have analyzed dog and human burial remains in addition to
the various faunal (animal) bones that have been found, giving evidence
to the difficulties of ancient life through evidence of disease and trauma
on the bones. Botanical remains have also been studied to reconstruct
the local environment of the ancient inhabitants of the site, providing
clues to the amount of food consumed through local produce as opposed
to imported goods. This in turn informs our understanding of the local
economic conditions, agriculture, and the availability of natural resources
when the site was occupied. The organic evidence taken from soil samples
can give a fairly accurate date for the site through 14C radiocarbon datinga
technique now widely used to date archaeological materials.
Understanding the nature of the relationship between the site and the
sea is particularly important, because of what it tells us about the ancient
function of the tell. For this reason, a geo-morphological study was initiated
to investigate the ancient position of the site and the sea. Although
the sea today comes perilously close to eroding the face of the tell,
the geo-morphological fieldwork that has been done tells us that the Mediterranean
did not always reach as close to the site. Ralph Pedersen of Texas A&M
Universitys Institute of Nautical Archaeology, with help from an
AUB archaeology student, conducted an underwater survey of the coastline
that is informing our knowledge of the sites accessibility from
the sea. The survey took a number of depth measurements and searched for
possible locations of anchorage and docking structures.
Although these scientific techniques are invaluable, they cannot replace
the knowledge that is learned as the result of systematic archaeological
excavation, which requires that students and staff role up their sleeves
and start digging. Over the course of four seasons of digging at Tell
el-Burak, extensive archaeological remains of varying type and time have
been discovered. The work has revealed structural evidence from the Middle
Bronze Age, Iron Age, and Ottoman periods on the site. At a site such
as thiswhere material remains from several chronological periods
are superimposed on each otheran excavator gets only one chance
to excavate an area, since much is destroyed in the process of excavation.
Therefore, proper excavation techniques and documentation are of crucial
importance. You never dig randomly at a site. Previous research in regional
settlement patterns and coastal variations in Lebanon gives a general
idea of possible features of interest at a particular site. The site is
then divided into areas of scrutiny. Digging is then done slowly and stratigraphically:
layer by layer.
The most delicate example of archaeological destruction is
in the antechamber of the Middle Bronze Age palace. A large room with
plastered and intricately painted walls was uncovered and meticulously
excavated and restored. An expert in art conservation and restoration
spent a month working with a small section of this unique Levantine discovery.
The large painted room is covered in geometric shapes along with depictions
of trees, but because it is largely deteriorated, much restoration is
needed. Peering from an opening in the frescoed room, just above the sea,
you can imagine the ancient dwelling in its brilliantly complete environment.
Today we find the structure next to several Iron Age residences that have
been excavated by the AUB team. Surrounding all of these structures is
a large stone wall built in the Middle Bronze Age. Originally used to
retain and reinforce the tell, the wall was rebuilt for the Iron Age inhabitants
of the site as a fortification. Today, the AUB team is continuing to uncover
new features of the ancient habitation at Tell el-Burak, as well as document
and research the existing structures. The excavation is a process of discovery,
one that is revealing the ancient world to usoften with the aid
of the most modern scientific techniques currently available.
The excavations at Tell el-Burak will continue this summer and incorporate
a fall course at AUB for the specialized training of archaeological field
techniques. A thorough excavation of the Iron Age remains, as well as
continued excavation of the painted room, will be conducted. The excavations
at Tell el-Burak are a unique opportunity for AUB students to be trained
in archaeological fieldwork. In the absence of both written and reliable
archaeological records, little is known about settlement and culture in
ancient Phoenicia. The Tell el-Burak excavations are filling a huge gap
in the history of the Phoenician kingdoms of the motherland and are throwing
new light on Lebanons past.
Berytus Archaeological Studies, published in the Faculty
of Arts and Sciences, is the oldest archaeological journal in Lebanon
and the only one which continued to be published during the war. The museum
newsletter, published twice annually, also includes archaeological news.
3200 years later
bridging the gap at the ancient
city of Sumur at Tell Kazel, Syria
At the Tell Kazel excavations, archaeologists are uncovering ancient
tools and temples while putting together the pieces of the areas
historical and anthropological puzzle. Together they have confirmed that
Tell Kazel is the site of the ancient city of Sumurthe capital of
the Kingdom of Amuru. Tell Kazel, which is about 10 km north of the Lebanese
border, is the location of an ancient kingdom that was ruled by the Amorite
Dynasty (Bronze Age-Iron Age, fourteenth-twelfth centuries BC), which
had close ties with the two largest powers of the period, the Egyptians
and the Hittites. The excavation is led by AUB Museum Director Leila Badre
and a team of two dozen archaeologists from AUB and abroad.
Tell Kazel is located in the Homs Gap, which once offered the only passage
to traders from the sea seeking to get to the Syrian hinterland. It also
overlooks the then-navigable Al-Abrash River. Given its propitious location,
it should come as no surprise that many peoples have left their traces
in Tell Kazel. The imported items found at the site testify to the inhabitants
extensive connections to the outside world.
The reason we chose this site for excavation was to locate the city
of Sumur and fill in the historical/archaeological gap between the late
Bronze Age and the beginning of the Iron Age at around 1200 BC,
explains Badre. Indeed, the AUB-led excavation team found the remains
of three Bronze and Iron Age temples consecutively built over each other,
dating back to the eras of the Sea Peoples, the Phoenicians, and the Greeks,
In addition to temple offerings, braseros (incense burners) have also
been found at the site. The largest brasero was an exceptional size, measuring
about 120 centimeters in height! This is the tallest ever-known
brasero, says Badre. A number of other items, including plates,
juglets, figurines, and luxury items, such as faience and necklaces were
also discovered. Badre says that the first temple was very well preserved
and produced the greatest number of archaeological finds.
The other major discovery was a residential area that revealed the signs
of thoughtful urban planning, with orthogonal streets made of layers of
ash and pebbles to drain the water vertically, thus sparing planners from
installing horizontal drainage canals. One building had something
absolutely special and not found anywhere else in the Levant region,
notes Badre. Its floors were paved with sea shells and the walls
were encrusted in shells.
All of these discoveries at Tell Kazel are important, she says: We
were able to trace the transition from the Bronze to the Iron Age. There
has never been a discovery like this one on the Syrian-Lebanese coast.
The Tartous Museum, in the citys former cathedral, is now home to
an up-to-date display of the archaeological treasures that the AUB team