Nabataean iron picks for copper mining from Nahal ‘Amram, Israel; Chemical, isotopic and production technology analysis

Ivan Stepanov, Uzi Avner, Michael Brauns, Nicole Lockhoff, Adi Eliyahu-Behar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recent excavations at Naḥal ‘Amram, a Nabataean copper mining center in the Arabah valley, Israel, unearthed for the first time four iron tips of mining picks. The present study undertakes a complex investigation of the picks, including metallographic, indentation hardness, slag inclusions (SIs), metal matrix, and osmium isotopic composition (Os-IC) analyses. The results indicate that the picks were manufactured via similar blacksmithing techniques, using two types of hard alloys: quench-hardened steel and phosphoric iron. A correlation was found between the composition of SIs, metal, and osmium isotopic signature, suggesting that three different ore sources were exploited to produce these picks. The quenched steel likely originated from a single ore source, whereas the two P-rich iron probably provenance from two different, yet geographically close or geologically similar ore deposits. The undertaken study highlights the importance of an integrative provenancing approach, which relies on the analyses of siderophile/chalcophile elements of the metal, lithophile trace elements of slag inclusions, and osmium isotopic analyses. This approach allows the complete characterization of the ore provenance signature of an artefact. However, the final provenance assignment to a specific ore deposit is currently limited, as it depends on our knowledge and familiarity with potential ore sources and on the archaeological evidence of their exploitation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104166
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science: Reports
StatePublished - Oct 2023
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was funded by the Israel Science Foundation, ISF grant no. 1047/17 to A.E.B ( The Postdoc fellowship to I.S was also supported by ISF funding and Ariel University. The authors are grateful to colleagues from Ariel University: Dr. Natali Litvak for the help with the performance of SEM analyses, Dr. Konstantin Borodianskiy for sharing access to the hardness tester, and Mr. Michael Korpushenko for his help with the analyses

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 Elsevier Ltd


  • Mining picks
  • Nabataean
  • Nahal 'Amram
  • Os isotopy
  • Siderophile element analyses
  • Slag inclusion analysis


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