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Iron Age and the Nabataeans

Faynan under the control of early states: 3200–1844 years ago
(1190 BC – AD 105)

By the Iron Age, 3,000 to 2,000 years ago, or the first millennium BC, we enter the world of history with written records now increasingly supplementing our archaeological knowledge. Faynan was part of the territory known as Edom, extending from the Jordanian plateau to the Naqab desert. There are references to Edom in both the Hebrew Bible and Egyptian papyri from the Late Bronze Age. Although Edom is referred to as a kingdom, it seems likely that it was at least in part a tented kingdom, or a confederation of nomadic tribes. There is a large Early Iron Age cemetery at Wadi Fidan 40, which appears to have been used by these nomadic people. The type of political control that was exerted over the communities living in Faynan remains unclear, but the early part of the Iron Age witnessed a major expansion of copper mining and metallurgy on an industrial scale, with more than 100 mines being exploited.

Faynan had become part of a sophisticated regional political and economic system, and early in the Iron Age it may have been close to the centre of Edomite power. At this time, the Faynan region was the largest copper producing area in the southern Levant. The demands of the smelting process for charcoal might explain a shift from the previous use of upland oak and juniper trees to the local scrubland trees of tamarisk and acacia. Agricultural activity continued with a mixed economy of sheep, goat and cereals, but with a likely expansion of floodwater farming.

As time passes, copper mining appears to have declined. A new administrative capital for Edom developed at Busayra in the highlands, and was connected to Faynan by a road system. It is not clear why copper mining declined, but the construction of major fortified sites and Egyptian incursions suggest that conflict disrupted the industrial development of the region.

By the 4th century BC, around 2,300 to 2,400 years ago, the Nabataean kingdom, with its capital in Petra, emerged as the local power. The Nabataean kingdom developed from people spreading into the Wadi Araba from the south, from what is Saudi Arabia today. While their wealth and power were based on acting as middle-men in the trade routes passing through their territories, the Nabataeans developed an advanced level of hydraulic engineering enabling farming in the most arid of regions, along with coinage, writing and monumental architecture. A large reservoir was constructed in Faynan where floodwater farming was further developed.