A copper awl from the fifth millennium BCE that was discovered at the site in Tel Tsaf. (photo by Yosef Garfinkel via Ashernet)
Excavations at Tel Tsaf in the Jordan Valley, near the Jordan River, revealed in a woman’s grave a small copper awl. Generally speaking, this would not have been regarded as special except, in this instance, the grave where the awl was found dates from 5200 BCE.
This find, announced by archeologists from the Zinman Institute of Archeology of Haifa University on Aug. 24, pushes back the time that metal technology was thought to have been introduced into the region by at least 500 years. The awl is probably the oldest metal object ever found in the Middle East.
The find also adds another dimension to the Tel Tsaf community itself. Discovered in 1950, it was not until about 10 years ago that it was established from excavations directed by Prof. Yosef Garfinkle that Tel Tsaf dated to about 5200 to 4700 BCE, the Middle Chalcolithic period.
It was clear that Tel Tsaf was a centre of regional commerce. There were silos that could store up to 30 tons of grain in each individual silo, and excavations, including burial sites, had revealed painted pottery, bullae (seals), basalt and obsidian beads, seashells, but no copper – until now.
The discovery of the copper awl would point to a population with advanced technology, and the fact that a copper implement was discovered at the site has a significant bearing on understanding the history of the period, both in Tel Tsaf and the rest of the Middle East.