Tags Posts tagged with "archaeology"

archaeology

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The oldest known scale beam was recently found near Kfaraabida in North Lebanon and is now on display this week at the American University of Beirut Archaeology museum.

This groundbreaking find calls into question the assumption that early Levantine settlements were less technologically or economically developed than those found in present-day Turkey and Greece. In fact, the scale beam dates back to the early third millennium BC , predating those discovered elsewhere, while the location of the find at Tell Fadous-Kfraabida–believed to be a secondary Bronze Age urban settlement–may indicate that the technology was already widespread in the region at the time.

Hurry and see the exhibition before it closes at the end of this month.

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The exhibition also contains cylinder scrolls found at Kfaraabida, also indicating sophistication of the settlement:

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As well as a number of fascinating items on display from excavations across the country:

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There is potentially a lot more to be uncovered at the Kfaraabida site, despite the fact that property owners have already bulldozed a large section of it and some real estate developers have already built over parts of it. One even plans to build a large hotel, according to locals.

It’s unclear at this point if the Lebanese state can protect the site so that further discoveries can be made. If well-preserved, fully excavated and presented to the public, Kfaraabida could become a major tourist attraction along with the town’s unique seafront caves, natural pools and springs, which are also threatened by yet another multimillion dollar development.

Locals have begun a #SaveKfaraabida campaign to challenge it. Follow them on Facebook.

Here is an excerpt on the importance of the scale beam from the lead archaeologist, Hermann Genz:

The scale beam at Tell Fadous-Kfrarabida…. demonstrates the existence of sophisticated socio- economic transactions in the Levant around the same time that more complex settlements emerge. The term ‘urban settlements’ has recently been criticised (Philip 2001; Chesson & Philip 2003), partly due to the apparent lack of administrative and social complexity in the third millennium BC in the southern Levant. The evidence of cylinder seal impressions (Flender 2000), the slowly growing number of weights from Levantine sites of the third millennium BC and now the scale beam from Tell Fadous-Kfarabida call for a re-evaluation of this criticism.

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The fact that this scale beam was not found in one of the commercial centres of the Levant such as Byblos, but in a small settlement of secondary or even tertiary rank suggests that the practice of weighing must have been more common in the Early Bronze Age Levant than hitherto assumed. The reason for the scant attestation of scale beams and weights in the Early Bronze Age Near East is probably the general neglect of simple bone and stone artefacts in most excavations. Indeed a systematic collection of all bone artefacts from Tell Fadous-Kfarabida has resulted in a remarkably high number of bone tools (Jastrze ̧bska in Genz et al. 2009), and the same is true for groundstone objects, although no scale weights are yet attested on the site (Damick in Genz et al. 2009). Thus a thorough study of bone and stone objects from Near Eastern sites will certainly enlarge the number of scale beams and weights for the third millennium BC in the future.”

You can read Genz’s full report here.

 

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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.

If archaeologists are right, our understanding of Byblos will soon change dramatically.  For years, people have assumed that the ancient city’s Phoenician port was situated in the same area as the current medieval-era harbor, populated by fish restaurants and tourist traps:

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Source: Lebanon postcards

But new surveys by marine archaeologist Martine Francis-Allouche indicate that the ancient port is in fact just south of the harbor and the Byblos ruins site as indicated by the red circle in this map, near all the beach resorts:

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Source: Campaign to Protect Bird’s Nest

The Phoenician port is actually buried under millennia of silting, according to Francis-Allouche and her colleagues. Geophysical tests show the ancient shoreline was actually 100 meters above the current beach. They have already dug up Phoenician anchors in the area:

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Phoenician anchor found on site. Source: Martine Francis-Allouche

The archaeologists want to keep digging on the site to see if they can find more structures belonging to the port, perhaps even some ships if they are lucky. But as you can tell by the map above, the site of the archaeology and potentially the actual Phoenician harbor of Byblos, is also the future home of the latest $12 million beach resort backed by a former Lebanese minister.

As I have covered previous posts, activists are already fighting to stop this resort because the land also contains modern history of the earliest Armenian settlements in Lebanon, including Byblos’s first Armenian church and a cemetery for genocide survivors. To learn more about how all these actors are coming together, and what the developers have to say about their pledge to make the site accessible to the public*, see my latest piece on the discoveries and the controversy at Al Fanar Media. Here is an excerpt:

In the 11th century before Christ, the ancient Egyptian traveler Wenamon describes standing in the office of the prince of Byblos, the waves of the Mediterranean Sea crashing outside the window behind him, as though they were “hitting the back” of the prince’s head.

Wenamon had been sent by Egypt’s King Ramses XI on a mission to retrieve cedar wood to repair a sacred vessel. The negotiations were tense, and the Egyptian envoy was eventually forced to send home for more money to buy the wood. The Pharaohs had long relied on Lebanon’s then-plentiful forests for the building of their temples, furniture and ships. According to his account, Wenamon surveyed the logs of timber piled up on the Byblos shore ready for export, with 20 ships moored in the harbor.

Now, over 3,000 years later, contemporary Lebanese archaeologists have made new discoveries revealing the location of where exactly that harbor may be buried and the pivotal role of Byblos, one of the world’s oldest cities, in the ancient maritime supply chain.

Continue reading here.

 

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Archaeologists believe the actual Phoenician harbor is buried under the sand at this site, just south of the ruins. Source: The Diplomatic Club

 

NOTE: The developers have requested that I make clear in this post their stated aim to support the archaeological excavation and make the site accessible to “all the Lebanese people”, although they cannot yet say how physically this will happen within a private resort at this stage of planning. See the article linked above for more details on their position.

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After several weeks of organizing and documentation by activists, the minister of environment has called for a halt to a port project that threatens to destroy the natural coast in Adloun (South Lebanon) believed to be the location of an ancient civilization.

However, in this report by LBC, there appears to be a tug-of-war going on between the Ministry of Public Works, which is carrying out excavation works, and the Environment and Culture Ministries who say work must stop until studies have taken place and a joint committee is allowed to examine the project, dubbed “Nabih Berri Port.” The Ministry of Public Works says the other ministries have failed to come up with any proposals for over 15 days, giving them the defacto right to carry on with the project. So in the meantime the destruction of the rocky coast, which is claimed to be a Phoenician port town, is continuing and LBC says the ancient ruins may be lost before a joint-committee is formed to investigate the matter.

One interesting aspect left out of the LBC report is that the Public Works Ministry, which is adamant on pushing forward with the project, is being led by a political subordinate of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, whom the new port is being named after.

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According to a report by Al Akhbar, the “Nabih Berri Port” project is worth around $26.6 million and encompasses an area of 164,000 square meters. While the ministry says the project will create jobs and serve the surrounding fishing community, Al Akhbar and local activists say the port is being designed to accommodate 400 luxury yachts, that will cause massive environmental damage to the village, which does not have the infrastructure to accommodate such traffic. Al Akhbar alleges that destruction continues despite cessation requests from the other ministries and in the absence of an environmental impact study,  a claim also carried in a report by the Lebanese lawyers’ collective Legal Agenda.  Al Akhbar further reports that the awarding of the excavation contract to “Khoury Contracting Company” came under an irregular bid and with little input from or discussion with the local community.

In a report by Al Jadeed TV, the head of a south Lebanon preservation group says Adloun is a known Phoenician port site that has not been properly excavated. She says that it is preservation and celebration of Adloun’s heritage that will bring economic benefits to the local community, not converting the site into yet another playground for the wealthy.

Much of the outcry and media coverage over what is happening to the site was sparked by the work of local activist group Green Southerns who have been documenting the destruction on a daily basis with a series of amateur videos like this one, which have in turn been carried by mainstream media:

As well as reports on the site’s archeological significance:

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The Green Southern group has also documented Adloun’s ecological and marine life significance as an increasingly rare sea turtle nesting ground:

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It’s hard to say what the precise archeological history of the current excavation site is from pictures alone and the reporting thus far, although it is clear that the Adloun area has been the site of numerous archeological expeditions dating back to the the late 1800s with evidence uncovered suggesting both Phoenician as well as pre-historic remains dating back to 70,000 BCE.

What’s also disconcerting about the rush to build over Adloun is how the state and it’s crony capital partners have once again managed to seize public coastal property for what could be luxury, exclusive development under the guise of ‘public good’.

As I reported for The Guardian last year, the Lebanese coast has largely been colonized by illegal or vaguely legal projects that have fenced off much of the coast from the public, denying the constitutional right to beach access. According to the government’s own studies, there are approximately five illegal resorts usurping public maritime property for every one kilometer stretch of Lebanon’s 220 kilometer coastline.

A lot of these infractions took place during the last three decades, well before the inception of social media and the subsequent enhancement of activism bolstered by popular blog posts as well as increased mainstream media attention. Will this make a difference in the case of projects planned for Adloun, Dalieh, Byblos and other planned–and now fiercely opposed–projects? In some respects, it already has, but will be the long term impacts?

You can follow more of Green Southerns work on their Facebook page where they have recently launched on online petition to preserve the site. They’ve also recently staged a demonstration at the National Museum to get the press’s attention: