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27 August 2014
Oldest metal object found to date in Middle East

A copper awl, the oldest metal object found to date in the Middle East, was discovered during excavations at Tel Tsaf. The tool dates to the late 6th or early 5th millennium BCE, moving the date that people of the region are known to have used metals back by several hundred years.
     Tel Tsaf, a Middle Copper Age village dated to about 5200-4600 BCE, is near the Jordan River, south of the Sea of Galilee. The site was first documented in the 1950s, and excavations began at the end of the 1970s, revealing mud-brick buildings, and a large number of silos in which wheat and barley were stored. In the courtyards, many roasting ovens filled with burnt animal bones were discovered, along with numerous other artefacts - among them items made of obsidian from Anatolia or Armenia, shells from the Nile River in Egypt and other areas around the Mediterranean, figurines of people and animals, and pottery unlike that found almost anywhere else in the region.
     The awl is only 4 centimetres long - a cone-shaped piece of copper, which would originally have been set in a wooden handle. It was found during a previous excavation, in the sealed grave of a woman about 40 years old, dug inside of a silo. Around her waist was a belt made of 1,668 ostrich-egg shell beads. The burial has been described as one of the most elaborate seen in the region from that era.
     While the grave, the woman's skeleton, and the beaded belt were all previously reported in scientific journals, the little awl was only reported on recently, after its chemical components were analysed. This artefact is important, because until now researchers believed that area residents began to use metals only in the Late Chalcolithic period - the second half of the 5th millennium BCE. Chemical examination shows the copper may have come from the Caucasus, some 1,000 kilometres from Tel Tsaf. The processing of a new raw material coming from such a distant location is unique to Tel Tsaf, and provides additional evidence of the importance of this site in the ancient world.

Edited from Science Daily (21 August 2014)

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