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Hellenistic sanctuary discovered in ancient Phoenician city of Tyre


The foundations of a Hellenistic sanctuary have been discovered on the promontory of Tyre in southern Lebanon during the course of excavations undertaken by the American University of Beirut's Archaeological Museum.

Hellenistic sanctuary discovered in ancient Phoenician city of Tyre
Aerial view of the site of Tyre, of which only 70 sq. metres has been excavated [Credit: OLJ]
The sanctuary consists of two walls that delimit a rectangular surface with a square platform and a hard limestone altar whose upper and lower parts are carved with horizontal beading and measuring 0.62 metres in height and 0.32 x 0.32 metres on each side. Thick traces of ash were noted on the platform and altar.

The excavations did not yield remains of animal bones, suggesting that it was used for the ritualistic offering of incense, a rite common in antiquity, which symbolized the sacrifice and accompanied the prayers addressed to the deities. Some 20 coins, oil lamps, six of which are intact, as well as several ceramic objects, including plates, jars and almost complete bowls, were also uncovered.

Hellenistic sanctuary discovered in ancient Phoenician city of Tyre
Aerial view of the site excavated by Leila Badre's team in Tyre [Credit: OLJ]
Most of the recovered ceramic material is unremarkable, with the exception of an oil lamp depicting a ceremonial scene in which a priest and a woman approach a sacred table used for the placing of offerings.

"This one, with its carvings, is identical to the altar we excavated," says Badre, director of the American University of Beirut's Archaeological Museum, pointing out that the lamp dates back to the Hellenistic period, around the 2nd century BC. "Once the coins are cleaned, they will be used to establish a more precise dating," she adds.

Hellenistic sanctuary discovered in ancient Phoenician city of Tyre
The decorated piece represents an offering scene; the sacred table with its ornamental elements
 is identical to the altar unearthed on the site [Credit: OLJ]
The head of the project also states that the altar, in its proportions, stones and construction techniques, is similar to the temple of Sarepta, a Phoenician fortified city north of the present-day Sarafand. However, the sanctuary of Tyre, which measures 15 metres long by 6 metres wide, is twice as large as the sanctuary of Sarepta, which spans 6.4m by 2.6m. "The true extent of the sanctuary of Tyre - which has only been cleared on a plot of land of about 70 square metres in area - may still be revealed as a result of the excavations that will continue next summer," says Badre.

It should be noted that Sarafand had been completely excavated by James B. Pritchard in 1972. The city, where the cult of the goddess Tanit-Astarte was practiced, was part of the kingdom of Tyre until the Roman conquest. It was famous for its blown glass techniques, an activity that still exists today in the region.

Hellenistic sanctuary discovered in ancient Phoenician city of Tyre
One of the oil lamps found on the Tyre site [Credit: OLJ]
The archaeologist also revealed that the foundations of one of the sanctuary's walls rest on the remains of a construction linked to an earlier phase. "This means that this place of worship has been rebuilt several times. The tradition of preserving places of worship over several centuries is confirmed," says Ms. Badre, who points out that five superimposed churches were discovered under the Greek Orthodox Saint George's Cathedral in Beirut. Moreover, this plot on the promontory of Tyre had aroused her interest because it is located just a few metres from the remains of two Byzantine churches, discovered in the past by Emir Maurice Chehab.

"It was clear that it was a sacred area and our site had to be linked by an unmistakable continuity. We have obtained permission from the Director General of Antiquities, Sarkis el-Khoury, to conduct excavations, with the encouragement of Dr. Ali Badaoui, Director of Excavations in Tyre," said the archaeologist.

Hellenistic sanctuary discovered in ancient Phoenician city of Tyre
One of the oil lamps found on the Tyre site [Credit: OLJ]
Tyre was a city built largely on an island reputed to be impregnable, and was already considered one of the oldest cities in the world, founded according to tradition in 2750 BC. After eight months of siege, it succumbed to an assault by Alexander the Great (332 BC) who had blocked the strait with the help of a causeway.

"Important archaeological remains from the Roman and pre-Roman periods have been discovered, but the splendid Phoenician period has revealed only a small part of its secrets. There's so much more to explore," concludes Badre.

Source: L'Orient Le Jour [September 29, 2017]
TANN

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