THE MOUNTAIN OF SANCTUARIES
The Har Karkom mesa, surrounded by its precipices, appears from a distant vantage as a sharp, rectangular rise of desert. It is only 847 meters above sea level and 1246 meters above the present level of the Dead Sea, the depression of which can be seen on the horizon. Har Karkom dominates the surrounding Paran Desert; it is visible from the chains of Edom and Moab in Jordan, more than seventy kilometres away, and from Jebel Arif el-Naqe, thirty kilometres to the north-west. Located beyond the present-day Egyptian border, the latter is likely to be the biblical Mount Seir.
Over fifty flint workshops from the Palaeolithic period are known on Har Karkom's plateau, which is a source of excellent quality flint. When The Mountain of God (1986) was published, before the recent study of the Palaeolithic sanctuary, it was suggested that the mountain had become a cult place in the Chalcolithic period. Flint at that time was being replaced by metal as a primary raw material for daily use. As a major source of flint, the mountain acquired a new dimension of centrality when flint's purpose was transformed from the production of tools of daily utility to knives for sacred rituals such as circumcision and sacrifices.