The Ein Hofez silver hoard, made up of three pots with many fragments of silver

The silver in the ‘Ein Hofez hoard, named for the Phoenician village where it was found, includes metal mined on the Iberian Peninsula. Credit: Warhaftig Venezian/Israel Antiquities Authority

Archaeology

A quest for silver sparked epic voyages by an ancient people

Chemical evidence suggests that the Phoenicians had spread to the Iberian Peninsula by the ninth century bc.

The westward spread of an adventurous ancient people called the Phoenicians was driven by a thirst for silver, according to research that addresses a long-standing controversy.

Scholars agree that the Phoenicians pushed west to the Iberian Peninsula from their homeland in modern Lebanon and Israel, but there is vehement disagreement about the motivation for that journey.

Tzilla Eshel and Yigal Erel at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel and their colleagues analysed the chemistry of three hoards of Phoenician silver excavated from sites in Israel. Two hoards from the tenth and ninth centuries bc include silver mined in Sardinia and modern Turkey. Silver from a ninth-century bc hoard originated further west, in Iberia.

Each site’s hoards are as old as, or older than, the oldest permanent Phoenician settlements at the corresponding location. This shows that the Phoenicians headed west much earlier than previously thought in a quest for silver, the authors say.