Lebanon News

History unearthed in Sidon massive temple excavations

SIDON, Lebanon: New archaeological discoveries at Sidon’s Freres archaeological site were revealed Thursday as part of a British Museum led excavation project, uncovering more layers of the ancient port city’s history. A model tabernacle, incense burners, and banquet wares were among the artifacts found in Sidon during the 2016 excavations, explained Claude Serhal, the head of the British Museum delegation. The work also led to the discovery of a temple that dates back to the 11th century B.C.

The announcement was made during a news conference held at Sidon’s Directorate General of Antiquities headquarters in the presence of Sidon Mayor Mohammad Saudi.

This finding comes as construction is underway on the foundations for a national museum to be established beside the historical city’s Freres archaeological site. The museum will house the antiquities, exhibited in situ.

Serhal explained how the recent revelations further elucidate cult rituals that were practiced in the second and first millennium B.C. temples that are under excavation. In the temple from the second millennium Canaanite period, new rooms were uncovered that are over 48 meters long. Some of the excavated rooms appeared to extend under the road near the new the site, demonstrating the immensity of the temple.

An altar made of charred wood was discovered in one room, Serhal noted. It is believed that it might have been used for ritual sacrifices. Animal remains led excavators to confirm that sacrificial meat was eaten during the religious ceremonies carried out in the temple.

The 11th century B.C. was one of the most important historical periods to be excavated. The Levantine coast was supposedly subjected to deterioration in this era however the recently discovered Phoenician temple in Sidon shows no evidence that it incurred damage during that period.

One of the distinctive ceremonial worship objects found in Sidon was the model tabernacle, which is shaped like a miniature portable shrine. “In order to ensure the purity of the site, pleasant odorous substances, such as incense, would have been lit which accounts for the discovery of new transportable incense burners,” Serhal said. The model tabernacle is one of the objects that will be exhibited in the new museum.

A jug found in a grave that dates back to the second millennium B.C. was among the finds announced. “A jug found in a grave indicates how an object was adapted to the context where it was found,” Serhal said. “This jug, decorated with the semblance of a necklace around the neck of an individual, was discovered in a grave dating back to the beginning of the second millennium B.C.”

The remains of a teenager and a child, buried at a similar time, were found in the grave. “The jug, which had been deposited with the two children, was transformed into an anthropomorphic container with the addition of two breasts on the shoulder of the vessel, thus ... conferring a mother like-image to this jug and a maternal presence to accompany the children in death,” Serhal said.

“Active feasting activity took place within the temple as shown by the quantity of local pottery as well an assemblage of Greek banquet wares, including plates manufactured exclusively for export to the Orient,” Serhal said. An alabaster spoon, a decorated piece of bone, faience necklace, and a beautiful engraved comb were found in the temple.

Saudi praised the work, of The British Museum team which began its task at the site in 1998 with the approval of the Culture Ministry’s Directorate General of Antiquities.

Saudi said that uncovered history and artifacts are things that all of Lebanon should be proud of, not just Sidon. “In reality the greatness of Sidon’s civilization amazes every person,” he said. “We are very pleased, and the residents of Sidon are dazzled by this great history.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 02, 2016, on page 4.

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