2. The Sample Set and the Cisjordan Corpus

We collected samples from 48 silver artefacts found at four sites in southern Phoenicia, located between today's Yarkon River and Akko (Gilboa 2005), for a range of analyses including ore-provenance studies based on lead isotope analyses. The sampled artefacts belonged to six silver hoards hidden in ceramic jars at the sites of Akko, Dor, Ein Hofez and Tell Keisan, in contexts datable to between 1200 and 800 BC (Table 3; Thompson 2003, with references; see Appendix). Together, these southern Phoenician hoards contain more than 10.3kg of pre-coinage silver, and belong to a larger group of (now) 36 silver hoards excavated from Iron Age contexts (1200-586 BC) at fourteen sites between Akko and Arad, on 'this side' (Latin 'cis') of the River Jordan (Figure 1, see Appendix).

Our initial work on the Shechem Hoard demonstrated that ten samples contained silver with levels of copper ranging between 6 and 23%; these results were compared to earlier analyses of the silver in the Eshtemoa Hoard that reportedly ranged between 78-97% silver (see Figure 6). The analyses indicated that some hacksilber did not conform to any identifiable standard of purity (which was a dominant expectation at the start), but that further studies were needed because it was not possible to remove all copper corrosion products before sampling (Balmuth and Thompson 2000). Since then, and contrary to the appearance of hacksilber that foregrounds its potential to function as 'scrap', selected elemental analyses and ancient documents have been correlated to show that its metallic fabric was indeed sometimes made and valued according to standards of purity and weight, and served as Near Eastern money before and after the development of coinages (Thompson 2003; 2009). Because different labs can analyse the same artefacts with different results (see later), our sample from silver ingot BS002, with its hidden copper core, paradoxically remains the clearest material indication of the monetary function of hacksilber in the pre-coinage Near East. This ingot was recovered from a 12th century context at Beth Shean; its structure indicates an attempt to circumvent purity checks based on surface composition, and so tells us that the ingot was to be valued for what its weight in silver could afford, as a kind of money.

Figure 1

Figure 1: Findspots of silver hoards in the Cisjordan Corpus. Map based on (CC BY-SA)

On a larger scale, the Cisjordan Corpus of Iron Age hacksilber hoards has a sequential, chronological framework, supported by an ante quem date for each hoard. This translates into the opportunity to study not only individual hoards and their contents but also particular groups of hoards, including those discovered within sub-regions and sub-periods of Cisjordan during the Iron Age, and all of the hoards as components of a single unit integrated by its material, diachronic and geographical dimensions as it might compare to other finds (or the lack thereof) in other regions. Our primary aim in this article is to present the initial consistencies established between the lead isotope signatures of 25 of the 48 hacksilber samples found in the sub-region of Phoenicia and previously published ratios of galena and other lead ores from southern Sardinia and the Iberian peninsula (Figure 2).


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