From Iberia to Laurion: Interpreting Changes in Silver Supply to the Levant in the Late Iron Age Based on Lead Isotope Analysis

Tzilla Eshel, Yigal Erel, Naama Yahalom-Mack, Ofir Tirosh, Ayelet Gilboa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The study of silver, which was an important means of currency in the Levant during the Bronze and Iron Ages (~ 1950–600 BCE), provides a large and extendable dataset for silver provenance. In this paper, nine silver hoards from the Southern Levant dating to the Iron Age IIB‒C (eighth, seventh, and early-sixth centuries BCE) are discussed in an effort to determine the source/s of the metal. The results show that Iberia, which was exploited by the Phoenicians and provided silver to the Levant already in the ninth century BCE, continued to dominate the Levantine market for more than a century and was the main silver source for Judah and Philistia throughout the Iron Age IIB (eighth century BCE). Later, during the Iron Age IIC, hoards in the Levant reflect a momentous change, as they contain, for the first time since the Late Bronze Age, mostly silver from Laurion (mainland Greece) and Siphnos in the Aegean. This shift, which is dated to the 2nd half of the seventh century BCE, appears to be related to historic developments: After the Assyrian Empire retreated from Western Asia ca. ~ 640/630 BCE, it left behind a political and administrative void, which the Saitic Egyptians took advantage of, attempting to re-gain power in the Levant. As a result, the Phoenicians lost their privileged position as sole providers of silver to the Neo-Assyrian Empire, and the market opened to new agents—especially East Greek traders. This shift probably affected the Phoenicians’ apparatus in the Western Mediterranean and may have been one of the factors that eventually contributed to their detachment from the homeland, in the sixth century BCE.

Original languageEnglish
Article number120
JournalArchaeological and Anthropological Sciences
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by the Gerda-Henkel Foundation in Germany (Grant AZ 05/F/16; awarded to A.G. and Y.E.), by a Hebrew University internal grant to Y. E., by a Nathan Rotenstreich PhD scholarship, and by additional scholarships from the Research Authority of the University of Haifa, awarded to T. E.

Funding Information:
We are grateful to Zvi Greenhut, Miki Saban, Alegre Savriego and Debi Ben-Ami from the Israel Antiquities Authority for enabling the sampling and photography of the hoards. We thank the following individuals who kindly allowed us to sample and photograph hoards and shared relevant knowledge regarding their contexts: Zeev Herzog, Lily Singer-Avitz, Ido Koch, Liora Freud from the Tel Aviv University; Alon De-Groot and Benny Har-Even from the Israel Antiquities Authority; Eran Arie and Haim Gitler, the Israel Museum; and Seymour Gitin, the Albright Institute of Archaeological Research. Special gratitude is due to Michael Dee from the Centre for Isotope Research at the University of Groningen, for the radiocarbon dating. We are deeply thankful to Alexandra Villing from the School of Historical Studies at the British Museum, Paolo Xella from the University of Pisa and the Italian National Research Council, Brice Erickson from the United Collage, Santa Barbara, Gunnar Lehmann from the Ben Gurion University in the Negev, Benjamin Sass from Tel Aviv University, Amir Golani from the Israel Antiquities Authority and Danel Kahn from the University of Haifa for sharing with us their knowledge on various subjects. Many thanks to Svetlana Matskevich of the Hebrew University who skillfully produced the graphics. We deeply thank Adi Ticher, Mahdi Agbaria and Renana Oz-Rokach for careful and dedicated work in the laboratory. Finally, we would like to thank the anonymous reviewers and the editor for their constructive comments.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature.


  • East Greeks
  • Greece
  • Ionia
  • Iron Age
  • Judah
  • Lead isotope analysis
  • Levant
  • Mediterranean trade
  • Philistia
  • Phoenicians
  • Silver hoards

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Anthropology
  • Archaeology


Dive into the research topics of 'From Iberia to Laurion: Interpreting Changes in Silver Supply to the Levant in the Late Iron Age Based on Lead Isotope Analysis'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this