So, what are we doing here? Seventy students from all over the U.S. and other places in the world and more faculty, staff and others are digging. Here we sit in the city of Akko, north of Haifa. Well, actually we are across the harbor from Haifa. We are excavating a Tel, an accretion of levels of civilization that goes back to the early Bronze Age that was once the original city of Akko and now sits in the city’s midst.
We aren’t even the first ones to excavate here. Moshe Dothan excavated this tel on and off from 1973 into the 1980s. In some places we are re-excavating what he already dug. Why? Because he didn’t publish his findings and all we have are his notes and maps and drawings, which we are trying to decipher.
In other places, we are excavating where no one has gone before. Well, the original inhabitants went there, but no one has excavated there yet.
The site contains Greek, Persian, Iron Age and Bronze Age remains. During the Iron Age, this city was not part of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judea, but was Phoenician, part of the complex of cities to the north which include Tyre and others. The approach to this excavation is called Total Archaeology because it includes more than just digging.
The bus was late yesterday. When it did arrive, the driver was a bit upset. A woman in a lefthand turning lane had suddenly gone straight rather than turn and he had had to slam on the brakes. There was a little damage to the driver’s side of the bus, but nothing much. They exchanged insurance info and he asked what happened. She said the GPS told her to go straight. Israel or the U.S. some things are the same.
We started digging yesterday. Pulling up lots of pottery. Not surprising as a second name of Tel Akko is Tel of Sherds. The place is just covered with them and they are mixed in with all the dirt. I’ve been hauling buckets and screening dirt. A two-handled screen atop a wheelbarrow gets shaken to remove all the loose dirt. Then the diggers sort through what is left for pottery, animal bone, shells, iron slag and perhaps something cool. What could be cool? Loom weights – little ceramic globs with holes in them that are used in weaving, iron projectile points, highly polished and painted Greek pottery, a carved ivory figure would all be cool and all have been found on the Tel so far, but not in the screens.
What do I find? Broken pieces of pottery ranging in size from less than half an inch to hand sized. Shells ranging from tiny snail shells to large, 2-inch, scallop shells to spiny dye murex shells. These are the ones that the “royal purple dye” comes from. And more sherds. Sometimes little pieces of Greek looking pottery, sometimes a handle, but so far, nothing of much note. But I have faith. Everything eventually ends up in the screens. Something really cool will pop up, appear, emerge.
Yesterday was unusual in another way. After dinner, one of the staff, Nick Pumphrey, Claremont Graduate University, successfully defended his dissertation. His advisor is here and the defense took place via Skype. So a new Ph.D. takes his place in the Academy today. He doesn’t look any different than yesterday, but his wife looks much happier.
Well, here I am in Israel again, at Tel Akko. I wasn’t able to join the Total Archaeology at Tel Akko Project last year, so I was very interested in seeing what changed and what didn’t. We are once again staying at the Israel Nautical Academy, a boarding school for students wishing to either enter the navy or join the merchant marine. The school is mostly empty in the summer, so we fill most of two dorms. There are more of us this year than ever before — lots of students, returning students, staff and faculty. Total Archaeology at Tel Akko is a joint project of Penn State and Haifa University with Anne Killebrew, associate professor of classics and ancient Mediterranean studies, Jewish studies and anthropology, Penn State, and Michal Artzey, professor emeritus, coastal and underwater archaeology, Haifa University.
Students come from all over, but groups come from Penn State, University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Trinity College and the Claremont Colleges Consortium. Right now we are just beginning to get over jet lag. Continue reading There and Back Again→
The city of Akko is on a peninsula surrounded by water. Situated at the northern most point of greater Haifa Harbor, the Mediterranean surrounds the Old and New cities.
Maritime endeavors have always been important to the inhabitants of Akko, which was a Phoenician city during the Iron Age, and we all learned in grade school, or should have, that the Phoenicians were the sailors and traders of the Mediterranean Sea.
Interestingly, I’m surrounded by archaeologists who are totally interested in the Iron Age and they all agree, very little is actually known about the Phoenicians. Looking at the Phoenicians is one of the objectives of the Total Archaeology @ Tel Akko project and while digging on the tel can tell us how they lived on land, exploring under the harbor might provide a clue as to how they lived on water.
Akko harbor is certainly known from Crusader history and during the Hellenistic period, the city was renamed Ptolomais and the harbor was very important. Alexander the Great entered through Ptolomais on his way further east.
Hence the mermaid reference. Supposedly, there is a female mermaid-like entity that appears near the Tower of Flies and asks, “Has he returned yet.” She is supposedly asking after Alexander.
And the Tower of Flies, that too has a story. When the Crusaders came to Akko or St. Jean d’ Acre, they thought they had reached Ekron, where one of the major deities was Ba’al Zevuv – Lord of the Flies (I kid you not). Since the tower already existed and apparently garbage was dumped there frequently, the Crusaders named it the Tower of Flies.
But to the harbor. Centuries of sediment deposition from the small river that flows into the Mediterranean near Akko and natural ocean processes have undoubtedly changed the shoreline, covered evidence and filled in any number of harbor manifestations. The only way to find the Phoenician harbor is to dig — underwater.
Total Archaeology@Tel Akko includes an underwater archaeology component and while they haven’t yet found the Phoenician harbor, they are bringing up some interesting results.
I was wet screening some dirt from the probable metals working area the other day, sitting under a shade near the path that winds up and around Napoleon Hill (Tel Akko) when two small boys, 8 or 9 I’d guess, walked by. They asked me in Hebrew if I was looking for gold. I said no, iron. They gave me the strangest look, stopped for a second, and then began walking on. As they got about 6 feet in front of me they turned and said, you are looking for gold. And they walked off.
Gold and silver, those are the precious metals that everyone thinks of when they think of prospecting or looking for ores and such. But, for archaeologists in most places, the use of copper and then iron ores for metalworking is far more important. Copper is the only metal beside gold and silver that occurs in its native form on Earth. Just as one can find gold nuggets, copper nuggets – not as shiny bright and not as valuable – are also found. Native copper is the only indication of metal working of any kind in North America in pre-contact times. The nuggets were hammered into tiny bells or other ornaments, but Native Americans never smelted copper or any other metal.
In the Middle East, however, copper, bronze and eventually iron were smelted and worked. Last year at Tel Akko, during the excavation by the Penn State and University of Haifa, Tel Akko project, excavations revealed a potential metal working area. This year, a new area, next to the original was excavated and examined by students and a researcher from the Weizmann Institute.
Remember Wooly Willie or other metal filings games where you move the iron with a magnet to create hair, beards, etc.? Run a magnet through the dirt in these two areas and the magnet looks like Wooly Willie with a full beard. The number of hammerscales – tiny pieces of iron that fall off when hammering iron into shape – is truly amazing. The area also yielded pounds of iron slag. In other areas of the Tel copper slag appeared as well.
The first or second day of the dig, I found, in situ – in the ground in the original location – part of an iron blade. Yes, I was digging in the same location with all the hammerscales. Today, one of the last days of digging, someone found an iron arrowhead that is probably late Iron Age early Persian.
Some say that Akko was famous for metalworking. Certainly indications from this year’s excavations suggest that some ironworking went on in the Persian period, if not earlier.