Site 2, in the western part of Timna‘ National Park (Erickson-Gini 2012: Fig. 1), is popularly known as the ‘Mushroom Site’, a name drawn from the shape of a nearby geological formation. The site is situated in a plain surrounded by low hills, east of a small tributary of Nahal Timna‘. It was previously excavated by B. Rothenberg between 1964 and 1966, yielding evidence of metallurgical activities, including smelting and crucible furnaces, as well as various structures and artifacts dated to the Late Bronze Age. Rothenberg presented evidence from epigraphic finds retrieved in the Timna‘ Valley and from historical sources that indicated that the ancient Egyptians controlled copper production in this region from the fifteenth century to the thirteenth century BCE, during the reigns of the eighteenth and nineteenth dynasties (Rothenberg 1972).
Excavations at the site in 2005, 2010 and 2011 by T. Erickson-Gini (2012; 2014) were conducted northwest of the large complex of facilities for metallurgical production exposed in Rothenberg’s Areas D–K (Fig. 1). Calibrated radiocarbon dates from charcoal samples retrieved during these excavations suggest that metallurgical activity took place at the site in the fourteenth–thirteenth centuries BCE, and possibly as early as the fifteenth century BCE.
The current excavations were conducted in three areas (A, B, E; Fig. 1). Areas A and B, adjacent to Ruthenberg’s Areas D–K, were opened on the eastern edge of a shallow stream bed. The surface layer (thickness c. 5 cm) in both areas was examined and removed, and all finds were collected; due to this method of collection, finds were recorded by year and basket only. Area A (2.5 squares, 2 × 2 m each), examined in 2016 and 2017, was adjacent to a structure exposed in the southeastern corner of Rothenberg’s Areas D–K. Area B was opened c. 15 m southeast of Area A. In 2016 and 2017, 27 squares (2 × 2 m each) were examined in Area B, and in 2018 the area was expanded westward to encompass 20 additional squares (Fig. 2). Area E (2 squares) was opened c. 40 m east of Area B, where the remains of two structures were discerned on the surface—the only architectural remains found in the excavations.
In all three areas, slag was systematically collected from the surface (Fig. 3). Additional slag was retrieved by sifting all the excavated soil using 2 cm mesh sieves. All the slag was later weighed. The excavations revealed evidence of copper-smelting activities from the Late Bronze Age and the early Iron Age (late fourteenth–early eleventh centuries BCE), augmenting the results of previous excavations.
Areas A and B yielded abundant copper slag, which covered the surface of both areas, and various other small finds, but no architectural remains. The surface in Area A was made up of brownish soil mixed with some ash and slag overlying sterile reddish sand that covered the sandstone bedrock. Area B (Fig. 3) had two main types of soil matrices: loose reddish alluvial sand, and sand slightly mixed with ash and slag.
The small finds retrieved from these areas were various beads (Fig. 4), including one made of carnelian (Fig. 4:1); pieces of coral (Fig. 5); pieces of ostrich eggshells (Fig. 6:1); unworked seashells (Fig. 6:2–6) and perforated shells that were preforms used to produce beads (Fig. 6:7); and a sandstone block with four small depressions, which may have served as an anvil for drilling beads (Fig. 7). Finds attributed to smelting activities included broken tuyeres (Fig. 8), one with a reed impression on the interior (Fig. 8:2); a hammerstone (Fig. 9:1); and lower grinding stones, one made of limestone (Fig. 9:2) and the other of sandstone (Fig. 9:3). Area B yielded also pieces of wood that may have been used in the smelting process (Fig. 10:1), alongside two unidentified charred seeds (Fig. 10:2). Pottery finds include fragments of North Arabian painted ware, formerly called ‘Midianite Ware’ by Rothenberg and now known as ‘painted ware in the Qurayyah tradition’ and dated to the Late Bronze Age and early Iron Age I (Fig. 11:1–4; for parallels and discussion, see Erickson-Gini 2014:79−80; Singer-Avitz 2014; Intilia 2016:199), as well as handmade ware (Fig. 11:5) and a non-diagnostic sherd decorated with incised lines (Fig. 11:6).
Area E. The remains of two poorly constructed, irregularly shaped structures, c. 20 m apart, were excavated after being identified on the surface (numbered 2018 and 2019 for the seasons during which they were uncovered).
Structure 2018 had largely collapsed. A probe (2 × 2 m; Fig. 12) was excavated in the northwest part of the collapse near a mound of slag. It exposed part of the structure (Fig. 13) in which two phases were identified. The early phase comprised a surface of reddish compact earth partially damaged by rodent burrows. Three pits (e.g., L112; Figs. 12: Section 1–1; 14) were dug into the floor. They contained some non-diagnostic pottery sherds, a hammerstone with copper accretions (L112; Fig. 15), copper slag, bones, ash and charcoal. The compact-earth surface was covered by a thick layer of reddish soil (L111; thickness 0.35 m), overlain with a layer of white ash (L110; thickness 4 cm), a series of lenses of charcoal (L109; thickness c. 2 cm, length up to 0.4 m) within fine light brown soil (L108) and a layer of fine gray ash found in the northeast corner of the probe (L107; thickness together with L108 c. 0.4 m); this stratification was seen most clearly in the northern section of the probe (Figs. 12: section 1–1; 16). It is unclear whether this early phase had built walls, as none were identified in the small probe. The second phase comprised two walls built of large, roughly hewn sandstone blocks: an enclosing wall on the west and south (W121), and a partition wall running in a general north–south direction (W120). Two layers of reddish brown soil with some ash and slag (L103, L104) abutted the walls.
The probe yielded several sherds of North Arabian painted ware (not illustrated), and one sherd of handmade ware with slag inclusions was found in topsoil (Fig. 17). Soil Layer 108 yielded two copper awls (Fig. 18:1, 2), pieces of ostrich eggshell (Fig. 18:3–7), several beads (Fig. 18:8–14) and a piece of red ochre (Fig. 18:15), as well as several date pits and one barley seed. Layer 107 yielded some pottery, several unidentified cast copper objects (e.g., Fig. 19) and bone fragments. The copper objects and slag, along with the charcoal and ash deposits, point to casting activities that may have taken place within the structure or at a nearby location. The beads and ochre may point to an additional activity in or near the structure, that of bead production.
The excavation in Structure 2019 (Figs. 20, 21) focused on one round room; the area to its east was slightly cleared revealing the top of a wall extending eastward. The room’s enclosing wall stood to a height of 3–4 courses built of roughly hewn sandstone blocks (Fig. 22). Within the structure was a layer of reddish sand with no identifiable floor. The only finds in the structure were pieces of copper slag.
The results of the 2016–2019 excavations in Timna‘, Site 2 are consistent with earlier investigations at this site. Together, the excavations reveal that Site 2 was utilized for copper smelting in the later part of the Late Bronze Age and the early Iron Age (late fourteenth–early eleventh centuries BCE). These activities involved the grinding of copper ore and other minerals necessary for successful copper smelting. The small finds testify either to a significant presence of workers from neighboring North Arabia or to an intensive trade with that region. Evidence of bead production, possibly an indication of the presence of women in the industrial complex, is not unique, as beads have been found in previous excavations at Site 2. The remains of poorly constructed structures appear to represent repeated short-term seasonal occupation and activity.