Sidon 2010 British Museum excavations

The twelfth season of excavation carried out by the British Museum in collaboration with the Department of Antiquities of Lebanon on the mound of the ancient city of Sidon took place between the 19 June and the 1 of August 2010 thanks to the support of Byblos Bank, Cimenterie Nationale SAL and the Hariri Foundation. Two areas were investigated:

- The College site which, from the excavations of 1998-2009, had already produced important new historical information. Sidon's continuity of occupation from the third millennium BC to the Roman Period has proved to be exceptional, and will undoubtedly lay the foundations for a chronological sequence for the Lebanon as a whole which is currently nonexistent. This season on the College site has revealed:

 

The third millennium BC

· A building consisting of 10 rooms of which two were newly opened in the 2010 season and dated to the end of the third millennium BC. In one of these rooms a small figurine 4 cm high and a small receptacle with a broken handle both carved in gypsum, were uncovered. The figurine appears to be a worshipper wearing a long dress, with hair indicated by incised lines. Its arms are shown as short stumps in front of the body suggesting a respectful pose. Up until now, the uncovered store rooms contained burnt barley and large hole mouth jars. However in one of the newly opened ones bronze tools and a large amount of beads in bronze and faience were found in one of the jars. It is likely that these objects were placed there for the purposes of concealment. Jars containing lime as well as a large quantity of burnt wood were also found in these store rooms. Animal bones consisting of sea tortoise, hippopotami and Bos Taurus were also found outside the building.

 

The Middle Bronze Age

· 104 burials dating back to the first half of the second millennium have been excavated so far. Particularly noteworthy this year was the discovery of a jar containing a child burial with a horn of an ox placed above it. In a constructed pit nearby animal remains consisting exclusively of cattle and swine were found. This new discovery reveals another aspect of funeral feasting near burials which consisted until now mainly of remains of caprids. This burial also revealed a scarab, bronze earrings and a necklace with beads made of gold and faience.

The monumental building which was identified as a temple and in which a breakage ceremony took place during the Hyksos period was further excavated this year, and the southernmost end of the building was reached. It is now certain that the massive boulders found on top of this Middle Bronze Age temple were part of a large leveling process for the construction of another Iron Age building which extends further than the Middle Bronze Age one. The boulder wall has been faced in its southern part with large, fairly rectangular cut sandstones, with the spaces between the boulders and the blocks packed in with smaller uncut sandstones. For the construction of the Iron Age building a cut was put in the south western corner of the building and backfilled with a deposit packed with broken storage jars, together with a purposefully placed upstanding complete storage jar. At the end of the excavation this year, the southernmost wall of the large Middle Bronze Age building was uncovered.The inside and outside of this building will be investigated in the coming season.

 

The Late Bronze Age

The so-called “Tawosret” building was further excavated this year. It is now clear that this building was used in later Iron Age periods. This process of reusing an earlier period building resulted in the dismantling of the Late Bronze Age walls except for one. For that reason all that remains from the Late Bronze Age period is a succession of deposits containing a very large quantity of high quality Mycenaean pottery, all related to feasting ceremonies.The most impressive find this year again is the large quantity of conical rhyta .

Mycenaean conical rhyta of the 14 th and 13 th centuries BC were very common in the Levant, but the Sidon excavations have yielded by far the largest number of these drinking vessels ever found at one single site. Many of them are decorated in the pictorial style, with human figures, fish motifs etc. Conical rhyta were used in particular during feasting ceremonies and their frequency in the Levant suggests that by the 14 th -13 th centuries BC such customs may have been introduced from the Aegean to the main centers of the Syro-Palestinian littoral and Cyprus and were practiced by the local elite. Of particular interest this year is the discovery of a conical shape vessel with a human figure. Its painted decoration represents a standing human figure to right, drawn in silhouette, except the head which is drawn in outline, with an eye in the centre. The eye is rendered with a small circle in white paint, with a dot of red paint in the centre. The use of white paint for the eye is a rare novelty in the technique of Mycenaean III B pictorial vase-painting. Behind the human figure there is a group of ‘bivalve shell' motifs, which are quite common as filling ornaments in the Mycenaean pictorial style. Standing human figures are not uncommon in the Mycenaean III B pictorial style for the decoration of large amphoroid craters but also of conical rhyta . In fact they were very suitable motifs to fill the main decorated zone of the conical rhyta . They appear either in a procession, often brandishing spears, or in pairs, as boxes. The figure in our fragment has both arms bent upwards, in a gesture which may suggest dancing. The figure drawing follows the fashion of Mycenaean vase-painters, who represent the human figure in a very stylized manner, with very thick long legs, a short torso and a long neck. No attempt is made to represent the facial characteristics in a naturalistic manner. The hair is shown just by a ‘lock' at the back of the skull.

 

The Late Iron Age

A new monumental building 9.5m long, was discovered this year the width of which is not known as it disappears in the section. The building is constructed with various sizes of big ashlar blocks, 1.30 x 0.40m x 0.60m. Dozens of jars dating from this period were found in and outside of this building suggesting a warehouse or a place where jars were kept ready to be sent from Sidon's harbour to the Mediterranean region. The total number of jars stacked together in one area, in rows of two or three, was twelve. The jars were supported to the south by stones. In the same area to the west 20 more jars, mainly ovoid (torpedo or sausage) in shape were found lying on top of each other, facing different directions. The area of jars appears to be partly surrounded by stones which may be supporting stones.

In another structure, outside this building two iron knives were lying on a floor together with a tannour, a very large quantity of burnt seeds, olive pits and at least 12 astragali bones of ox and sheep, suggesting some sort of ritual activity. This area will be further excavated next year.

 

The Medieval Period , burials 101 and 110 (1160-1256 AD)

Two earth-cut mass burial pits, burials 101 and 110, were found during the 2009 season. Burial 101, the smaller of the two, was fully excavated in the 2009 season. Burial 110 was partially excavated in 2009 but was not finished that year due to time constraints. This burial was reopened in the 2010 season and it was discovered that the cut extended to the west, doubling the size of the original excavation area. These burials were probably cut down from a higher level into the Iron Age deposits but levels above seem to have been removed by a Medieval building construction.

Burial 110 consisted of at least 10 individuals and burial 101 of at least 5 individuals aged from the mid-teens to over 60 years of age. Potentially all the individuals are male and have died in trauma which could be interpreted as probably a battle or a fight. Trauma and pathology have been identified in both burials.  Sharp-force trauma is visible in 13 elements.  Cuts appear most commonly in the cervical vertebrae, below) and on the cranial vault.  Other instances have been identified in an articulated shoulder and a femur. Almost all sharp-force traumas were made near to the time of death, since there was no healing visible at the site of the cuts.

Concentrations of burning were noted along the centre of the pit. There were stones dispersed throughout the levels, many of them burnt, which increases the likelihood that the burning occurred within the pit. Finds include large iron nails and short iron tacks, many of which were bent, dispersed throughout the levels and a few brackets bent into right angles. It seems likely that these were attached to wood. The wood was possibly thrown in to aid in the burning of the bodies. The pottery sherds found within the fills appear to date from the Iron Age. Part of an animal figurine is also probably Iron Age, but a series of copper alloy buckles or fasteners most likely date to the time of the burial.

- The Sandikli site is a newly excavated site where two soundings were undertaken. These revealed a large sewer drain constructed of limestone blocks with many smaller drains emptying into it. A gold Abbasid dinar was uncovered as well as Mameluk pottery sherds. A new Iron Age building, of which two rooms were excavated, was found this year and further investigations will be needed.

 

Conclusion

As it progresses from year to year, the huge potential of this excavation is further revealed, without fail, by its continuity through time and exceptional finds. The Middle Bronze Age period has been fully excavated in one area revealing 8 levels of occupation and 107 Middle Bronze Age graves to date. This marks an end to a chapter and the beginning of a new one. The Middle Bronze Age period will be excavated in future seasons higher up on the site, to the west of the large Middle Bronze Age temple. In this area the stratigraphy seems to be different to the area that was completed further north as the sand level seems to be much thinner. The Late Bronze Age deposits have also been fully excavated in one area. As for the Late Iron Age a new chapter has also been opened with the discovery of a new building with dozens of storage jars. Outside this building a ritual activity was taking place. This area will be further excavated.

Although this excavation is entering its 13 year new challenges are presenting themselves in understanding activities on College site over millennia.

Captions

1 College site

2 Third millennium building consisting of 10 rooms.

3 Bronze tools and a large amount of beads in bronze and faience in one jar, Early Bronze Age.

4 Jar burial 114 with a horn of an ox placed above it.

5 New monumental Late Iron Age building.

6-7 Dozens of jars dating to the Late Iron Age building were found in and outside of this building suggesting a warehouse.

8-9 Sandikli site. Large sewer drain constructed of limestone blocks with many smaller drains emptying into it.