Archaeology and King Solomon’s Mines
Where was the biblical Tarshish? Here’s one possibility.
King Solomon is traditionally (and I think, solidly) believed to have been king of the united monarchy of Judah, from c. 970-931 B.C. We don’t have much at all to establish his existence and influence on history on grounds other than the historically trustworthy Old Testament.
I would like to explore the question of Solomon’s legendary “mines” and offer a proposal. Where are they? How did he (or rather, those he sent) get there? And how do we connect them to Solomon’s era and reign? The “clue” we have in the Bible with regard to Solomon’s “mines” is Tarshish:
- “And Hiram king of Tyre had supplied Solomon with cedar and cypress timber and gold, as much as he desired …” (1 King 9:11)
- “For the king had a fleet of ships of Tarshish at sea with the fleet of Hiram. Once every three years the fleet of ships of Tarshish used to come bringing gold, silver, ivory, apes and peacocks.” (1 Kings 10:22; cf. 2 Chronicles 9:21; Isaiah 60:9; Jeremiah 10:9)
- “Tarshish trafficked with you because of your great wealth of every kind; silver, iron, tin, and lead they exchanged for your wares. ... The men of Rhodes traded with you; many coastlands were your own special markets, they brought you in payment ivory tusks and ebony.” (Ezekiel 27:12,15; referring to Tyre, 27:2-3)
Not long afterward, we read:
“After this Jehoshaphat king of Judah joined with Ahaziah king of Israel, who did wickedly. He joined him in building ships to go to Tarshish, and they built the ships in Ezion-geber.” (2 Chronicles 20:35-36)
Jehoshaphat reigned from c. 873 to c. 849 BC, and Ahaziah, somewhere between c. 853 and c. 849 BC, so their reigns overlapped to some extent. Ahaziah reigned for just “two years” according to 1 Kings 22:51. Assuming the general correctness of these dates, we know that ships were still being built to travel to Tarshish, about 80 years after Solomon’s death — presumably for the same trade goods. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica article, “Ezion-geber,” that town was “almost certainly founded about 950 BC by Solomon.” It was located at the northern end of the Gulf of Aqaba in what is now Jordan.
The other big “clue” we get from the Bible, is that Solomon was allied (and apparently very friendly) with Hiram, the Phoenician king of Tyre (r. 969–936 B.C.), and that Solomon’s “fleet of ships” were “at sea with the fleet of Hiram” (1 Kings 10:22 above). The Phoenicians were, as most fairly educated people are aware, the great seafarers of the ancient world. They lived on the Mediterranean coast (including in Tyre and Sidon), just north of modern Israel, in what is now Lebanon. They never lacked wood to build their ships, since they lived in close proximity to the famous cedars of Lebanon.
Solomon’s great wealth is well-described in the Bible (1 Kings 10:14-23). A talent in this period weighed about 66 pounds. Thus, the text informs us that Solomon obtained about 22 tons of gold in one year’s time. Note how Verse 22 specifically says that the main source of all this gold, ivory and silver was Tarshish. Therefore, it’s a reasonable, plausible assumption to conclude that this is where his “mines” were located.
The question then becomes: where was Tarshish? The Encyclopedia Britannica (“Tartessus”) states that it was in the Guadalquivir river valley in southwestern Spain, in Andalucía. Just an hour’s drive northwest of Seville lies Minas de Rio Tinto (“Red River Mines”), which have been in operation for over 5,000 years (2,000 years before Solomon, beginning in the Chalcolithic or Copper Age).
These mines have yielded copper, silver, gold, tin, lead and iron, and it’s estimated Roman miners discovered and took out more than 2 million tons of silver-rich ore. We’ve already determined that Phoenician ships visited Spain as far back as Solomon’s time, and that Solomon’s ships traveled with Phoenician ones to Tarshish. The pieces of the puzzle are rapidly coming together.
It has now been verified from extrabiblical sources that all five minerals mentioned in the Bible as deriving from Tarshish (gold, silver, iron, tin and lead) have been mined at Minas de Rio Tinto since very ancient times (starting long before Solomon was born). Everything fits the biblical description. Greek historian Herodotus (c. 484-425 B.C.) thought this area was the biblical Tarshish (iv. 152). The New Bible Dictionary produced additional evidence: “[In] Sardinia ... monumental inscriptions erected by the Phoenicians in the 9th century BC bear the name Tarshish.”
The Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature provides a fascinating overview:
Here there were mines of gold and silver, and Tartessus is expressly named as affording the latter mineral (Strabo, 3, 157; Diod. Sic.5, 35). Tin was brought by the Phoenicians from Britain into Spain, and thence carried to the Oriental markets. According to Diodorus Siculus (5, 38), tin was procured in Spain also, as well as lead, according to Pliny (Hist. Nat. 3, 4). Pliny’s words are forcible: “Nearly all Spain abounds in the metals-lead, iron, copper, silver, gold.” . . .
In the absence of positive proof, we may acquiesce in the statement of Strabo (3, 148) that the river Betis (now the Guadalquivir) was formerly called Tartessus, that the city Tartessus was situated between the two arms by which the river flowed into the sea, and that the adjoining country was called Tartessus.
British maritime archaeologist Dr. Sean Kingsley recently discovered that stashes of silver found in Israel came from Spain. Moreover, pottery, shekel weights, Near Eastern pottery, and elephant tusks, from 920 B.C., within about 11 years of Solomon’s death, were discovered in the city of Huelva, on the coast of the Mediterranean, 40 miles downriver from Rio Tinto, and indicated a connection to Israel and Phoenicia.