BEIRUT: After years of controversy, one Lebanese archaeologist believes he has finally located the ancient city of Tunip, a town mentioned in various Egyptian texts, as the "sun city," Baalbek.
Presenting the results of his latest discovery at the Lebanese Heritage Center at the Lebanese American University on Wednesday, Ibrahim Kawkabani explained exactly how he determined that Tunip was in fact Baalbek, located in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley.
Kawkabani began excavations in the city in June 1986 in the great hall in front of the Temple of Jupiter.
"I had two ideas in mind, that the Romans erected their temples on an archeological hill and second, that they leveled part of the hill's conical top to widen the building space," he said.
Among the different small discoveries that he made, Kawkabani found flints, axes and a scarab dating back to the early 18th and 16th centuries BC.
He also found broken pieces of pottery dating from 1200 to 1600 BC, the most significant find being a piece of pottery only a few centimeters in length dating back to 1200 BC. It showed a ritual scene and was sealed with cuneiform writing which reads: "Kissib Abi-Malek, Ibn (... ), Baal Tunip" (Baal is the Canaanite word for "Lord").
"The importance of this piece is twofold: it refers to Tunip, the mystery city ... and the signature was discovered in the great hall excavations of Baalbek," said Kawkabani.
The discovery pushed Kawkabani to go over all the documents from Egypt to Mesopotamia that mention Tunip, to better understand its presumed location.
Confirmation came from a 15th century BC message sent by Amen-em Opet to the pharaoh's military chief, referring to a city called Eastern Heliopolis.
Heliopolis is the Greek name for the ancient Egyptian city the Egyptians called Re-pi (Re is the God of the sun and pi means "house").
"It appears that Greeks used the same name for Baalbek that the pharaohs used to refer to Aton-pi. As Semitic languages didn't write vowels they dropped the 'A' of Aton-pi, which became Ton-pi or Tunip, meaning City of Aton - the Sun God."
"Egyptians used to consider Re as a national god whose power was limited to the Egyptian land, while Aton was considered universal with overwhelming power over all countries, including the city-state of Baalbek.
"Thus, from Tuthmosis III (15th century BC) until Ramses II (13th century BC), Egyptians used to call Baalbek Tunip, city of the sun, and the Greeks hellenized the name after conquering the East, when Tunip became Heliopolis. It remained so until the Arab conquest when Baalbek recovered its original Canaanite name of Baal al-Beqaa or lord of the plain."