Tyre, Lebanon - ongoing

Beginning in the 1960’s, Honor Frost initiated several investigations aimed at identifying the existence of harbour installations around the coast of Tyre. While her initial exploration focused on the southern side of the former island, she also identified the significant archaeological potential for harbour facilities within the northern coast of Tyre (Frost, 1971). Later, she encouraged local Lebanese archaeologists to continue this research and provided mentorship to the first underwater investigations lead by Noureddine and el Hélou in 2001 who had been appointed by the DGA. The underwater investigations conducted by the Lebanese team confirmed the existence of a man-made structure within the northern harbour area of Tyre, in addition to confirming the high potential for the existence of significant submerged archaeological resources in the surrounding area (Noureddine and Hélou, 2005).

Frost continued to advise Noureddine and el Hélou on scientific and historic principals during subsequent investigations within the northern harbour at Tyre. The team continued to investigate the archaeological significance of the area, with the main focus revolving around the identification of an ancient jetty structure. Based on subsequent research and underwater investigations in 2004 (Castellvi et al, 2007) and 2005 (Noureddine, 2008) this underwater structure has been interpreted as representing a harbour jetty installation suggested to date to the Phoenician Iron Age. This interpretation is based on a number of attributes, including comparative construction methods and materials used for Phoenician harbours identified at Tabbat al-Hammam and Atlit (Noureddine, 2010).

Fieldwork was carried out in 2019 to continue work on the ancient mole excavated in 2018, another trench was excavated in order to better understand the construction and date of this feature in the northern harbour of Tyre, the summary report is available below. Alongside this work was also undertaken in October 2019 to better understand relative sea-level variations.

Images from the 2019 excavation season (report below by Dr. Noureddine and Mr. Sicre)

Summary of plans for 2020 – Jean-Phillipe Goiran

The 2020 project aims at locating the southern port of Tyre, known as the “Egyptian port”. The city of Tyre is thought to have possessed two harbour basins. Most researchers concur on the location of its northern, “Sidonian” port, precursor of the modern “Old Port” of Tyre, but slightly more extensive than it. The location of the Egyptian harbor, on the other hand, is still a matter of debate. It is mentioned by Diodorus Siculus, Quintus Curtius Rufus, and Arrian, when describing Alexander the Great’s siege of Tyre in the 4th Century BC. According to Arrian’s 2nd Century AD compilation of reports written at the time of the siege, the entrance of the “Egyptian port” is a neoria, meaning it is protected by a chain, and hosts hangars for triremes. These characteristics lead us to believe that it was a Phoenician military port. Towards the end of the siege Alexander’s fleet would have forced the entrance of the port and sunk the Tyrian ships kept inside. In the 1st Century AD, Strabo reports that Tyre possessed two harbours, one protected, and the other opened, this later being called the Egyptian one (16,2,23). Thus, according to these descriptions, the Egyptian Port would be first a military harbour (during Phoenician times), protected and inserted in the city’s defensive walls, but by Roman times, it would have become an open port.

We aim at understanding whether this change in port affectation was motivated by the evolution of the coastline. During Phoenician times, Tyre was initially settled on an island, which by Roman times, had become a peninsula, tied to the continent by a sandy land bridge, known as a tombolo. The land bridge accrues from the accumulation of sediments along a causeway built by Alexander the Great between the island of Tyre and the levantine coastline. The objective of this project is to, (1) refine the location and evolution of the ancient coastline, (2) constrain the elevation of the ancient sea level, and (3) decipher the evolution of the Egyptian Port.”

The team would like to acknowledge the support of the DGA, CNRS and the Mission Française de Tyr (MFT). 

Click the links below to read reports from the Tyre surveys supported by the Foundation as well as proposals for future work at the site…

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