Silver Isotopes in Silver Suggest Phoenician Innovation in Metal Production

Tzilla Eshel*, Ofir Tirosh, Naama Yahalom-Mack, Ayelet Gilboa, Yigal Erel

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


The current study presents Ag isotopic values of 45 silver artifacts with known Pb isotopic composition from the Southern Levant. These items originate from seven pre-coinage silver hoards, dating from the Middle Bronze Age IIC to the end of the Iron Age (~1650–600 BCE). These are the earliest silver artifacts analyzed for Ag isotopes; all former studies were performed on coins. All the sampled silver in this study contains relatively unfractionated Ag (−2 ≤ ε109 Ag ≤ 1.5) that was more likely produced from hypogene, primary Ag-bearing minerals (e.g., galena and jarosite) and not from native, supergene silver. Four of the sampled hoards containing silver from Anatolia and the West Mediterranean (Iberia and Sardinia) are associated with the Phoenician quest for silver (~950–700 BCE). A significant amount of this Phoenician silver (12/28 items) plots within a narrower range of −0.5 ≤ ε109 Ag ≤ 0.5. This is in contrast to non-Phoenician silver, which mostly underwent some degree of fractionation (16/17 items ε109 Ag ≥ I0.5I). The results suggest that while all silver was exploited from primary ore sources, the Phoenicians dug deeper into the deposits, reaching ore minerals that did not undergo any weathering-associated fractionation. The results also call for further investigation regarding the influence of sealing and bundling in silver hoards on post-depositional fractionation of Ag isotopes.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number741
JournalApplied Sciences (Switzerland)
Issue number2
StatePublished - 12 Jan 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding: This research was supported by a grant of the Gerda-Henkel Foundation in Germany (Grant AZ 05/F/16; awarded to A.G. and Y.E.), by Hebrew University internal grant to Y.E. and by the Nathan Rotenstreich scholarship and additional scholarships from the Research Authority of the University of Haifa, awarded to T.E.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.


  • Ag-fractionation
  • Levant
  • Phoenicia
  • Silver hoards
  • Silver isotopes
  • silver isotopes
  • silver hoards


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