View Full Version : The Earliest Lead Object in the Levant

12-07-2015, 07:42 PM
In the deepest section of a large complex cave in the northern Negev desert, Israel, a bi-conical lead object was found logged onto a wooden shaft. Associated material remains and radiocarbon dating of the shaft place the object within the Late Chalcolithic period, at the late 5th millennium BCE. Based on chemical and lead isotope analysis, we show that this unique object was made of almost pure metallic lead, likely smelted from lead ores originating in the Taurus range in Anatolia. Either the finished object, or the raw material, was brought to the southern Levant, adding another major component to the already-rich Late Chalcolithic metallurgical corpus known to-date. The paper also discusses possible uses of the object, suggesting that it may have been used as a spindle whorl, at least towards its deposition.


Comparison with lead ores from Anatolia [4], [24], [25], [26], [27], [28], [29], [30], [31], [32], showed that the lead isotope ratios of the Ashalim Cave object are broadly similar to lead ores from the Taurus mountain range in this region (Fig 7). These include Taurus 1A group from Bolkardağ and an outlier (AON070) from the same deposit, as well as an outlier from Aladag (AON457). One outlier from the Pirajman mine at Keban in the uppermost Euphrates Valley (TG-180B ), also has similar isotopic values [26]. Several lead ore and slag fragments from Arslantepe in eastern Anatolia, Stratum VII, dated to the mid-4th millennium BCE, are also broadly consistent with the ore samples listed above and with Ashalim Cave object [33].


It is notable that the possible sources of the lead ore of the Ashalim Cave object all concentrate in south-central and southeastern Anatolia. The Bolkardağ valley lies 50 km north of the Mediterranean coast. It is considered the source of some of the richest argentiferous lead ore deposits in the Near East, and geologists in Turkey have reported ancient metalworking there as well as Chalcolithic settlements from as early as the 5th millennium BCE [30], [45]. Since several lead objects from 4th millennium BCE contexts at sites such as Tarsus and Tell Judeidah have lead isotope ratios consistent with the Taurus ores, Yener et al. suggested that these ore deposits were exploited as early as the 4th millennium BCE [30]. The distribution of the earliest known lead objects in eastern Anatolia/northern Mesopotamia noted above, combined with the analysis of our object, point to this broad region as a source of early lead.


Two broad origins have been suggested for the copper-based objects in the Nahal Mishmar hoard, one being the nearby Arabah Valley and the other being Anatolia and regions to its north (e.g., [48], [52]). The proximity of the latter region to the suggested origin of the lead of the Ashalim Cave object may point to common transfer routes by which raw materials were brought to the Levant, and more specifically to the south of Israel. These trade connections between the two regions were not limited to metals, as indicated for example by the import of obsidian to the Levant, which began already during the Neolithic and continued during the Late Chalcolithic (e.g., [53]). It has been shown that the copper-based items of the Late Chalcolithic southern Levant produced by the lost-wax technique were locally manufactured ([49], and see [51] with further references), pointing to the possibility that the Ashalim Cave lead object was also locally produced.

It has been noted that the Cu-As-Sb composition used for the production of the elaborate Late Chalcolithic objects in the southern Levant was also used in Arslantepe and Norsuntepe in Anatolia, albeit in a slightly later period (mid-4th millennium BCE) (see, [33], [54], [55]). In fact, one of the Cu-As-Sb ore fragments (TR-8/99) that were uncovered in Arslantepe had LI abundances and chemical composition perfectly consistent with a mace (6183) and a mace head (61253) from the Nahal Mishmar hoard ([33], p. 53). The occurrence of lead ores and slag in Level VII at Arslantepe with lead isotope ratios broadly consistent with the lead isotope ratios of the Ashalim Cave object (see above), may be therefore significant, suggesting possibly that both sites used ores from similar sources.


The Ashalim Cave object is unique, as no other lead objects were found in the Levant in contexts that pre-date the 4th millennium BCE. Moreover, the results of the lead isotope analysis showing that it was made of lead that likely originated in Anatolia, render this object with particular significance. This may be supported by its final deposition in the deepest section of a complex maze cave, very difficult to access and used solely during the Late Chalcolithic for ritual activities related to the burial of specific individuals [8]. The connection between metals, including rare ones (e.g., [56]), and burials is well attested during the Late Chalcolithic, and is probably related to the symbolic aspects assigned to the products of these important pyro-technologies (e.g., [49], [57], [58]).

Source: The Earliest Lead Object in the Levant; Yahalom-Mack et al. (http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0142948)

Rather interesting, could this be related to the southward spread of J lineages into the Levant during the copper age? Hopefully, ancient data from the region will provide an answer to that question.

12-11-2015, 02:38 AM
Makes sense, ties in with J being probably Caucasian in origin yet associated with a variety of Near East populated places (including Europe).

Viktor Reznov
12-14-2015, 02:27 AM
Makes sense, ties in with J being probably Caucasian in origin yet associated with a variety of Near East populated places (including Europe).
We're still not completely sure where J originated from or when it got to Europe since it does'nt show up but its absence in Yamnaya finds is interesting since CHG were a population that contributed to PIE.