Archaeologists Expose Israel’s Largest Hellenistic Harbor

Bible and archaeology news

December 2012 update: The University of Rhode Island and the Israel Antiquities Authority released an additional press release on the discovery of shipwrecks near the coast of Akko. Read “IAA archaeologists discover shipwrecks, ancient harbor on coast of Israel
 


 

A member of the Marine Archaeology Unit of the Israel Antiquities Authority standing on the ancient quay that was exposed in Akko. In the middle of the picture one can see the floor of the quay, built of large dressed stones. In some of the stones there is a hole for inserting a wooden pole – probably for mooring and/or dragging the boat. Photographic credit: Kobi Sharvit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

Excavations at Akko (Acre) have exposed archaeological evidence of Israel’s largest Hellenistic harbor, according to an Israel Antiquities Authority press release from July 17, 2012. Named Ptolemais in the Hellensitic period, the UNESCO World Heritage Site had diverse affiliations in its millennia-long occupation. Throughout its history, Akko has served as a major emporium for the ancient world. Bronze and Iron Age Akko appears prominently in ancient Egyptian, Ugaritic, Assyrian, Classical and Biblical accounts. Known locally as Tell Napoleon or Tell el-Fukhar, excavations at this ancient city have uncovered remains of Canaanite, “Sea Peoples,” Phoenician, Persian, Hellenistic, Hasmonean, Herodian, Roman, Ottoman and Crusader cultures.

The discovery of the third-second century B.C.E. Hellenistic quay may have major implications for our modern understanding of urbanity and seafaring. Akko’s late-first-millennium B.C.E. history was marked by Maccabean and Seleucid conflict as well as large scale Herodian and Roman construction.

Read about the find in the Israel Antiquities Authority’s English Press release as it appeared in the press office on July 17, 2012 below, or read it on the IAA site.

 


 

Akko’s Magnificent Harbor from 2,300 Years Ago is Exposed on the Seabed

The harbor is considered the largest and most important in the country in the Hellenistic period. Among the finds there: large mooring stones that were incorporated in the quay, which were used to secure sailing vessels. This is probably a military harbor.

In archaeological excavations the Israel Antiquities Authority is conducting at the foot of Akko’s southern seawall, installations were exposed that belong to a harbor that was operating in the city already in the Hellenistic period (third-second centuries BCE) and was the most important port in Israel at that time.

The finds were discovered during the course of archaeological excavations being carried out as part of the seawall conservation project undertaken by the Old Akko Development Company and underwritten by the Israel Lands Administration.

An imported bowl characteristic of the Hellenistic period. The bowl was found in a layer of harbor sludge. This layer contained thousands of intact pottery vessels, potsherds, etc. Photographic credit: Kobi Sharvit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

The first evidence indicating the possible existence of this quay was in 2009 when a section of pavement was discovered comprised of large kurkar flagstones dressed in a technique reminiscent of the Phoenician style that is characteristic of installations found in a marine environment. This pavement, which was discovered underwater, raised many questions amongst archaeologists. Besides the theory that this is a quay, some suggested this was the floor of a large building.

According to Kobi Sharvit, director of the Marine Archaeology Unit of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “Among the finds we’ve discovered now are large mooring stones that were incorporated in the quay and were used to secure sailing vessels that anchored in the harbor c. 2,300 years ago. This unique and important find finally provides an unequivocal answer to the question of whether we are dealing with port installations or the floor of a building. In addition, we exposed collapse comprised of large dressed stones that apparently belonged to large buildings or installations, which was spread of a distance of dozens of meters. What emerges from these finds is a clear picture of systematic and deliberate destruction of the port facilities that occurred in antiquity”. Sharvit adds, “Recently a find was uncovered that suggests we are excavating part of the military port of Akko. We are talking about an impressive section of stone pavement c. 8 meters long by c. 5 meters wide that was partially exposed. The floor is delimited on both sides by two impressive stone walls that are also built in the Phoenician manner. It seems that the floor between the walls slopes slightly toward the south, and there was a small amount of stone collapse in its center. Presumably this is a slipway, an installation that was used for lifting boats onto the shore, probably warships in this case”. According to Sharvit, “Only further archaeological excavations will corroborate or invalidate this theory.”

A mooring stone that was incorporated in the quay. There was a hole in the stone in which the mooring/anchoring rope was inserted. Photographic credit: Kobi Sharvit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

The bottom of the ancient harbor was exposed at the foot of the installations. There the mooring stones were found as well as thousands of fragments of pottery vessels, among which are dozens of intact vessels and metallic objects. The preliminary identification of the pottery vessels indicates that many of them come from islands in the Aegean Sea, including Knidos, Rhodes, Kos and others, as well as other port cities located along the Mediterranean coast.

These finds constitute solid archaeological evidence regarding the location of the Hellenistic harbor and perhaps the military port. According to Sharvit, “It should be understood that until these excavations the location of this important harbor was not clear. Remains of it were found at the base of the Tower of Flies and in the region of the new marina in excavations conducted in the early 1980s by the late Dr. Elisha Linder and the late Professor Avner Raban. But now, for the first time, parts of the harbor are being discovered that are adjacent to the ancient shoreline and the Hellenistic city. Unfortunately, parts of the quay continue beneath the Ottoman city wall – parts that we will probably not be able to excavate in the future.

Nevertheless, in those sections of the harbor that extend in the direction of the sea and the modern harbor the excavation will continue in an attempt to learn about the extent of the ancient harbor, and to try and clarify if there is a connection between the destruction in the harbor and the destruction wrought by Ptolemy in 312 BCE, the destruction that was caused by the Hasmonean uprising in 167 BCE or by some other event.

For further details, kindly contact Yoli Shwartz, Israel Antiquities Authority spokesperson, 052-5991888, dovrut@israntique.org.il

Posted in Biblical Archaeology Sites, Daily Life and Practice, News, The Ancient Near Eastern World.

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  1. Rick says

    Great find but what denotes this site to be a military port as oppsed to a commercial one?


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