Biblical References IExtensive references to gold and other metals in ancient texts suggest familiarity with metallurgy from the earliest times. A lively metals trade existed at the very beginnings of civilisation, the result of knowledge bequeathed to Mankind by the gods, who, the texts state, had engaged in mining and metallurgy long before Man’s appearance. Many studies that correlate Mesopotamian divine tales with the biblical pre-Diluvial list of patriarchs point out that, according to the Bible, Tubal-cain was an ‘artificer of gold and copper and iron’ long before the Deluge.
The Old Testament recognised the land of Ophir, which was somewhere in Africa, as a source of gold in antiquity. King Solomon’s ship convoys sailed down the Red Sea from Ezion-geber (present-day Elath), ‘and they went to Ophir and fetched from thence gold’. Unwilling to risk a delay in the construction of the Lord’s Temple in Jerusalem, Solomon arranged with his ally, Hiram, king of Tyre, to sail a second fleet to Ophir by an alternate route:
And the king had at sea a navy of TarshishThe fleet of Tarshish took three years to complete a round trip. Allowing for an appropriate time to load up at Ophir, the voyage in each direction must have lasted well over a year. This suggests a route much more roundabout than the direct route via the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean, more likely a route through the Mediterranean Sea and around Africa. Most scholars locate Tarshish in the Western Mediterranean, possibly at or near the present Strait of Gibraltar. This would have been an ideal place from which to embark on a voyage around the African continent. Some believe that the name Tarshish meant ‘smeltery.’
Biblical scholars have suggested that Ophir should be identified with present-day Zimbabwe; evidence already exists showing that the Egyptians obtained various minerals from Zimbabwe in earliest times, and mining engineers there as well as in South Africa have often searched for gold by seeking evidence of prehistoric mining. Aware that many newly-discovered and promising mining sites in southern Africa had been mining sites in antiquity, the Anglo-American Corporation called in teams of archaeologists to examine the sites before modern earth-moving equipment swept away all traces of ancient work. They found layers upon layers of ancient and prehistoric mining activities and human remains. Later carbon dating at Yale University and at the University of Groningen in Holland established the age of the artefacts as ranging from a plausible 2000 BC to an amazing 7690 BC.
Intrigued by the unexpected antiquity of the finds, the team extended its search of the area. At the base of a cliff face on the precipitous western slopes of Lion Peak, a five-ton slab of hematite stone blocked access to a cavern. Charcoal remains dated the mining operations within the cavern at 20,000 to 26,000 BC. Incredulous, the team dug a shaft at a point where, apparently, the ancient miners had begun their operations. A charcoal sample gave a reading of 41,250 BC, give or take 1,600 years! Later discoveries in Swaziland advanced the age of artefacts to about 50,000 BC, and led the archaeologists to suggest that ‘southern Africa . . . could well have been in the forefront of technological invention and innovation during much of the period subsequent to 100,000 BC.’