Archaeology & Judges-Era Lead & Tin Trade

Archaeology & Judges-Era Lead & Tin Trade January 26, 2023

N. Yahalom-Mack et al, “Incised Late Bronze Age lead ingots from the southern anchorage of Caesarea,” Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports Volume 41, February 2022 [link], stated in their Abstract:

Four lead ingots [dated to the 13th–early 12th century B.C.] were found as part of a shipwreck cargo in the southern anchorage of Caesarea in Israel. Analysis of the lead and a study of the markings incised on three of them are presented here for the first time. Four Cypro-Minoan signs are identified and paralleled with signs found on Late Cypriot artefacts. Lead isotope analysis indicates that the lead originated in Sardinia. Such an origin was indicated by earlier analyses of lead ingots from other cargoes along the Carmel coast, as well as by additional lead objects from Cyprus and other regions around the eastern Mediterranean.

Cyprus is 198 miles from Caesarea, and Sardinia is 1748 miles away by sea. The article, “Top 10 Biblical Archaeology Discoveries of 2022” (Armstrong Institute of Biblical Archaeology / Let the Stones Speak, January-February 2023) states:

This discovery is related to the 2019 discovery of another shipwreck along Israel’s coast that dated to the same period. In this instance, the ingots (tin instead of lead) had been mined in Cornwall, England. [link added presently]

Cornwall is 2059 miles from Caesarea. There is a tie-in with the Bible:

Judges 5:17 (RSV) . . . Dan, why did he abide with the ships? Asher sat still at the coast of the sea, settling down by his landings.

Deuteronomy 33:24-25 And of Asher he said, “Blessed above sons be Asher; . . . Your bars shall be iron and bronze; . . .”

Bronze consists of copper and about 12% tin. The tribe of Dan during this period occupied the Mediterranean coast, including the port of Joppa (present-day Jaffa). The tribe of Asher was further north on the coast, in the region of Tyre and Sidon: current-day Lebanon. Caesarea lies between the two areas. The famous seafaring Phoenicians also dwelt in the region of Asher and further north.

Numbers 31:22 refers to “the gold, the silver, the bronze, the iron, the tin, and the lead,” and the prophet Ezekiel commented on “silver and bronze and iron and lead and tin” twice (Ezek. 22:20; cf. 22:18) and “silver, iron, tin, and lead” (27:12: directed towards Tyre). “Bronze” appears 151 times in the Old Testament.

Brent Nagdegaal, in his article, “Did Israel Source Tin From Britain?” (Armstrong Institute of Biblical Archaeology, 12-14-21) summarizes the implications:

[It] might sound implausible for those who have been taught to believe the ancient Israelites were an insignificant confederation of backward tribes during the early Iron Age. But the facts remain: Tin ingots mined in Cornwall made their way to Israel’s coast, and they arrived at the time when the best historical source for this region (the Bible) says that two Israelite tribes were involved in maritime trade in that same area.

The evidence might not be overwhelming, but surely it’s enough to justify a change in the way we generally think about ancient Israel and to inspire a new working hypothesis: one that accepts the biblical record, which says that ancient Israel engaged in some impressive feats beyond its borders—and perhaps as far away as Cornwall, England!


Photo credit: ancient lead ingots found near Caesarea, Israel [Hebrew University, Shai Halevi]


Summary: The Hebrew tribes of Asher and Dan were involved in the Early Iron Age in trade for lead and tin with merchants from Crete, Sardinia, and even Cornwall, England!

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