Damnatio ad metalla—condemned to the mines! Tantamount to a death sentence.
For the past 20 years, we have been exploring these mines about 30 miles southeast of the Dead Sea in the Faynan district of Jordan.a In ancient times, these copper mines represented hell on earth to those condemned to work here. Today, the area’s stark natural beauty and unusual history, both metallurgical and social, draw researchers and eco-tourists from around the world.
The Faynan mines are some of the world’s best-preserved ancient mining and metallurgy landscapes.In recognition of this and as part of the Dana Nature Reserve, the area has been declared part of a UNESCO Biosphere.
Faynan is located between the high Jordanian plateau, about 5,400 feet above sea level, and the Wadi Arabah, part of the Dead Sea Rift Valley, some 260 feet below sea level, and near the lowest spot on earth. In this middle position, the wadis in the Faynan area have been a major route for human and animal migration since the Paleolithic period more than 200,000 years ago. By the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period (12,000 years ago), people were attracted to the area by another factor—beautiful blue-green veins of copper ore.