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Welcome to Tel Akko

General View of Akko
Birds eye view of Israeli coastline on the Mediteranean Sea. The site of Akko is marked. © Tel Akko Excavation Project
Throughout its history, Akko has been a major cross-roads and meeting place between east and west. Due to Akko’s strategic location and its natural harbor – one of the few safe anchorages along the southern Levantine coast – a multitude of peoples and cultures left their mark on the city over the last five thousand years. The earliest inhabitants of Akko settled on a low kurkar hill that overlooked the fertile Akko plain, just north of the Bellus or Na’aman River (see satellite view of Tel Akko). Today the 22 hectare tell is a municipal park, situated to the east the UNESCO World Heritage site of Crusader and Ottoman period Akko. Tel Akko was first excavated from 1973 – 1989 by Moshe Dothan and a team from the University of Haifa, in cooperation with Diethelm Conrad from the University of Marburg. Following a near decade long hiatus, a short study season was conducted in 1999 under the direction of Michal Artz
Satellite view
Satellite view of modern Akko with the location of Tel Akko circled. © Tel Akko Excavation Project
y and Ann E. Killebrew (see site map of 1999 excavation).

The first series of excavations revealed that Akko was initially inhabited in the Early Bronze Age and was continuously occupied until the early Hellenistic period. Paralleling the archaeological evidence, the site’s significance is reflected in contemporary written documents. The earliest historical reference to Akko appears in the third millennium BCE Ebla Texts. Akko is again mentioned in the Middle Kingdom Execration Texts, where the ruler of Akko is noted as being one of the many Canaanite princes perceived as a threat to Egypt. Late Bronze Age Akko appears frequently in New Kingdom Egyptian texts, including the Amarna Letters.

Site map
Site map of excavation in 1999. © Tel Akko Excavation Project
During the Iron Age, Akko was a major Phoenician maritime center. According to Strabo, the site became an important administrative center under Persian subjugation. During the Hellenistic period, the city was renamed Ptolemais when Ptolemy Philadelphus established a polis there in 281 BCE.  After the founding of the polis, the focus of settlement shifted westward towards the modern coastline and underneath Akko’s new and old cities With the exception of scant Medieval remains, the mound appears to have no longer sustained continuous settlement.


Beginning in 2010, new excavations commenced at Tel Akko, co-directed by Professors Ann E. Killebrew and Michal Artzy.  Current sponsoring institutions include the Pennsylvania State University, University of Haifa, Claremont Graduate University, Claremont McKenna University, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and Trinity College. This project, projected for ten years, has several goals:

  • A diachronic and synchronic analysis of Akko’s role as a major eastern Mediterranean maritime center and commercial crossroads from the third millennium BCE through the Hellenistic periods.
  • An analysis and comparison of the process of reurbanization and state formation during the early first millennium along the Phoenician Levantine coast and the rise of “ethnicized” kingdoms (e.g. Israel, Judah, Aram etc.).
  • An archaeological, geomorphological and geophysical study of the Bay of Akko and its coastline, including questions relating to climatic change and its impact on the location of Akko’s harbors through the age.
  • Development of new 3-D documentation and recording techniques.
  • Publication of previous excavation results

 

Total Archaeology@Tel Akko

To support the project’s short and long-term research goals, the renewed excavations at Tel Akko use a holistic approach to the past that we have termed “Total Archaeology”, which integrates archaeological survey, systematic excavation, a robust conservation plan, a public outreach program, and the incorporation of the largely unpublished results from earlier expeditions to address a practical research agenda, all of which have necessitated the development of a cutting edge multi-dimensional recording system. In addition, new skill sets will be needed for archaeologists of the 21st century – there will be less excavation and more documentation, curation of collections, conservation, and site development. “Total Archaeology” attempts to address the goals and needs of 21st century archaeology, which include:

  • A holistic approach to archaeological research, documentation, heritage and site conservation/presentation/interpretation
  • New approaches to the publication of unpublished excavations
  • Survey (on-site [geophysical and pedestrian] and regional survey
  • Multi-dimensional 3-D recording system
  • Integrated on-site in-situ conservation
  • Community outreach/education
  • State-of-the-art field school (survey, excavation, GIS, documentation, conservation, underwater archaeology and archaeological sciences )
  • Site presentation/development

 

Current Excavations@Tel Akko


During the 2010 and 2011 seasons, our efforts were focused on three aspects of Tel Akko.  These include the documentation and re-investigation of Dothan’s excavation Areas A, B, and AB; a comprehensive intensive survey and mapping of the entire tell; and an investigation of the ancient anchorages and harbors of Bronze Age – Hellenistic Akko using Electric Resistivity Tomography that also integrates geomorphological studies of the tell and its environs.


Dothan’s original excavation goals in Area A were to provide a diachronic view of settlement on the tel based on the assumption that the ancient public structures would be located on the mound’s highest point. Notable finds in Area A included architectural remains dating to the Iron II, Assyrian, Persian, and Hellenistic periods. Among the most noteworthy discoveries was a large Persian period administration building that contained several Phoenician ostraca (pieces of pottery with writing). Area B is situated north of Area A on the northern slope. This area was excavated in the 1970s and 1980s with the goal of investigating the different stages of the rampart fortifications associated with the

Rampart section
A section bulldozed through the Middle Bronze Age rampart showing the layers with a person indicating the size. © Tel Akko Excavation Project
early urban settlement from the second millennium BCE.  At the beginning of his excavations, Dothan used a bulldozer to create a cross-section through these massive ramparts. Though not in keeping with current excavation methods, the trench has yielded valuable stratigraphic information.

Area AB, situated between Areas A and B, was excavated with the aim of understanding the relationship between the defensive ramparts of Area B and the urban remains found in Area A. Among the more significant discoveries included the remains of an industrial area dating to the end of the Late Bronze Age/Iron I transition. The industrial area included furnaces for the recycling of metals, crushed murex shells used in the production of purple dye, and stone-lined pits incorporated into the Middle Bronze Age rampart.

Pedestrian Survey@Tel Akko


Pedestrial Survey
People walking in line surveying the ground around the tel. © Tel Akko Excavation Project
During the 2011 season, an intensive pedestrian survey commenced .  Until the early 1970s, the tell was under cultivation. In addition, heavy vegetation added to the difficulties of a simple surface collection. Thus, test pits were deemed to be the simplest and most time effective means of effective sampling. The goals of the 2011 test pit survey included a reconstruction of the size, intensity, and location of settlement at the site over time and to test the effectivene
Pit Survey
People spread up the hill doing pit or shovel survey. © Tel Akko Excavation Project
ss of test pits and GIS to accomplish those goals.

 

One of the most notable features of Tel Akko is its unusual crescent shape.  The discovery of a 1925-1926 map of Tel Akko produced by Joseph Treidel provides clear evidence that the mound was modified between that time and the present, when the older map is compared to the tell's current contours.  The drastic change in the mound’s shape came as the result of the removal of debris and soil from the tell’s southeastern quadrant during the British Mandate period in order to dry nearby swamps. For the survey, the three areas -- top of the tell, the artificial cut, and the base of the mound --were divided in terms of collection strategies.  On the top of the tell, students made a surface collection and a pit collection separately.  On the slope, the surface collection extended to 15 cm deep in the pit, in an effort to separate some of the slope wash from the actual pit collection and preserve the integrity of the data from the pit collection.   On the bottom of the tell, where the landscape was still somewhat undulating and disturbed by modern interventions, a 10 cm deep surface collection was separated from the pit collection, for the same reasons as previously stated.


3-D Documentation and Recording System@Tel Akko


Key to our reanalysis and publication of Dothan’s excavations in Area A is the development of a fully digitized and 3-D recording system.  In order to manage and analyze mostly unpublished data from 16 years of intensive excavation, as well as data collected during excavation and survey from the renewed archaeological investigations of the Tel Akko Total Archaeology Project, the need for a real time multi-dimensional recording system was realized from the very beginning. All architectural features and paper plans from both the previous and current excavations in Area A were scanned, planned, georectified and digitized.  The project uses a selection of commercially available software packages to maintain, access, and analyze the excavation’s diverse dataset. The programs forming the core of this approach are FileMaker Pro, for database management (HALED); ArcGIS, for geospatial recording; and Agisoft Photoscan, for 3D modeling. Together, these platforms allow for the storage and subsequent deployment of diverse archaeological datasets to address specific research questions.

The most innovative component of our 3-D recording system is the use of Agisoft’s PhotoScan as a photogrammetry program offering a cost-efficient and easy-to-use solution to 3-D modeling needs at multiple scales of interest from individual artifacts, to structures, to entire sites using digital photographs. The flexibility offered at every stage of processing makes Photoscan an ideal tool for excavations seeking to capitalize on the analytical value of quickly produced 3D models in the field, while also cultivating a dataset that lends itself to long term, high-quality documentation efforts.

Agisoft map
3-D map of small portion of the site using Agisoft software. © Tel Akko Excavation Project

 

Though very little has been published concerning the archaeological applications of Photoscan, the program is currently being tested and evaluated by the Tel Akko Total Archaeology Project which employs PhotoScan to undertake visual recording of daily excavation and to facilitate heritage management. Field tests largely focused on a single excavation unit, a 5m square designated RR3, over the two week test period in order to create a relatively stable baseline against which to measure results of various capture strategies. Expanding the scale of tests further, the excavation used aerial photography derived from a balloon mounted platform to produce a high-resolution model of Tel Akko. The resulting model is represented true to form and when superimposed onto the total station generated model found to be accurate.

Conservation and Site Interpretation@Tel Akko:

Conservation Old City Akko
Students do preservation work in the old city of Akko. © Tel Akko Excavation Project
Conservation is considered an integral component of our excavations. From day one, we are working closely, coordinating our excavation plans and strategy together with Israel Antiquities Authority conservators.  Our field school curriculum also includes courses for students in site and artifact conservation, both on the tell and in the UNESCO World Heritage site of Akko’s Old City . Another key component of our Total Archaeology program is the recognition of the multitude of “shareholders” in Tel Akko. These include archaeologists, the Israel Antiquities Authority, the Akko municipality and regional authorities, the various local communities o
Municiple Park
Park entrance showing hill and statue of Napoleon. © Tel Akko Excavation Project
f Akko as well as commercial and development concerns.

Today Tel Akko is a municipal park . Included in our ethical responsibilities is the presentation of our results to the broader public.  The deep section in Area B, bulldozed in the early 1970s, today presents both a conservation and safety concern. One of research and project goals is the preservation and presentation of this deep section which provides a window into Tel Akko’s multi-layered past.  One idea we are currently exploring is a journey into Akko’s past via a time tunnel experience that uses this deep section cut.

 

Community Outreach


Cultural Map
Map of the old city of Akko with culturally important public buildings noted. © Tel Akko Excavation Project

Archaeological sites are also components of modern landscapes and communities.  Our work also incorporates the city’s more recent history and cultures, including Akko’s Old City. During the past decade as part of the Wye River People-to-People program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, we have documented Akko’s rapidly changing communities and architectural landscape, including 18 historic structures and their communities indicated here on the map.  One of the historic buildings we have been documenting over the

Restored Ceiliing
AA restored ceiling in the old city of Akko. Pink backgrounds with floral motifs. © Tel Akko Excavation Project

Another restored wall
Restored wall painting showing image of Istanbul. © Tel Akko Excavation Project

years is the Chammar house, an Ottoman period villa constructed on earlier Crusader structures. We

have recorded a series of oral histories of the descendents who have lived in this house, including the Abdu and Shukri families.  Most recently the upper floors of this Ottoman Period villa have been converted into a boutique hotel, the Efendi Hotel, owned by the famous restaurateur “Uri Buri”. His restoration work included the meticulous conservation and preservation of structure’s fabulous wall and ceiling paintings.

We hope to see you at Akko this summer.

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