated to the end of the Middle Bronze Age, from the 17th century BC and hoards from Tell al-Agul, which were dated to the beginning of the Late Bronze Age, to the 16th century BC. "In the first step, we had to establish that these were indeed silver coins that were used for payment. Their shape, the fact that many of them looked like bracelets made in different sizes - that is, not for ornamental use and the fact that they were found in public areas, inside a warehouse or near the city gate, led us to assume that these were indeed silver pieces used for trade," the researchers said.
The second step was to see if it was a large enough amount so that it could be assumed that it was a large and comprehensive phenomenon, and not a sporadic and unrepresentative case. According to the researchers, the amount of money found in the hoards in Shiloh and Gezer was itself not small. In addition, in old excavation reports of Tel Gezer, a significant number of silver hoards from the Middle and Late Bronze Ages were published, which indicates a large distribution of silver traces in the settlement. "The researchers' perception was that the use of silver as a means of payment was a phenomenon that characterizes the Iron Age, but as soon as we examined it in depth, we saw that the use of silver coins has existed since the Middle Bronze Age. The amount of silver traces in the hoards at Tel el Ajul can illustrate this very well: in these hoards gold ornaments were found, which attracted most of the researchers' attention. However, when we checked the composition of the hoards, it turned out that there were much more silver items and the gold items were the minority," said the researchers.
After coming to the conclusion that the quantities of silver coins indicate their widespread use as a means of payment, and since lead (narrows) from which silver is produced are not found in the Levant region, the researchers asked to know what their origin was. To identify the source of silver, an isotopic test can be performed on it, and compared to the isotopic composition of ores of known origin, as well as to other silver objects. In the examination carried out by the researchers, a similarity was found to ores originating in Anatolia, as well as to ancient silver objects found in excavations in Anatolia. In addition, other findings found in the vicinity of the hoards, such as an ax head or a pendant, which apparently originate from Anatolia, led the researchers to the conclusion that the most likely source of the money is there.
"The meaning is that we are witnessing the first evidence that there was a continuous and long-term trade of metals from the Levant region to Anatolia already in the 17th century BC. We know for sure that in the Iron Age this trade existed, but our findings move the beginning of such trade in metals back at least 500 years. The use of silver coins in the north, in Mesopotamia and Anatolia is known from a much earlier period, so it makes sense that the tightening of trade with these regions in the Middle Bronze Age also brought with it the use of the payment methods of these regions", concluded the researchers.
The research was made possible thanks to the cooperation of the researchers with Dr. Tzvika Tzuk, from the joint expedition for excavations in the Tel Gezer National Park of the Nature and Parks Authority and the Baptist Theological Seminary of New Orleans under the auspices of the Antiquities Authority, and with various parties in the Antiquities Authority and the Rockefeller Museum who made it possible to sample the findings for analysis. The research was funded by a grant from the Gerda Henkel Foundation, the Rottenstreich Foundation, and internal grants at the university and the Hebrew University.
Credit: Israel Antiquities Authority