One of world’s oldest cities found in North Lebanon, may become hotel

One of world’s oldest cities found in North Lebanon, may become hotel

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Perched on a hill along the rocky coast of North Lebanon, archaeologists have uncovered what they believe is one of the world’s oldest city settlements.

Archaeologists from the American University of Beirut believe the site dates back to the Early Bronze Age in the third millennium BC, a pre-Phoenician period, key to understanding the development of human urbanization.

The sprawling site, which until recently spanned an area of 15,000 square meters, may be connected to the ancient port city of Byblos, a few kilometers south.

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Among the discoveries are what is believed to be the world’s oldest scale beam, a major find that could reinforce the view that the site was a very early trading hub, indicated by signs of food storage or warehousing.

Unlike other ruins found across Lebanon, little was ever built on top of the site, giving archaeologists a rare unobstructed peak into the Early Bronze Age without having to decipher which parts of the site may have been damaged or manipulated by subsequent civilizations.

Nine cylinder seals have been found on the site just over the last 10 years, compared to 20 seals found in Byblos after 50 years of excavations.

Here an archaeologist holds up one of the seals that were found:

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These were probably rolled on wet clay and baked to produce the following imprints, which also indicate the presence of large animals such as lions that once inhabited the area:

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With this many seals found over such a short time, the indication is that so much more may be hidden across this site. Archaeologists are literally digging up new discoveries on every corner of the hill. Notice how close the ruins are to the surface, just inches below the dirt floor.

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The settlement was surrounded by fortified walls, towers and a range of building types including large public buildings with administrative equipment, storage buildings, homes of different classes, all connected via a network of roads. Archaeologists say that the planned urbanization and assemblage of different structures over a dense area may indicate a more complicated socio-political system than previously known in the Levant area during this period.

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Here is a zoom out revealing how many areas remain un-excavated:

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One can only imagine how impressive it would be to unearth the thousands of remaining square meters of archaeology and what secrets the site may hold of the past, such as why the settlement was believed to have been abandoned in the second millennium.

But with dozens of beach resorts and bars now crowding the once-natural and open northern coastline, this massive discovery also sits on prime investment property. Even though it has survived over 5,000 years of human history, there are now fears that the ancient settlement may become the latest victim of modern Lebanese real estate development.

About a third of the 1.5 hectare site was already bulldozed around 2004, as seen in the large flattened area in the foreground:

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The destruction was only halted when an archaeology student reportedly spotted the bulldozing and notified officials. Meanwhile, a new resort has already been built near one end of the remaining site and word among locals is that there is a possibility of expansion. (See update below post)

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Other landowners are determined to begin construction within the archeological site, locals say.

Last month AUB archaeologists gave a tour of the hill to villagers from the nearby towns of Kfarabida and Faddous with the hope that they may have a stake in preserving it.

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But should preserving one of the world’s oldest cities be a strictly local affair? Or should this site be completely excavated and preserved as an internationally-recognized archeological park? Will authorities have the resources and political will to stop further development of the site? Or will they cower to the demands of private capital, as has happened so often in the past?

Archaeologists say a number of ancient sites have already been destroyed along the Lebanese coast to make way for resort developments and this may one of the last that remains of its era. Will it become a rare laboratory for understanding human civilization or another banal concrete hotel with the usual mix of exclusive cabanas and private swimming pools?

I plan to continue researching these questions as part of a crowd-funded investigative reporting project I’m working on with the international journalist network, Press Start.  You can support the project here. There is only about a week left to contribute.  (Update: the campaign has been extended. You can still contribute!)

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Click here to contribute to the project

 

UPDATE 2: Philip Feghaly, who has identified himself as the owner of the existing resort built near the end of the site (seen in the photo above), has commented on this post saying that his plan is to install prefabricated structures on the part of the archeological site that exists on his property. He says that this decision was part of a compromise reached with the AUB archeological team. Mr. Feghaly says there will be no destruction of the ruins on his portion of the property because the prefabricated homes will not require any digging into the ruins. However there is still concern among both locals and archeologists that if structures are placed on top of the ruins, that the ruins will remain buried and it is not clear how the public may be able to view or experience them. Also, as stated in the post above, there is more than one property owner involved in the land, and locals have told me that other owners are still eyeing the site for hotel development. In short, the fate of the site remains unclear and despite compromises, no solid plans have been presented for how the public will access this priceless piece of human history.

7 COMMENTS

  1. Even worse that on just south of Byblos lays the only intact Phoenician Port in the World; if properly excavated and preserved, the port would be sensation on the scale of Baalbek if not not more. The Department of Antiquities at the Ministry of Culture is has barely been able to postpone the construction of a beach complex on top of it… up till now. Failing to bring it from under and present it to the world would be a true National catastrophe, and more…

  2. This is mostly bullshit . I own thIs land . A few years back, the aub Archaeologists came to discover this site and we were more then happy and helpfull with them . And we preserved that land by making a fully “prefabrique” hostel just to presurve the land’s history .. by prefabrique i mean that we did not dig the ground, we placed the hostel on top on the surface, further more , our resort is not in the digging site.

    You’re welcome to visit us for more intel since this blog is mostly hate.
    VESTIGA Kfaraabida garden

    • Thank you Mr. Feghaly for your comment. What is inaccurate about stating the reality that anyone can see? The site has been partially bulldozed and there are plans by some- perhaps not you- to build onto the actual archaeological site. Are you the only owner of the whole site? My information is that there is more than one. Also I have not accused you anywhere in the text or used your name. I say clearly that “a new resort has already been built near one end of the remaining site” and that is accurate. I did not mention your plan to build over the ruins area by using prefabricated homes. But since you bring it up, I’m not sure if most people would agree that building over a site is a way of preserving it, even if there is no major digging- how will the public be able to see a historic site if there is a building on top of it? I did not speak to the landowners yet because this is a preliminary post. As you can tell by the last paragraph, I plan on doing a follow up and I would be happy to incorporate your views.

  3. I love how this journalist made his study and attached the resort without speaking to the land owner, myself nor studying the site . Mostly just to sell his story.
    I own thIs land . A few years back, the aub Archaeologists came to discover this site and we were more then happy and helpfull with them . And we preserved that land by making a fully “prefabrique” hostel just to presurve the land’s history .. by prefabrique i mean that we did not dig the ground, we placed the hostel on top on the surface, further more , our resort is not in the digging site.

    You’re welcome to visit us for more intel since this blog is mostly hate.
    VESTIGA Kfaraabida garden

  4. Owning such a land is both a blessing and a curse, and we cannot blame the owner nor the archeologists.

    To the owners, I’m sure you gave it a thought but how about a museum instead of “yet-another” resort?
    Imagine this: you could get funding from world organizations perhaps, and increase your potential clients by targeting schools & edu systems meaning more footfall to your place. You could have merchandising done around the theme, and yeah, maybe just maybe make more money out of it than a resort. Plus the resort is very seasonal, while the museum works year around. Schools on weekdays, families on weekends; add some activities and there you go, you also go down in history as the one(s) who saved the site, the cultural heritage, etc.

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