Khirbet Faynan Aerial view of Khirbet Faynan


  • Reference: APAAME_20191022_PF-0021
  • Photographer: APAAME_20191022_PF-0021
  • Credit: Aerial Photographic Archive for Archaeology in the Middle East
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Transliterated Name Source Name
Faynan Arabic
Feinan Arabic
Khirbet Faynan Arabic
Phaino Late Roman and Byzantine texts
Phaeno Late Roman and Byzantine texts
Fenan Late Roman and Byzantine texts
Phinon Late Roman and Byzantine texts
Punon Late Roman and Byzantine texts
Punon Biblical Punon, one of the stations of the Exodus (Numbers 33:42-43)

Khirbet Faynan is located in Wadi Feynan in southern Jordan - just south of the Dead Sea. Wadi Feinan has one of the longest histories, if not the longest history, of copper mining and smelting on Earth. The Byzantine ruins of Feinan (Fenan, Phinon, Punon) are but one prominent archaeological site in a copper ore district that covers about 500 sq km. ( Andreas Hauptmann in Meyers et al, 1997) The earliest settlements discovered belonged to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period, when copper ores ("greenstones") were utilized for making beads and for cosmetic purposes. ( Andreas Hauptmann in Meyers et al, 1997)

Brief History of Copper Mining in Wadi Feinan

Andreas Hauptmann in Meyers et al (1997) relates the following regarding the history of Wadi Feinan and copper mining

Archaeological excavation and the radiocarbon dating of fifty-two samples have made it possible to trace the exploitation of the ore deposit over a period of nine thousand years. The earliest settlements belonged to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period, when copper ores ("greenstones") were utilized for making beads and for cosmetic purposes. The ores were traded as far as 'Ain Ghazal in Transjordan and Jericho in ancient Palestine. Samples of pure copper ores have also been found at Tell Wadi Feinan (sixth/fifth millennium), some 2 km (1 mi.) west of the ruins of Feinan. Pyrometallurgy developed in the middle of the fourth millennium. Metal was smelted on a small scale inside of settlements ("household metallurgy"). High-grade secondary ores were used that left only very small amounts of slag. Copper ore was also traded to Abu Matar, Shiqmim, Wadi Ghazzeh, and Tell Maqass/'Aqaba, where it was smelted inside the Chalcolithic settlements.

At Feinan, mining and smelting peaked in the Early Bronze Age II—III (first half of the third millennium). New technologies, such as the use of manganese oxide for fluxing, increased the exploitation of ores considerably. Twelve slag heaps in the area of Feinan point to a large-scale copper production that was the basis for the export of metal to cities in the Levant. The survey produced only sparse evidence for metal production there in the Middle Bronze Age. As at Timna', production increased again in the Late Bronze Age. Excavations at Barqa el-Hetiye/Feinan revealed Midianite pottery from the thirteenth/twelfth centuries BCE.

Innovations in mining and smelting developed during the Iron Age IIB and IIC, and copper was produced on an industrial scale. The industry was organized by the Edomite towns on the Jordanian plateau, such as Buseirah and Umm el-Biyara. Remote parts of the ore deposit were made accessible by sinking shafts as deep as 70 m. Smelting was concentrated at two major centers—at Khirbet en-Nahas ("ruins of copper") and at Feinan—and led to the formation of the largest slag heaps in the southern Levant. This copper boom, which is paralleled in other copper districts in the Old World, arose in a period when the popularity of iron and steel increased.

Major mining activity resumed centuries later, in the Roman period (first century BCE—fifth century CE). By then the richest minerals appear to have been so completely exhausted that the Romans had to resort to low-grade copper ore. The church fathers Eusebius and Hieronymus (see Geerlings, 1985) describe the cruelty of the work in the mines of Feinan (" damnatio ad metallam"). One of the most impressive technological monuments is the mine at Umm el-Amad (6,600 sq m), some 15 km. (9 mi.) south of Feinan. It is the only complete mine known from the Roman period. The Romans transported the ore over a distance of 12 km. (7 mi.) to a central site located very close to the ruins of Byzantine Feinan. The large amount of metal produced here is demonstrated by the 50,000-70,000 tons of slag left behind.

After 500 CE, Feinan's role as a major copper supplier in the southern Levant ended; however, textual evidence and the remains of churches and a monastery indicate that the town maintained a certain importance as the bishop's see in the Early Byzantine period. In the Mamluk period, some minor mining and smelting activities took place there.

The copper produced at Feinan throughout history is characterized by a low trace-element content—except for lead, which sometimes ranges up to the percent level. This indicates that high-purity copper must not necessarily derive from native copper, clearly distinguishing Feinan copper from the copper-arsenic-antimony alloys found at Chalcolithic sites such as Nahal Mishmar, Shiqmim, and Tell Abu Matar. The lead isotope ratios are clearly different from ore deposits in Cyprus, Anatolia, and the Aegean Sea, but it is difficult to distinguish between Timna' and Feinan.

363 CE Earthquake

Jones (2021:Table 1) suggested that there may be archeoseismic evidence at Khirbet Faynan for the Southern Cyril Quake in Area 16, Terrace 3, local stratum 2a in as yet unpublished work. A preliminary report can be found at Levy et al (2012:430-435).

Late 6th Century CE Earthquake

Jones (2021:Table 1) suggested that there may be archeoseismic evidence at Khirbet Faynan for the Inscription at Areopolis Quake in Area 16, Terrace 2 in as yet unnumbered local stratum based on unpublished work. A preliminary report can be found at Levy et al (2012:430-435).

Notes and Further Reading

Jones, I. W. N. (2021). "The southern Levantine earthquake of 418/419 AD and the archaeology of Byzantine Petra." Levant: 1-15.

Levy, T. E. et. al. (2012). "The 2011 Edom Lowlands Regional Archaeology Project (Elrap): Excavations and Surveys in the Faynan Copper Ore District, Jordan Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan 56.

The Kingdom of Copper - Copper Production and Social Complexity in Iron Age Faynan, Jordan - ARCGIS Story Map

Bibliography from Meyers et al (1997)

Adams, Russel, and Hermann Genz. "Excavations at Wadi Fidan 4: A Chalcolithic Village Complex in the Copper Ore District of Feinan, Sotuhern Jordan." Palestine Exploration Quarterly 127 (1995).

Fritz, Volkmar. "Ergebnisse der Grabungen in Barqa el-Hetiya im Gebiet von Fenan, Wadi el-Araba (Jordanien)." Zeitschrift des Deutschen Palaslina-Vereins (in press).

Geerlings, Willem. "Zum biblischen und historischen Hintergrund der Bergwerke von Fenan in Jordanien." Der Anschnitt 5-6 (1985): 158- 162.

Hauptmann, Andreas, et al. "Archaometallurgische und bergbauarcha'ologische Untersuchungen im Gebiet von Fenan, Wadi Arabah." Der Anschnitt 5-6 (1985): 163-195.

Hauptmann, Andreas. "The Earliest Periods of Copper Metallurgy in Feinan." In Old World Archaeometallurgy, edited by Andreas Hauptmann et al., pp. 119-135. Der Anschnitt, Beiheft 7. Bochum, 1989.

Hauptmann, Andreas, et al. "Early Copper Produced at Feinan, Wadi Araba, Jordan: The Composition of Ores and Copper." Archeomaterials 6.1 (1992): 1-33.

Hauptmann, Andreas, et al. "Chalcolithic Copper Smelting: New Evidence from Excavations at Feinan/lordan." Proceedings of the 29th International Conference on Archeometry. Ankara, 1995.

Knauf, E. Axel, and C. J, Lenzen. "Edomite Copper Industry." In Studies in the History and Archaeology of Jordan, vol. 3, edited by Adnan Hadidi, pp. 83-88. Amman, 1987.

Najjar, Mohammed, et al. "Tell Wadi Feinan: The First Pottery Neolithic Tell in Southern Jordan." Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan 34 (1990): 27-56.