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The Dead Sea — an economic resource for 10 000 years

Abstract

The archaeological and historical record of the Dead Sea as an economic resource is longer than that of any other hypersaline lake. Although it is completely devoid of life, except for a few bacteria and algae, the climatic and geological conditions in the Dead Sea basin have produced circumstances which made this lake important for the economy of the area. The salt which was produced by evaporation of the water, or by quarrying from the salt diapir of Mt. Sodom, on the Dead Sea coast, is referred to in the Bible and in the Talmud. It was harvested until the 1930's. Potash has been extracted from the brine, by solar processes, since 1931 and today the Dead Sea is a major source of potash and bromine. The asphalt, which is found in seepages along the shores and in large blocks, occasionally found floating on the lake, has been used by the inhabitants of the area for waterproofing baskets and for decorative purpose, since the Pre-ceramic Neolithic Period, 10 000 years ago. Later, the asphalt became a major export item to Egypt. During the Early Bronze age, 4000 years ago, it was used mostly to glue flint implements to wooden handles and in the Graeco-Roman period it was used as one of the components in the embalming of Egyptian mummies. The area around the Dead Sea was the only source of balsam, perhaps the most important incense and medication of the Ancient World. Remains of a 7th century B.C. perfume factory, were found in Ein Gedi. During later periods, until the Arab conquest in the 7th century A.D., the growing of balsam was an imperial monopoly. The area of the Dead Sea was famous, for over 2000 years, for its dates and sugar. The therapeutical and medicinal properties of Dead Sea water and the hypersaline hot springs on its shore, were famous throughout the Ancient World. For example, King Herod the Great, 2000 years ago, used to visit the area to cure his many diseases. This practice continues today, and the lakes has become a major center for treatment of psoriasis. There is pictorial, archaeological and historical evidence to support the Dead Sea's importance as a trade artery for over 2300 years.

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Nissenbaum, A. The Dead Sea — an economic resource for 10 000 years. Hydrobiologia 267, 127–141 (1993). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00018795

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Key words

  • Dead Sea
  • economic resources
  • history
  • potash
  • bromine
  • asphalt
  • medicine
  • mummies
  • salt
  • therapeutics