A Bronze Age Harbor at Sidon

The Journal of Archaeological Science has an article in press, "Geoarchaeology of Sidon’s ancient harbours, Phoenicia (Marriner, Morhange, & Doumet-Serhal 2006, in press)"  in which the authors use geoarchaeological data to clarify the developmental stages of Sidon’s bronze age harbor. The complete the study by comparing and contrasting the data with that of the nearby harbor of Tyre. The harbors of Sidon and Tyre are both in natural anchorages that provide shelter from storms for large vessels and allow for beaching of smaller craft. Human modification of Sidon can be traced back to the Middle Bronze Age (ca. 1700 BCE) and the residents modified shoreline sandstones to create artificial quays (a kind of wharf where cargo can be loaded & unloaded), using the blocks to create seawalls from scratch or perhaps by modifying existing, natural features.
 
These features of modification were also found present on the island of Zire, which shows that it was an important component of the Sidon harbor system. Cargo was likely ferried to and from the island by small vessels to be loaded on or unloaded from larger ones.
 
As with most harbors created or modified by humans, siltation was a problem at Sidon, and intense dredging occurred during the Roman and Byzantine periods. Siltation occurs when sediments are trapped by modified or natural features like peninsulas, jetties and sea walls and is accentuated by harbor debris like sunken vessels and refuse or garbage. From the article:
 

Siltation, notably under deltaic and urban contexts, was a well-recognised problem in antiquity with four sedimentary sources of note: (1) local watercourses; (2) regional longdrift currents; (3) erosion of adobe constructions and urban runoff; and (4) use of the basin as a base-level waste dump. Sidon’s gravels fraction from the Roman period comprises a whole suite of discarded objects, trapped at the bottom of the basin, including ceramics, wood, seeds, leather artefacts etc. Indeed, an inscription from Roman Ephesus, demanding citizens not to throw waste into the port, attests that ancient societies must have been acutely aware of this problem.

It is postulated that extensive dredging during the Roman and Byzantine period explains (1) the observed stratigraphic hiatus and (2) dating inversions. Previously, these problems, in the absence of robust chronological frameworks, were most often ignored or left unexplained.

Marriner et al describe the rapid progradation, the outward building of a sedimentary deposition from the coast, beginning around the 6th century CE which contributed to "the deformation and dislocation of Sidon’s harbour."

Sidon shows that the magnitude of crustal mobility is inferior to Tyre, 50 cm since antiquity, yet the same coarse sand facies is persistently observed. These data chronologically contradict, at least locally, the Early Byzantine Tectonic Paroxysm (EBTP) hypothesis dated to the fourth to sixth centuries AD. In effect, the opening of Tyre and Sidon appears to be later, after the sixth century AD. [E]arthquake and tsunami events on the Levantine coast [show] that the fourth to eleventh centuries were characterised by repeated seismic shocks, possibly provoking partial harbour damage. According to data from various sources [one of the sources cited is Russell (1985)] it is interesting to note that during the EBTP a cluster of five earthquakes ��8 are documented on the Levantine coast against a mere two during the period AD 600 to AD 1100.

 
In comparing/contrasting Sidon with Tyre, Marriner et al note that the sedimentation from adjacent rivers (Litani near Tyre and Awali near Sidon) are primarily differentiated by the size of the two water sheds. Litani is much larger than Awali and delivers larger sediment sizes (coarse sand & gravel) than Awali’s medium sands & silts. They also noted that Sidon is more isolated from marine dynamics of the Mediterranean Sea by land features, whereas Tyre is more open and affected. Both city-ports began as natural habors exploited by early seafarers and progradation has changed the coastal morphology such that many of the ancient harbors are beneath modern constructions in the cities.
 
References
 

Marriner, Nick; Morhange, C.; Doumet-Serhal, C. (2006, in press). Geoarchaeology of Sidon’s ancient harbours, Phoenicia. Journal of Archaeological Science. Available online 21 April 2006.

Russell, K.W. (1985). The earthquake chronology of Palestine and Northwest Arabia from the 2nd through the mid-8th century A.D, Bulletin of the American School of Oriental Research 260, pp. 37�C59.

About Carl Feagans 313 Articles
Professional archaeologist that currently works for the United States Forest Service at the Land Between the Lakes Recreation Area in Kentucky and Tennessee. I'm also a 12-year veteran of the U.S. Army and spent another 10 years doing adventure programming with at-risk teens before earning my master's degree at the University of Texas at Arlington.

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