Beirut Archaeology Proves Lebanon's Antiquity

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Beirut Archaeology Proves Lebanon's Antiquity

If it weren't for Lebanon's destructive 5-year civil war, which has given rise to a massive urban renewal project, it is unlikely the true age and total number of different cultural groups who have dwelled in the city would ever have been ascertained. Prior to the rebuilding of the devastated city center, archeologists never had an opportunity to find out exactly what lay under it.

Firsthand experiences at rescuing Beirut's historical record were discussed April 24 by two American University of Beirut archaeologists speaking at an AUB alumni dinner in A1 Amir Restaurant in Los Angeles. Speakers were Sorbonne-educated Dr. Leila Badre of the AUB Museum and Dr. Helga Seeden of the AUB Department of Archaeology.

Actual excavation began in November 1993 by the AUB, Lebanese University and the French Institute of Archaeology. Excavations of Martyr's Square were under the Directorate of Antiquities and UNESCO.

Commented Dr. Seeden: "This was where an archaeological dream and reality met, as three AUB teams began to reveal 5,000 years of urban history. A total of 100 excavation sites were located in the central district, Bourj area and Parliament Square."

Dr. Badre, who was in charge of pre-Islamic sites, explained: "It was my personal interest to discover the oldest Bronze Age city of Beirut. Actually, we knew nothing about 3rd millennium Beirut. It is only from the 14th century B.C. Tell Amarna letters between Pharaoh Akhenaten and the king of Beyruta that we have written mention of the city." She added that beyruta is the plural of beir [well], inferring that ancient Beirut must have been named for its many wells.

She found the answer to her inquiry into the antiquity of Beirut inside a Crusader castle that had been dug to bedrock. Here, the angle of a room from the Canaanite period was identified by pottery sherds dating to 2300 B.C. The second oldest occupation site is a mudbrick city wall dating to the mid-2nd millennium. The fourth habitation level is a 13th to 12th century B.c. Canaanite wall similar to that of Megiddo in Palestine. …