2,000-year Old Port Discovered in Acre

Jack Khoury
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Jack Khoury

Remnants of an ancient port where warships may have docked 2,300 years ago have been uncovered in Acre, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced.

The port installations date back to the Hellenistic period - the 2nd and 3rd centuries B.C.E.

In digs being conducted at the foot of the city's southern seawall, not far from the current port, and extending to the area known as Horses Beach, archaeologists have found a quay and other evidence of the port, which was probably the most important port in ancient Palestine during the Hellenistic era, they say.

The first sign that the quay might exist emerged in 2009, when a floor made of coastal limestone chiseled in a Phoenician style was discovered underwater by Antiquities Authority divers. The discovery was debated by archaeologists, some of whom thought it was indeed part of an ancient port, while others thought it had been the floor of a large building.

Koby Sharvit, director of the Antiquities Authority's marine archaeology unit, explained that that debate ended when large mooring stones, weighing 250-300 kilograms each, were found near the edge of the platform. These stones had originally been incorporated in the quay and were used to secure boats that had anchored at the port some 2,300 years ago, Sharvit says.

According to Sharvit, over the past few days there has been another discovery that backs the hypothesis that what's being uncovered is Acre's military port - an impressive stone floor, 8 meters wide and 5 meters long, with two stone walls rising from either side, also chiseled in Phoenician style.

Archaeologists believe what they've found is an installation that helped raise boats - most likely military vessels - from the water onto shore. "Only by continuing the digging will we be able to support or invalidate this possibility," Sharvit says.

The excavations are proceeding slowly and carefully, using relatively small tools. Further digging at the foot of these installations revealed the bottom of the ancient harbor. This is where the mooring stones were found, along with thousands of pottery shards, as well as whole pottery and metal objects.

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Mooring stones were found, along with pottery shards and metal objects.Credit: Hagai Fried
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The port installations date back to the Hellenistic period.Credit: Hagai Fried
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Preliminary examination of the pottery shows that much of it originated in the islands of the Aegean Sea.Credit: Hagai Fried

Preliminary examination of the pottery shows that much of it originated in the islands of the Aegean Sea, including Knidos, Rhodes and Kos, as well as in other ancient port cities along the Mediterranean shoreline.

"Until these excavations, the location of this important port was not clear," says Sharvit. "These are the first parts of the port found that abut the shoreline and the ancient Hellenistic city."

"Unfortunately, parts of the quay continue under the Ottoman-era wall, and we probably won't be able to excavate those," he says. "But we will continue to excavate those parts of the port that continue toward the sea and the [current] port, in an effort to determine how extensive it was, and to try to determine whether the damage we've found is in any way linked to the destruction wrought by Ptolemy in 312 B.C.E., to the Hasmonean revolt in 167 B.C.E., or some other event."

The archaeological dig at the base of the wall in Acre where remnants of an ancient port were found.Credit: Hagai Fried