Iron Age Nomads and their relation to copper smelting in Faynan (Jordan): Trace metal and Pb and Sr isotopic measurements from the Wadi Fidan 40 cemetery

Marc A. Beherec, Thomas E. Levy*, Ofir Tirosh, Mohammad Najjar, Kyle A. Knabb, Yigal Erel

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


The Faynan region in southern Jordan is the largest copper ore resource zone in the southern Levant and was exploited for these ores beginning ca. 8000 years BP. We discuss the relationship between nomadic populations and major copper smelting sites during the Iron Age (ca. 1200-500 BCE) based on mortuary excavations and toxic metal analyses at the Wadi Fidan 40 cemetery, the largest Iron Age mortuary complex in southern Jordan. The Iron Age represents the first industrial revolution in this part of the Middle East. The study presented here is the first to employ chemical and isotopic measurements from a systematically excavated Iron Age mortuary population to determine exposure to Cu and Pb pollution and mobility patterns (based on Sr isotopes). We describe a methodology to control for post-depositional diagenetic uptake of chemical elements in human teeth recovered from the cemetery that has not previously been applied in Faynan in ancient pollution studies. The results suggest that most of the excess of Pb and Cu measured in tooth enamel samples were a product of post-depositional diagenetic addition. Our findings suggest that the majority of people buried at the Wadi Fidan 40 cemetery were not exposed to metal pollution during their lives. The few individuals who were exposed to metal pollution exhibited a spectrum of traits indicative of lifestyle and social status. The results bring into question how severe the ancient pollution impacted the lives of the Iron Age population living in Faynan.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)70-83
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This pilot study was funded by T.E.L's endowed Kershaw chair at the University of California, San Diego and Hebrew University funds from YE. Part of MB's travel expenses were covered by a student travel grant made available by the UC San Diego Judaic Studies Program. We are grateful to the late Dr. Fawwaz al-Khrayshe, former Director General of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan and Dr. Barbara Porter, Director, American Center of Oriental Research (ACOR) for logistical support during the excavations that made this study possible. Thanks also to the local Bedouin tribes in the Faynan region for their support.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015.


  • Copper metallurgy
  • Mortuary archaeology
  • Nomads
  • Pollution
  • Trace metals


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