Mediterranean Traders in Britain 3,500 Years Ago...
So Who Were The Merchants of Tarshish?
(We regret that due to technical difficulties there will be no audio version this week.) Hello, this is Paul Billington with another edition of The Bible in the News. And the news this week that a skeleton found near Stonehenge is that of a Mediterranean boy, is just one more piece of evidence which links Britain to Mediterranean traders in Bible times.
"The boy's virtually intact skeleton was discovered at Boscombe Down, a mile from Stonehenge" said London's "Daily Telegraph". "The remains were radiocarbon dated to around 1550 BC" said the paper. That would put him to have been contemporary with Moses! He was traced to an area around the Mediterranean Sea by a technique known as isotope analysis, which in this case measured the ratio of strontium and oxygen isotopes in his tooth enamel.
But the question is, what was a 15 year-old boy from the Mediterranean doing in ancient Britain? Well, we don't know what this particular boy was doing there, but we do know that he was not the only link between Britain and the Mediterranean. As one scholar said in this connection last week: "Long distance travel was certainly more common at this time than we generally think" (Timothy Darvill of the Bournmouth University).
And of course that is true. There is an abundance of evidence telling us that there was a thriving trade in both tin and copper between Britain and the Mediterranean -- a trade which would have been carried on by those ancient traders, the Phoenicians.
That is a connection that the Bible makes for us in Ezekiel 27:12, where in speaking about the Phoenician city of Tyre (Tyrus) we read:
"Tarshish was thy merchant by reason of the multitude of all kind of riches; with silver, iron, tin, and lead, they traded in thy fairs."
So there was a place which the Bible calls "Tarshish". Other place-names given in this chapter are (for example) "the isles of Chittim" (verse 6), Egypt (verse 7), Persia (verse 10) and others; so where was Tarshish?
According to sarah Arenson of the University of Haifa, in the book "The Encircled Sea:"
“Tarshish means smelter in Phoenician, and the many places called by this name later, Tarsos, Tortosa and the like, point to the extent of this activity. The main copper mines were in Cyprus (from which derives the Greek name and the term used today) and Spain. The source of the tin is still controversial. Phoenician colonies like Cadiz, beyond the Straits of Gibraltar, point to Cornwall, England, which is indeed the only major source of tin within maritime reach of the Mediterranean region. The Phoenicians kept this tin route a grave secret...”
Then of course there is the passage from Herodotus who wrote within a century of Ezekiel's time. He says:
“About the far west of Europe I have no definite information, for I cannot accept the story of a river called by non-Greek peoples the Eridanus, which flows into the northern sea, where amber is supposed to come from; nor do I know anything of the existence of islands called the Tin Islands, whence we get our tin. In the first place, the name Eridanus is obviously not foreign but Greek, and was invented by some poet or other; and, secondly, in spite of my efforts to do so, I have never found anyone who could give me first-hand information of the existence of a sea beyond Europe to the north and west. Yet it cannot be disputed that tin and amber do come to us from what one might call the ends of the earth.”
Herodotus of course, had no access to a British government publication in which we are told:
“The principal economic minerals of south-west England are, of course, tin and copper ores, and considerable amounts of ores of lead, zinc, silver, arsenic, antimony, sulphur, iron and manganese have also been raised.
“The date of the discovery of tin in the west of England is not known, but it was being produced about 2,500 years ago.”
The very metals mentioned by Ezekiel are thus mentioned in this publication. In a booklet entitled The Cornish Mining Industry by J.A. Buckley (1988 Tor Mark Press) we are informed:—
“Artifacts found on tin sites, and identified by archaeologists, indicate that the tin industry was established by the Early Bronze Age (1500-800)...
“Historical references support this. They show a well-established and fairly sophisticated tin trade between Cornwall and the Mediterranean by the 4th century BC..."
So whatever the origins of the Mediterranean boy found buried near Stonehenge, his presence in ancient Britain should not be that much of a surprise - for whatever reason, he was visiting Tarshish - the Land of Metals.
The copper mines on the Great Orme in Llandudno North Wales provide another link with the metal trade that went on between ancient Britain and the Mediterranean (see the Bible Magazine vol. 20, issue # 3, July 2007). But there is more to all this than the discovery of a 3,500 year-old skeleton, for if Britain is the Biblical Tarshish, as the evidence suggests, then it has a role to play in the latter days. Ezekiel 38:13 says that when a Northern invader comes against "the mountains of Israel" in the latter days, "Tarshish" and her allies will protest the plunder of the country. In other words, Britain will be involved in the conflict arising out of the Middle East controversy that we are seeing today.
Britain and her allies will be involved: her "young lions" as Ezekiel 38:13 describes them - Canada, Australia, New Zealand and we believe, the United States.
This is to be the time of Divine intervention on Israel's behalf - the time when Jesus Christ, as the saviour of Israel, challenges the nations of the world. The world certainly needs the righteous judge, so join us again next week as we look at more signs of his coming.
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