Sidon’s old port: A veritable archaeologist’s paradise

SIDON, Lebanon: With new discoveries made at the Frere excavation site, the historic southern city of Sidon never ceases to amaze archeologists with its rich history and archaeological finds that illuminates the vital role it played as a trading hub thousands of years ago. The excavation at the site has been ongoing for 17 years, and has uncovered just how integral Sidon’s old port was. This year’s excavation, carried out by a delegation from the British Museum in collaboration with the Directorate General of Antiquities, was focused on the southern part of the Frere site.

The findings prompted Keeper of the Department of the Middle East at the British Museum John Curtis to decide to visit Sidon next week.

A huge wall dating back to the Persian Empire was discovered and is believed to be part of what was once the city’s walls. Two towers with a distance of 55 meters between them and a trench in the middle, which served as the Sidon’s defense system during the Middle Ages, was also discovered, said Claude Doumit Serhal, the head of the British Museum Delegation.

“In the trench that separates the two towers, sound skeletons of less-than-a-year-old pony and a small pig were found outside the city’s wall, and where it is believed they were thrown from the fort,” Serhal said.

At the fort’s base, Islamic copper coins that date back to the beginning of the Umayyad era were also found. Serhal said that back in 2014, the excavators found a group of Crusader cemeteries in the same trench that date back to 1160 and 1256.

Archaeologists found coins and five copper buckle belts similar to those worn in London during the Middle Ages, and estimate they date back to the period between 1250 and 1450. These discoveries led the archaeologists to conclude that the cemeteries were the result of a Crusader battle that took place during the 13th century.

“To the south of this wall more Persian-era excavations were found, and rooms that once belonged to a Phoenician temple,” Serhal said.

The archaeologists also discovered imported pieces from Greece’s Evia island during the excavation process. Skyphos drinking cups with semi-circled handles, some adorned with figures of birds, were also found.

The excavators found a rare pot featuring a drawing of the tree of life on its sides. The drawings might have been crafted by the same artist who made a pot belonging to the Cesnola collection, from Cyprus. A similar pot is currently on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

The range of discoveries has underscored the important role the city of Sidon has played as a trading hub throughout the years.

Separately, excavation work that has been ongoing for five years at the Sandaqli site revealed an old irrigation system dating back to the Mamluk and Roman era, as well as a building from the late Iron Age.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 12, 2015, on page 2.




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