Massive Fortifications Unearthed Along Ancient Israel Harbor
Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Archaeologists digging along the Israeli coastal city of Ashdod have unearthed the remains of a massive ancient fortification built around an Iron-Age Assyrian harbor. The fortifications were constructed in the eighth century BCE and formed a crescent-shaped defense for a 17-acre inland region of the harbor.
At the heart of the well-preserved fortification is a mud-brick wall standing more than 12 feet wide and 15 feet high. The wall is covered in layers of mud and sand that stretch for hundreds of feet on either side.
This discovery comes at the end of the first excavation season at the Ashdod-Yam digsite, located just south of Tel Aviv. The project was led by Dr. Alexander Fantalkin of TAU’s Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures on behalf of the Sonia and Marco Nadler Institute of Archaeology.
“The fortifications appear to protect an artificial harbor,” says Fantalkin. “If so, this would be a discovery of international significance, the first known harbor of this kind in our corner of the Levant.”
During the time of construction of the massive fortifications, the southeastern part of the Mediterranean basin, including regions of Africa and the Middle East, was under Assyrian rule. Assyrian inscriptions found at the site reveal that by the end of the century, Yamani, the rebel king of Ashdod, led a rebellion against Sargon II, the king of the Assyrian Empire. Yamani called upon Hezekiah, the king of Judah, to join the insurrection, to which Hezekiah declined.
The Yamani rebellion was not taken well by the Assyrians, who eventually destroyed Philistine Ashdod, shifting power to the nearby area of Ashdod-Yam, where the TAU excavation occurred. The team believe the fortifications are linked to these events, but is not exactly sure how as of yet. The walls were either constructed before, during or after the Ashdod rebellion was laid to rest. It is not known if these fortifications were initiated by the citizens of the region or under order of the Assyrians.
“An amazing amount of time and energy was invested in building the wall and glacis [embankments],” said Fantalkin.
The research team previously discovered more recent ruins – from the Hellenistic period (fourth-second centuries BCE) – atop the Iron Age fortifications. These buildings and walls were built long after the fortifications were abandoned and most likely destroyed by an earthquake in the second half of the second century BCE. The researchers also uncovered ancient artifacts at the site, including coins and weights.
Using photogrammetry, the researchers created a three-dimensional reconstruction of the site, showing all the features of the excavation. Equipment for the reconstruction was provided by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Digital surveying was performed by Dr. Philip Sapirstein, a postdoctoral fellow at TAU.
This was the first highly-detailed excavation at the site since a series of digs were conducted in the mid-1960s by late Israeli archaeologist Dr. Jacob Kaplan of the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Museum of Antiquities. Kaplan had previously noted the Ashdod rebels built fortifications in anticipation of an Assyrian attack.
However, Fantalkin believes the construction is too impressive to have been constructed under such circumstances.