A copper awl unearthed in a grave holding the corpse of a woman is the oldest metal artifact ever discovered in the Middle East.
The metal tool reveals that residents of the Middle East were trading crafted metal goods 6,000 years ago - centuries before archaeologists believe the practice began. The awl is roughly 1.6 inches long, and the tip is just 0.03 inches from side to side.
Tel Tsaf, a village which existed between B.C.E. 5100 and 4600, was located on the Jordan River, near what is now the Jordanian border, in Israel. Remains of the ancient community were first discovered in 1950, and excavations started less than three decades later.
Archaeologists believe the ancient village housed a series of wheat silos, able to store between 15 and 30 tons of grain. The village featured public courtyards equipped with fireplaces. Surrounding these ancient ovens were animal remains, providing evidence the ancient residents likely took part in large feasts in the plazas. Homes in Tel Tsaf, constructed from mud bricks, were filled with tools made of obsidian, a volcanic glass, as well as shells and pottery imported from around the Middle East. Archaeologists believe this could indicate the village may have been a center of tourism, housing a wealthy native population.
The ancient copper awl was discovered in the grave of a woman who was around 40 years old when she passed away. The grave was placed inside a silo, and covered in large stones. Around the waist of the woman was a belt, constructed from 1,668 shell beads, manufactured from ostrich shells.
"The appearance of the item in a woman's grave, which represents one of the most elaborate burials we've seen in our region from that era, testifies to both the importance of the awl and the importance of the woman, and it's possible that we are seeing here the first indications of social hierarchy and complexity," Danny Rosenberg of the University of Haifa in Israel, said.
The grave, remains of the ancient woman, and analysis of the belt have all been detailed in previous studies. This recent research is the first in-depth look at the copper awl.
Sariel Shalev, an archaeologist at the University of Haifa, carried out chemical analysis of the tiny tool, revealing it may have originated in the Caucasus region, 625 miles away from Tel Tsaf.
Archaeologists are still uncertain how the awl may have been used, but intricate burial with a metal object suggests the woman in the grave may have been highly revered.
Discovery of the ancient awl was detailed in the online journal Plos One.