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Tel Shikmona (Haifa) Reveals a Cross Section of Palestinian History

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Archaeologists digging at Tel Shikmona, on the southern edge of Israel’s city of Haifa, starting only at the start of 2011, have uncovered signs of settlement from the late Bronze Age (sixteenth century BC) to the Moslem occupation of the seventh century AD, including a well preserved “four room” house from the time of the Kingdom of Israel (900-700 BC), a Persian city (about 400 BC) and a Byzantine town (about 500 AD). The site was excavated about 40 years ago by the late Yosef Algavish but neglected and piles of rubbish, and construction waste were piled over the site for the decades, and vehicles have ploughed over it. Dr Shay Bar and Dr Michael Eisenberg of the Zinman Institute of Archaeology at the University of Haifa, explained:

We had seen the structure in the old photographs, and were sorry that such a rarely preserved finding had disappeared due to neglect. We were not even sure that we would be able to find it again. It was practically a miracle that we managed to locate and uncover it and that it is still so well preserved.

The photographs of the 1970s excavations he speaks of show a “four room” house dating around 700-800 BC. It is a house typical of Canaanite houses of the time, but which biblicists all too often assign exclusively to Israel, taken to be the “Ancient Israel” of the bible. The state of Israel in that period was itself typically Canaanite with an essentially Phœnician culture and language, Hebrew being a Canaanite dialect. Evidence is a personal seal found in the same excavation, showing an inscription in Hebrew or Phœnician. The archaeologists hope to determine whether the inscription is Phoenician or Hebrew, a bit like wanting to know whether a recording of a New Yorker’s accent is Bronx or East Side.

Hundreds of murex mollusc shells were also found at the site, the source of the purple dye called “Tyrean Purple”. Sherds of purple colored ceramic from pitchers evidently used to store the dye extracted from the snails. Imported luxuries from Cyprus and the coast of Lebanon arrived in fine, delicate vessels of high quality ceramic, evidence of extensive trade with neighbors in the region and even overseas. It was the Canaanites of the coastal towns of Tyre, Sidon, Beirut and Arad who were the seamen, not the Israelites, but for a short period before it was annexed by Assyria, Israel was prosperous, perhaps because it controlled trade between the interior and Arabia and the coastal cities.

The Phœnicians (a Greek name for them) were noted traders and merchants and accomplished sailors who traded throughout the Mediterranean and provided the Mediterranean fleet for the Persian shahs. Elsewhere on the site evidence of the Persian settlement of the area was found including a Persian building (fourth century BC) with an oven, clay loom weights and storage pitchers. It was only with the arrival of the Persian colonists towards the end of the fifth century that the Jewish temple state based on Jerusalem began. The colonists identified themselves with, the now defunct but once prosperous, state of Samaria (Israel) to give themselves a mythical history, as the Askwhy website explains.

Above the Persian layer on the eastern side of the tell were Byzantine terraces (fourth-seventh centuries AD) bearing houses with mosaic floors and storage rooms. Dozens of ceramic vessels there were found intact, and many coins, ornaments, pendants, weapons and glass vessels also, suggesting a wealthy people. It seems the area was wealthy from Canaanite times until the Moslem conquest. When Pompey arrived in Palestine in the first century BC, it was still a prosperous, fortified city, but after the Bronze Age and before the ninth century BC it was sparsely settled. It was a long period of drought.

Written by mikemagee

23 July, 2011 at 8:58 pm

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