Department of History and Archaeology, AUB
 
The Tell el-Burak Archaeological Project  
Location

Tell el-Burak, Tell el-Bräk, or Bräk et-Tell, is located on the shore of Addusiyye, 9 km south of Sidon, and 3 km north of Sarepta-Sarafand. (Map Fig. 1). It measures ca 115 x 115 m and it rises ca 19 m above sea level. The modern name of Tell el-Burak is clearly an Arabic toponym that the site owes to the near-by springs and cisterns (in Arabic bräk or burak), and which, unfortunately, does not betray the ancient toponym.

 
Fig. 1 Map showing the location of Tell Burak                   Fig. 2 Tell Burak. View from the South

Excavations

The Tell el-Burak Archaeological Project is a joint venture of the American University of Beirut, the Eberhard-Karl University of Tübingen, and the German Archaeological Institute-Berlin (hereafter DAI). The excavations are co-directed by Uwe Finkbeiner (Tübingen), Jens Kamlah (University of Kiel), and Helen Sader (AUB). They are funded by AUB, the Henkel Foundation, the German Archaeological Institute with individual financial support from the University of Tübingen and Kiel.
Excavations started in 2001 with a twofold purpose: to study formation processes of Lebanese coastal sites and to provide opportunity for AUB students to be trained in archaeological fieldwork. Eight graduate and undergraduate AUB Archaeology students participate every year in these excavations.

Results

Three periods of occupation have been identified: The Middle Bronze Age, the Iron Age and the Islamic Medieval period.


Fig 3 Plan of the site showing the three excavation areas and the main buildings

The Middle Bronze Age

In area I on the Tell summit, directly below a Medieval period house, which partly covered its remains, a massive mudbrick building dating to the Middle Bronze Age was found.
Immense amounts of earth were piled up on the site of Tell el-Burak in the course of the Middle Bronze Age in order to create an artificial mound. This latter was held in place by a cyclopean retaining wall built around the foot of the Tell. In the centre, a mud-brick building with an extension of ca. 32 by 40 m was erected. The layout of this structure as well as its foundations had already been put in place when the process of piling up the hill began. This explains why the foundations of its walls reach - at least in the area of the central courtyard - a depth of more than 11 m.
The core element of the mud-brick building is an inner courtyard of 15 by 15 m which appeared directly under the remains of the medieval house. Eleven rooms have so far been partly or entirely exposed. The walls have an average thickness of 1.20 m, the exterior walls sometimes up to 2 m. The module of the mud-bricks is 40 by 40 by 12 cm. All corner-rooms protrude beyond the outer walls and can thus be interpreted as towers.


Fig.4 Mudbrick building: stairwell and pebble-paved room

The southern corner of room 10 was plastered with a light mortar. The plaster showed faint traces of polychrome painting, with small irregular polygons and short strokes in red, black and blue.


Fig. 5 Room 10 with traces of wall painting

Abutting the south wall of the mudbrick building was a tomb containing the remains of at least five individuals. Pottery and bone inlays were found with the skeletons. They date the tomb to Middle Bronze Age IIB.


Fig. 6 Middle Bronze Age tomb in Area I

This building could have served as a fortified stronghold, as an administrative building, or simply as a prestige palace in the southern part of Sidon's fertile coastal plain. Thanks to its raised position on top of a hill, one could see Sidon from the Tell el-Burak palace and could visually communicate with the mother city. Tell Burak was instrumental in controlling the access to the main communication route which linked Sidon to the hinterland. The underwater investigation that was funded by the German archaeological Institute and directed by Ralph Pedersen (link to Underwater Investigation) has shown that there were no ancient harbor installations on the shore of Tell Burak. So no warships could have come close to the site which was hence safe from maritime attacks. This new evidence adds support to the nature of the MBA settlement as a stronghold and defensive installation. The site was abandoned at the end of the middle Bronze Age.

The Iron Age

In Tell Burak, Iron Age domestic buildings and a fortification wall were uncovered in area III and II respectively. The Iron Age occupation lasted from the late 8th to the mid-4th c. BC
In Area III, the most ancient Iron Age structure is a house of ca. 5 x 8 m subdivided into a front and two back rooms (Plan Fig.8). The structure of this house provides valuable insights into Iron Age building techniques. The builders used large and well-hewn blocks in order to strengthen statically weak points, like the entrances and the intersections of the walls while the remaining parts of the walls were built of fieldstones. This is an early form of the 'pier-and-rubble' technique, which is a well-known and typical feature of Phoenician architecture during the Late Iron Age (Photograph Fig.9).


Fig. 7 Iron Age house

At a later stage, the terrain was levelled and a structure consisting of two separate rooms of unequal size was built in front of the southwest corner of the first house. Both are paved with limestone blocs and shared a back wall, which has been destroyed to its very foundation by a modern disturbance. The walls of these added rooms consisted of segments of hewn blocks alternating with segments of fieldstones. On the whole, one can observe a lower quality of workmanship with regard to the earlier phase.
The last building phase saw the abandonment and destruction of the earliest house. Contemporary with this later occupation phase is the burial of a dog which was found outside the house under the sherds of a broken vessel (Photograph Fig. 11).
A considerable number of finds, in particular metal objects and potsherds which include above all cooking pots, storage jars and mortaria, and a few imported Greek vessels, were found in this house. They all indicate the domestic character of the buildings.


Fig. 8 From left to right: a bronze fibula, a storage jar and and an imported Greek vessel

In area II, a fortification wall built on the Middle Bronze Age retaining wall was found. The wall has a width of 3-4 m and both its inner and its outer face are made of fieldstones. To stabilize this construction, transversal segments of well-dressed blocks joined the two faces at regular intervals. We are hence dealing with the same 'pier-and-rubble' technique, which was already recognized in the domestic quarter.


Fig. 9 The Iron Age city wall

The city wall collapsed at some point during the Iron Age, probably in the 6th or 5th c BC. A massive layer of fallen building blocks was found in front of the outer façade. This layer contained various finds from the Iron Age, in particular an inscribed funerary stele (Photograph Fig. 17). During the last phase, the inhabitants continued to settle Tell el-Burak without rebuilding the collapsed city wall.
In the 4th c. BC, Tell Burak was abandoned.

The Medieval Islamic and Ottoman Period

In the 13th c. Tell Burak was re-settled. Two domestic dwellings dating to the 13th-14th c. were found in area I on top of the Middle Bronze Age mudbrick building. House 1 was completely excavated and removed (Plan Fig.18). It is a 7,14m wide rectangular structure the original length of which is unknown because of a modern destruction. The house entrance was in the southwest and a two-stepped platform stood in front of it. Inside, the house was divided into two rooms, one of which had preserved its stone pavement. House 2 was only partly excavated: a wall made of fieldstones as well as floor paved with large, flat limestone slabs were found. On the floor, two broken but complete vessels were found in situ. They date the house to the 13th c. These houses remained in use probably as late as the early 17th c.


Fig. 10 Medieval Islamic dwellings on Tell Burak. Left: House I, right: House II

Scattered on the surface of the Tell, Ottoman pipes of the 17th-18th c. (Photograph Fig. 19) were also found. They give us the date of the latest occupation of the site.

 

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