Slag Heap

Feinan, Jordan

Copper was mined at Khirbet Feinan [alternate spelling "Faynan"], about 45km north of Petra, from Neolithic through Byzantine times and even later. The copper ore was cut and hauled out of tunnels dug deep into the rock, and then processed on the spot.

In this photo, Dr. Joe Greene, of the Harvard Semitic Museum, is standing upon a large heap of slag, the residue of countless centuries of smelting. The slag's black color is caused by iron residue in the ore. The surrounding hills, now barren desert, were once covered with forest. Over the centuries, every last tree was cut down to fuel the smelting process.

Feinan was served by waterworks, fields, workshops, barracks, and everything else needed to support the mine and the workers who labored here. Most of its buildings were as ramshackle as any mining town of the American West, and have long since disappeared. The ancient population was large. Thousands of graves, many marked with Christian crosses, are located in cemeteries nearby.

In the Roman period, labor in the mines was performed by convicts – a brutal sentence leading to almost certain death.