Molecular archaeology: Export of Dead Sea asphalt to Canaan and Egypt in the Chalcolithic-Early Bronze Age (4th-3rd millennium BC)
Nine archaeological bitumens from excavations in Canaan, Sinai and Egypt (Tel Irani, Ein Zik, Palmahim, Tel Arad, Jerusalem, Ein Besor-Site H, Sheik Awad and Maadi), dated 3900-2200 Bc. And two natural asphalts of the Dead Sea area (Ein Gedi floating blocks and Nahal Heimar) have been compared using the following geochemical techniques: chloroform extraction and GC and GC-MS analyses of C 15+ alkanes and C 15+ aromatics, isotopic analysis (δ 13C and δD) on chloroform extracts and asphaltenes and Rock-Eval pyrolysis of the insoluble organic residue. All samples are genetically related and are different from other archaeological bitumens from Syria and Iraq. Tel Irani archaeological bitumen was found to be identical to the floating block asphalts of the Dead Sea. Other archaeological bitumens were recognized as having been weathered and biodegraded to various degrees at archaeological sites in the course of the millennia. They are regarded as counterparts of floating block asphalts altered by aging. This study is the first evidence of the trade and export of raw bitumens from the Dead Sea area within Canaan and to Egyptian trading centers on the mainland route to Egypt between 3900 and 2200 BC, prior to the extensive utilization of bitumen for mummification in ancient Egypt.