Geoarchaeology of Lebanon's Ancient Harbours Bar International Series S-1953 Nick Marriner 305 pp., 251 grey-scale illustrations, many maps Archaeopress for BAR, Gordon House, 276 Banbury Road, Oxford OX2 7ED, 2009, £50 (sbk), ISBN 978 1407304366
Article first published online: 10 FEB 2014
© 2014 The Authors. International Journal of Nautical Archaeology © 2014 The Nautical Archaeology Society
International Journal of Nautical Archaeology
Volume 43, Issue 1, pages 209–211, March 2014
How to Cite
Kahanov, Y. (2014), Geoarchaeology of Lebanon's Ancient Harbours Bar International Series S-1953 Nick Marriner 305 pp., 251 grey-scale illustrations, many maps Archaeopress for BAR, Gordon House, 276 Banbury Road, Oxford OX2 7ED, 2009, £50 (sbk), ISBN 978 1407304366 . International Journal of Nautical Archaeology, 43: 209–211. doi: 10.1111/1095-9270.12050_6
- Issue published online: 10 FEB 2014
- Article first published online: 10 FEB 2014
This publication describes a detailed multidisciplinary research project into the physical history of three harbours in Lebanon: Tyre, Sidon and Beirut. These harbours have been subject to changes by nature and man for about 8000 years. Evidence of their existence, shape and structural changes is at least partially buried under modern urban development, through dredging works since antiquity, and by silting. The study combines geomorphological methods and coring with biological and geological analyses, coordinated with the archaeological data, historical background, and the regional (Levant) context.
The basic research methods are well known, but their thorough and methodical application is an example for similar studies. The comparative study with Marseilles, Alexandria, Naples and the ancient harbours in Israel, adds significantly to the robustness of the conclusions. The study concentrates on the geomorphological research; however, to obtain a wider picture, archaeological excavations in a few selected, accessible points are recommended in the future. This book should be one of the basic publications in any library of harbour/geomorphological research.
The ‘Introduction’ is extensive and methodical. The history of harbour archaeology is well presented. The importance of a multidisciplinary approach combining shipwreck and harbour archaeology is emphasized.
Tyre harbour research is the most detailed and extensive in the book (Chs 2 and 3, pp. 49–157). It is a diligent geomorphological research: background, methods, proper treatment and recording of cores, multidisciplinary study (including archaeology, history and fauna), results and conclusions. The methodical description along a time scale from 8000 BP is convincing, including the interpretation of the very well-protected Byzantine harbour. The careful and modest approach, where besides the interpretations and conclusions, Marriner suggests further future work to solve some of the questions, is appreciated.
The model used for understanding the conditions in the shelter of Tyre Island of 5500 BP, based on the local characteristics of the swell and core analysis, and emphasizing the effects of the west and north-west winds, presents a clear picture. However, in swell conditions the suggested anchorage would have suffered from currents and waves, and could have been a little rough for small boats (p. 65, and fig. 3.44). The Bronze Age and Iron Age anchorages north and south of Tyre need further study, and the recommended future archaeological work makes sense. Raban's pioneering work and brilliant ideas could serve as working hypotheses, to be re-examined by young scholars with modern tools (pp. 152–6, 198). The reviewer agrees with the doubts of the author on the effectiveness of channels in preventing sedimentation (p. 134, and also his comment regarding Sidon, p. 180). The change in maritime trade following the Islamic invasions (p. 132) requires a reference (for example Pirenne, see p. 220). The southern harbour, suggested by Poidebard, and rejected by the author's research (p. 147) (or a drowned city as suggested by others) was examined using two short cores. This subject could be further examined, as suggested by the author (p. 152), by underwater archaeology, using the results of this research to locate the best excavation site.
Sidon harbour research, reported in Ch. 4 (pp. 159–86), is a convincing presentation of a thorough study based on 15 cores (three off-shore). The text is well explained and figures are clear. The suggested proto-harbour of the Bronze Age Sidon at the northern cove is substantial. It is the natural sheltering place, where even in modern times boats are beached and larger harbours are developed (for instance Haifa and Beirut). This is also valid for Beirut's ancient anchorages (p. 212). The author's geoarchaeology-based interpretation of the existence of an important port during the Byzantine period is interesting, as is his view of the Byzantine period of ‘advanced port infrastructure and management techniques’ (p. 182). By the way, fig. 4.8 (p. 165) is similar to rock carvings at Dor, Israel, it might be noted.
The research of Beirut's ancient harbours, which have been active for about 5000 years, is described in Ch. 5 (pp. 187–213), and is based on 20 cores and additional archaeological data (excavated by others). The study of the palaeo-environment, which goes back 6000 years, the main anchorage, and the chronology of the evolution of the three harbours, is complicated by urbanization and the development of the modern harbour. Marriner recommends further stratigraphic research and archaeological excavation, in addition to that carried out hitherto, mainly of Bronze Age and Iron Age anchorages.
In Ch. 6 (pp. 215–57), the information about the three harbours (Tyre, Sidon and Beirut) is collated and coordinated, and linked to the larger Levant context. It compares the development of the harbours from their basic natural geological locations through the dynamics of the environmental-physical features and the intervention of man. It concludes that there are many similarities in the chronostratigraphy of the three harbours (p. 216). Little evidence of human activity from the Bronze Age was recorded, implying that the natural, partially protected coves served the maritime activities of small vessels, and larger craft used lighter services (pp. 216, 218). There is evidence of advanced man-made structures in the Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine periods. The catalyst for the underwater construction works during the Roman period was the invention of hydraulic concrete—extensive research into which has been conducted by Brandon, Oleson, Hohlfelder and others (Oleson et al., 2004, The ROMACONS Project, IJNA 33.2: 199–229).
At the beginning of the Byzantine period the three harbours were prosperous, as is evident by the sediment in the ports which indicates well-protected water (pp. 220, 227). During the Islamic conquests, coarse-grained sand and silting is evidence of a significant decrease in the use of the three ports. The author has integrated the historical sources, and has given an unusual explanation of this abandonment: the Levant coast had become the cradle of Islamic maritime enterprise, but with other ports being preferred (p. 221).
The author is right in his careful approach to the influence of climate on social changes (p. 227). Four different types of harbours are defined by their construction, and three different stratigraphic types—although some inconsistencies in the granularity and biostratigraphy were found. The reviewer suggests that interpretation of changes in the coastline should be considered part of the annual cycle of sand movement on and off shore (Fig. 6.30 and p. 238). Nile sediment is absent in the three harbours, as expected: it occurs along the Israeli coast only as far north as Akko. Local fluvial systems, and erosion of coastal cliffs by sea and winds, contribute to the sediments. The geochemistry study is very welcome, but further multidisciplinary research is required, as it draws attention to more data traditionally neglected. However, as for lead (pp. 37, 248), it can be recycled, and in some environments can degrade (see Frost, H., 1981, Lilybaeum [Marsala]—The Punic Ship, Rome, pp. 25, 130).
The research approach: from minute finds to preserving the Lebanon's coastal heritage, is right and valuable. As to the looting of archaeological material (see also Raban and Kahanov, 2003, IJNA 32.1: 61–72).
The book ends with conclusions and recommendations for future research (pp. 289–91). The idea of further study of Athlit is correct—the reviewer has some doubts as to the interpretation of the wood fragments from Athlit on which the radiocarbon dating is based (p. 39). Movement of lighters from Athlit up to Sidon seems slightly too ambitious (p. 131).
The recommended field of future research at Akko does not concur with recent thoughts of E. Stern, the archaeologist of Akko for the past 20 years. However a study of the close vicinity is planned by Stern (pers. comm., 2013). We hope that a comparative regional study of Acre and Sidon, Athlit and Tyre by combined Lebanese and Israeli expeditions may be possible some day.
The bibliographical list is comprehensive, perhaps in a few cases slightly too liberal: page numbers in books are mostly missing. Casson, L., 1995, Ships and Seamanship (or its earlier edition 1971) should be used rather than the 1994 British Museum publication. The PhD dissertation of L. Blue (1996) on the second-millennium-BC harbours of the eastern Mediterranean (Oxford), deserves mention, as does Raban's, 1995, comprehensive publication ‘Dor Yam: Maritime and Coastal Installation at Dor’, in E. Stern (ed.) Excavations at Dor, Final Report, Qedem Reports 1, 285–354, Jerusalem. The lack of an index is also regretted.
Some other omissions and technical points follow: a description of the equipment used would have contributed to the whole understanding of the research. The map, fig. 1.8, p. 13, although ‘non-exhaustive’, should include southern Turkey, the eastern shore of Bulgaria, the eastern Adriatic, and the Gulf of Argolis. At fig. 1.22, p. 28, Nicolaou 1976, not 1973, is correct. The upper-left picture in fig. 3.26, p. 129, seems to be a view from south to north, thus the alleged Bronze Age quay is not shown. Page 132, right column, Brandon (not Branton), and the harbour of Caesarea (not Casaerea, see fig. 1.8) was built at the end of the 1st century BC (not AD). Page 131, right column, 2nd paragraph, perhaps ‘Figure 3.23’ instead of ‘3.21'?
Understanding some of the figures, originally in colour, is difficult (such as figs 2.10 [caption missing]; 2.15; 5.6 and 6.35). Expanding some captions and clarifying explanatory notes would contribute to better understanding in Chs 3, 4 and 5, and fig. 1.6 upper section, for instance; also to help understand the ancient harbour, tell and place-names—nine figures concerning these: 3.5, 3.9, 3.21, 3.25, 3.43, 4.2, 4.4 pt B, 5.4 and 5.12.
In the Tyre chapters: very few Bronze Age shipwrecks have been discovered and the author's note as to the unequivocal dating of moles and quays along the Israeli coast to the Bronze Age (p. 126), is correct. The majority of Egyptian ships were river vessels; only a few were seagoing.
Finally there is some confusion over the use of the hyphen and the dash. Nevertheless, this book (I repeat) should be on the shelf of any library concerned with harbour or geomorphological research.