King Solomon's mines in Spain? Not likely, experts say.

The Queen of Sheba before King Solomon, shown in this miniature artwork from the 15th-century Grimani Breviary manuscript.
The Queen of Sheba before King Solomon, shown in this miniature artwork from the 15th-century Grimani Breviary manuscript. (Image credit: DeAgostini/Getty Images)

A maritime archaeologist has put forward a bold theory — that King Solomon, a king of Israel who controlled a vast amount of wealth according to the Hebrew Bible, financed Phoenician mining expeditions to Spain. However, archaeologists and historians not involved with the researcher's work are skeptical. 

Sean Kingsley, director of the Wreck Watch consultancy company, published his theory recently in Wreckwatch Magazine, a publication that he edits, putting forward several arguments to support this idea. His arguments range from Phoenician mining operations along rivers, to biblical names at areas associated with mining, to passages in the Hebrew Bible that seem to link Solomon to both the seafaring Phoenicians and a potential Spanish city known for its mineral wealth in the Hebrew Bible.

Related: 7 biblical artifacts that will probably never be found

If this claim were true, that would mean King Solomon was an ancient shipping magnate. The Hebrew Bible notes that Solomon was extremely wealthy and undertook numerous construction projects; and his role in shipping may explain where he acquired his wealth. 

Arguments for Solomon's mining expeditions

The Phoenicians flourished across the Mediterranean world between roughly 1500 B.C. and 300 B.C. Based in what is now Lebanon, they sailed all over the Mediterranean, setting up settlements and trading networks as far away as Portugal. 

Kingsley started his research about 10 years ago but didn't expect to make any major finds: "To be honest, my ambitions were pretty low," he said in a statement.

"It looks like Solomon was wise in his maritime planning. He bankrolled the voyages from Jerusalem and let salty Phoenician sailors take all the risks at sea."

Sean Kingsley

Archaeological excavations over the past century have unearthed the remains of Phoenician mining operations near the Rio Tinto river in southwestern Spain, he said. A number of modern-day locations along that Spanish river have biblical names — such as "Solomon's Hill," Kingsley said. Furthermore, he claims that silver artifacts found in Israel have patterns of lead isotopes (versions of the same element with a different number of neutrons) that indicate the silver came from Spain. However, researchers who conducted that analysis told Live Science that silver from Spain did not arrive in Israel in King Solomon's time, but rather after his rule. 

Then, there's the Hebrew Bible, which describes how David and his son Solomon got raw materials for their construction projects from a man named Hiram, who was the king of a Phoenician city called Tyre in modern-day Lebanon. Kingsley theorizes that Hiram would have sent mining expeditions to Spain with the financial support of Solomon. 

Illustration of "The commerce of King Solomon," showing a navy of Tharshish with the navy of Hiram, bringing wealth to King Solomon. (Image credit: Culture Club/Getty Images)

Passages in the Hebrew Bible also refer to a place named Tarshish, which the bible says had abundant mineral wealth. It is also the place that Jonah tried to flee to when God told him to go to Nineveh, according to the Hebrew Bible. Kingsley claims that Tarshish was located in what is today Spain and that Solomon financed Phoenician voyages to the area. Passages in the Hebrew Bible that discuss how Hiram provided materials for David and Solomon for their construction projects are evidence, Kingsley argued, for the idea that Solomon financed Phoenician journeys. 

Firming up the location of the biblical Tarshish, Kingsley notes that a Phoenician inscription, dating to the ninth century B.C. and found in Sardinia, refers to a Phoenician military force that fled to Tarshish after a defeat; Spain is close to Sardinia, where the inscription was found, Kingsley wrote in the article. Ancient Greek records also mention a city called Tartessos — which sounds similar to Tarshish — that flourished in southern Spain, Kingsley wrote.

Related: Photos: Rare inscription from King David's time

"What turned up in southern Spain is undeniable. Phoenician signature finds, richly strewn from Rio Tinto to Malaga, leave no doubt that Near Eastern ships voyaged to what must have seemed the far side of the moon by 900 B.C.," Kingsley said in the statement, referring to archaeological evidence for Phoenican settlement and mining operations in Spain. 

From historical research, Kingsley said he can tell that the biblical place names (like Solomon Hills) have been in use at least as far back as the 17th century and possibly far earlier. "It looks like Solomon was wise in his maritime planning. He bankrolled the voyages from Jerusalem and let salty Phoenician sailors take all the risks at sea," Kingsley said in the statement. 

Scholars skeptical

Several archaeologists and historians not affiliated with Kingsley's work told Live Science they were skeptical about his claims. While no one doubted that the Phoenicians had a presence in Spain, the scholars noted that there is no direct evidence that links King Solomon to the region. 

"It is still not even clear that there was a Solomonic kingdom," said Steven Weitzman, director of the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. 

Related: 30 of the world's most valuable treasures that are still missing

According to the Hebrew Bible, "King Solomon was richer and wiser than any other king in the world." (2 Chronicles: 22) And for the past 500 years, explorers and adventurers have searched the globe for the source of King Solomon's supposed wealth, Weitzman said. He noted that one of Kingsley's arguments is that places near Rio Tinto have place names that sound biblical; however, those names are likely "a reflection of Spanish interest in finding Solomon's gold" over the last 500 years and "not historical evidence of the biblical Solomon," Weitzman said. 

Additionally, "the Bible never mentions anything about mines or mining. That is something later readers inferred or projected onto the story," Weitzman said. Also "I know of no evidence of Israelite presence in Spain at this time," said Weitzman, adding that "there were Phoenician settlements in Spain perhaps as early as around 1100 [B.C.] and certainly in following centuries, but it is a leap from that to arguing that the source of Solomon's wealth came from there." 

In fact, the Bible says that Solomon dispatched ships to the East rather than the West. "According to the Bible, Solomon's dispatched ships from a place called Ezion-Geber, which is a port town on the Red Sea, and they returned from a place called Ophir, laden with gold and other treasure. Wherever Ophir was located, those ships would have been going in the opposite direction of Spain, east not west," Weitzman explained. 

Archaeologists also refuted Kingsley's argument linking silver artifacts found in Israel to Spain. 

"Based on all available scientific data, silver in Solomonic times [10th century B.C.] did not arrive to the east from Iberia," said Ayelet Gilboa, an archaeology professor at the University of Haifa. 

Only in later times, after Solomon would have ruled, did silver from Spain start arriving in Israel, she added. Gilboa has been working with Tzilla Eshel, a researcher who specializes in ancient silver analysis at the University of Haifa, to identify the source of ancient silver in Israel, and they published an article on the subject in 2019 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In the article, the team noted that silver from Sardinia arrived in Israel during the 10th century B.C. but that it wasn't until the ninth century B.C. that silver from Spain started to arrive in the region. 

Kingsley is writing a book on his research and plans to publish a journal article in the future, he said. 

Originally published on Live Science.

Owen Jarus
Live Science Contributor

Owen Jarus is a regular contributor to Live Science who writes about archaeology and humans' past. He has also written for The Independent (UK), The Canadian Press (CP) and The Associated Press (AP), among others. Owen has a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Toronto and a journalism degree from Ryerson University.