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Ancient metal workers were not treated as slaves

Posted on Aug 31 2014 | IANS

London, Aug 31 : Ancient metal workers were highly regarded for their skills and were not treated as slaves as popular narratives suggest, says a study.

In the course of ongoing excavations at Timna Valley in Israel, Tel Aviv University archaeologists analysed remnants of food eaten by copper smelters 3,000 years ago.

The labourers operating the furnaces were, in fact, skilled craftsmen who enjoyed high social status and adulation, the analysis showed.

"They had a very unique role in society, and we can demonstrate this by looking at Timna," said researcher Erez Ben-Yosef.

The arid conditions of Timna have resulted in unparalleled preservation of organic materials usually destroyed by the march of time: bones, seeds, fruits, and even fabric dating back to the 10th century BC.

Using a technique called "wet sieving," the archaeologists found miniscule animal and fish bones, pointing out to the existence of a rich and diverse diet.

"The copper smelters were given the meatiest parts of the animals," said researcher Lidar Sapir-Hen.

Someone took great care to give the people working in the furnaces the best of everything.

"This was not the diet of slaves but of highly-regarded, maybe even worshipped, craftsmen," Sapir-Hen added.

Copper, used at the time to produce tools and weapons, was the most valuable resource in ancient societies.

The study appeared in the journal Antiquity.

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