Charting the Past: Surveys Map Two Lost Harbors of Phoenicia

Article excerpt

By analyzing long tubes of sediment drilled from locations in and around the Mediterranean ports of Tyre and Sidon, scientists have discovered the locations of the harbors from which legions of ancient Phoenician mariners set sail.

Tyre and Sidon, located in what is now Lebanon, were the two most important city-states of Phoenicia, a trading empire founded more than 3,000 years ago. Although archaeologists knew much about the two cities and Phoenician civilization, they have long debated the sizes and locations of the ancient harbors, says Christophe Morhange, a geoarchaeologist at the National Center for Scientific Research in Aix-en-Provence, France. Now, Morhange and his colleagues present strong evidence to settle the dispute.

The researchers drilled 25 holes within the modern city of Sidon and 30 within Tyre, recovering a sediment core at least to meters long from each site. From the contents of those samples, representing the past 8,000 years, the team determined the locations and extents of the ancient harbors. And by carbon-dating the plants, wood, and shells in the harbor samples, the researchers pegged the period when the ports were active. Morhange and his colleagues report their findings in the January Geology.

Both harbors started out as natural bays before the cities were built, says Morhange. The shells and remains of marine organisms found in the oldest sediments are characteristic of sheltered waters. While large ships could have anchored in the bays when the cities were young, their cargo would probably have been ferried to shore in small boats. …