Timna PDF Print E-mail
Written by Stephen Langfur
Article Index
Midianite Tent Shrine
Copper at Timna
Timna Logistics

In the southern part of the Holy Land, 16 miles north of Eilat, is a region of startling beauty, including ancient copper mines, odd rock formations, and the remains of a Midianite tent-sanctuary related to that of the exodus .

In Arabic the place was called mene'ije. The modern Israelis, who in 1949 replaced the Arabic names in the Negev with Hebrew, were influenced here by the archaeological researches of Nelson Glueck. He had (mistakenly) identified the pottery at the site as Edomite (Glueck, p. 84). The Names Committee took the "m" and the "n" from mene'ije and came up with Timna, who appears in the Bible as the chief of an Edomite tribe.

As we drive in from the main highway, we see, ahead on the left, the dark brown Mount Timna, which is mostly granite. If we have an extra couple of hours, we can leave the bus at the ticket gate and follow a geological trail up the mountain. (The bus can wait by Solomon's Pillars.) At the top we can get a view over the Timna valley, which bends in a semi-circle from north to west to south.


We have not seen granite in the north or center of the country, for (except in volcanic areas) the land is covered with limestone, which was largely formed from the shells of sea creatures. Long ago, say geologists, at about the latitude of today's Mediterranean, a sea encircled the entire earth like a belt, dividing two land masses. At Timna we are at the erstwhile beach on the southern edge of that ancient sea. Further south there is ever more granite, crystalline rock that never knew the sea. North of Timna, the granite falls steeply away, buried under masses of sea animals. Just 67 miles to the north you would have to dig through two miles of marine sediments to find the granite again.

The ancient sea had its ebbs and flows. Above the dry "bay" that half encircles Mt. Timna, we can see steep walls of limestone and dolomite from the "flow" times (pictured above). Within the bay itself, and edging up the slopes, we find Nubian sandstone (see "Solomon's Pillars"), formed by wind-deposited sand during periods when the sea was not here. The granite Mt. Timna itself was pushed upward into the light. We stand, in short, in an ancient transitional zone. But let us descend.