Pharaoh's copper: The provenance of copper in bronze artifacts from post-imperial Egypt at the end of the second millennium BCE

Shirly Ben-Dor Evian, Omri Yagel, Yehudit Harlavan, Hadas Seri, Jessica Lewinsky, Erez Ben-Yosef

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The source of Egypt's copper supply during the Third Intermediate Period (1070–664 BCE) is largely unknown. Here we present new data from chemical (elemental) and lead isotope (LI) analysis of royal Egyptian artifacts of the 21st Dynasty (ca. 1010 BCE) – a period which until now was represented in the LI record only by a single artifact. Our finds identify the source of the copper in the Arabah region providing a basis for our historical reconstruction of the copper exchange network in the southern Levant at the turn of the first millennium BCE. We also analyzed two objects from the 24th and 25th Dynasties (8th c. BCE), which revealed a marked change in Egyptian copper metallurgy in both the composition (from Cu with traces of Sn to leaded copper with traces of As) and the supply chain (the Arabah ores are excluded). As the sampling involved museum artifacts, we performed X-ray imaging as a means to avoid sampling of any later metallic modifications and ensure the correct sampling process.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103025
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science: Reports
StatePublished - Aug 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors wish to thank Prof. Bernd Schipper of the Humboldt University of Berlin for pointing out the potential value of metallurgical analysis on objects in the Israel Museum collections. Thanks are also due to Dr. Daphna Ben-Tor, curator emeritus at the Israel Museum for sharing her expertise on the Egyptian artifacts, to Dr. Youri Volokhine of the University of Geneva, and to Mr. Victor Uziel from the Israel Museum conservation laboratory for his valued assistance in sampling the bronze artifacts. Finally, we thank the editor and the two anonymous reviewers whose comments helped us to improve the paper; any remaining shortcomings are our own. This study was partially supported by the Israel Science Foundation grant #1880/17 (to E.B.-Y.).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Elsevier Ltd


  • Archaeometallurgy
  • Chemical analysis
  • Copper
  • Egypt
  • Lead isotope
  • Third Intermediate Period
  • Wadi Arabah

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Archaeology


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