The excavations of Tell Burak aim at investigating a Bronze and Iron Age settlement on the coast of Lebanon. Occasional finds from the site suggested that new light could be shed on the culture of the Phoenician homeland.
Tell Burak is situated 9 km south of Saida (ancient Sidon) and some 50 km south of Beirut. It is located directly on the sea-shore.
The ancient name of Tell Burak has not been identified. Given its position between ancient Sidon and Sarepta and given its settlement history - roughly established on the basis of datable pottery finds - it is highly probable that the site was a satellite of the Sidonian metropolis. Tell Burak was settled at least since the beginning of the 2nd millennium BC and was occupied until the middle of the 1st mill. BC. Uncovered archaeological structures were tentatively dated to the Middle Bronze Age, to Iron Age II and III as well as to Ottoman times. Two neo-Assyrian kings of the 7th c. BC, Sanherib and Asarhaddon, who conquered the Phoenician coast, mention in their annals cities belonging to Sidon. Later, toponyms located along the Phoenician coast are found in the works of Roman authors like Strabo and Pliny. There has been several attempts to identify Tell Burak: among the proposed identifications are Ornithonpolis, Bit-Supuri, Enhydra, Little Sidon and Kar Asarhaddon, the latter two being the most likely.
The Lebanese coast is the heart of the Phoenician motherland. Famous Phoenician cities like Tyre, Sidon or Byblos are situated on the coast. Many of them have been developed to modern cities. Ancient settlements are often sealed or destroyed by modern urbanization. Investigations can take place just in small sections. Abandonned since a very long time, Tell Burak is one of the rare Lebanese coastal sites that are preserved intact. During the Phoenician period Tell Burak seems to have been part of greater Sidon. Its small size but favorable geographical situation might indicate that it served not as an independent center of power but rather as a settlement with special functions within the Sidonian kingdom. Recent investigations show a long settlement history. Here, for the first time, Middle Bronze Age occupation layers are attested in Lebanon south of Sidon. Phoenician and Persian Iron Age occupation is also documented.
The purpose of the excavations as well as that of related research on Tell Burak is to understand the function of the site and its interaction with its environment through time. Since the Phoenician Iron Age period is archaeologically nearly unknown in the heartland of Phoenicia, the results of the Tell Burak excavations are likely to yield badly needed new information. Furthermore they may allow us to understand the changes that occured in the passage from of a Bronze Age settlement to a Phoenician functional village.
At the beginning of the 1970's, the archaeological site was briefly examined by Ibrahim Kawkabani on behalf of the Directorate General of Antiquities of Lebanon. This was followed by a survey of surface finds and topographical mapping of the settlement and the surrounding area, carried out by Prof. Dr. Helene Sader (American University of Beirut), Dr. Uwe Finkbeiner (University of Tübingen, Germany) and Dr. Beate Salje (then scientific member of the Oriental Department of the German Archaeological Institute, Berlin). The survey, mainly the collection of diagnostic sherds, proved the existence of a Phoenician and Persian period settlement on the mound.
Excavations on Tell Burak started in the fall of 2001. They are a joint venture of the American University of Beirut and the University of Tübingen. The Oriental Department of the German Archaeological Institute is responsible for special archaeological operations requiring the use of specialized technical and scientific equipment.
Excavations are carried out on the summit, on the southwestern slope as well as on the foot of the mound. Excavations were complemented in September 2001 by an underwater exploration, in September 2002 by a geophysical survey and in 2004 by drillings for interpretation of the geomorphological development of the Lebanese coast.
Research on Tell Burak is part of the students training at the American University of Beirut. For the first time after the civil war in Lebanon, Archaeology students have the possiblity to be trained in archaeological fieldwork on a regular base.
Surface levels on the Tell summit yielded remains of a stone building of which only the foundations were preserved. On the basis of the ceramic evidence, it could be dated to the Ottoman period. In 2002 this building was removed in order to unearth a much larger building lying underneath. Already in 2001 large parts of a huge mudbrick building were uncovered. In the meantime it can be complemented to a building with a square ground plan of ca. 41 m x 32 m. The discovery of a grave with several burials which clearly belongs to the Middle Bronze Age and a number of 14C-dates may indicate an earlier date for the latter. One of the rooms is exceptionally good preserved. Probably after its closing artificially refilled, there are wall paintings preserved. They show figurative motives like animals and plants, which are framed by geometric arranged lines.
Outside the building a pebble glacis covers the slopes of the mound. It was uncovered in two excavation areas some 20 m southwest of the mudbrick building. There were found architectural remains built on the glacis and three occupation layers were identified. The second layer yielded well-preserved remains of Iron Age II-III.
At the southern foot of Tell Burak a huge enclosure wall came to light. This very solid wall served during several building levels as a fortification for the tell. Different building techniques as well as several repairs and reinforcements attest of its long use. The available evidence suggests that its oldest phases date to Iron Age I. Further information are available from the homepage of the project.
A geophysical prospection of the site by caesium-magnetometer aimed further excavations of the Middle Bronze Age palace. On the eastern slope of the hill, several radial structured long walls were identified, which belong to the fortification wall system excavated at the southern foot of the hill. On a low plateau immediately south of Tell Burak there were indications of an occupation the date of which remains unknown.
Underwater investigations yielded some evidence explaining why the area of Tell el Burak was chosen for the establishment of a settlement on the coast. As is typical of Phoenician settlements, a rock formation which served as a natural breakwater was found at some distance in the sea. The natural rock was in some parts modified by man to obtain a better anchorage.
The palaeogeographical situation of Tell Burak was investigated by analysing the drill cores. The result of the analysis is that the sea has reached its highest level today, even though it differs nonessential in the Middle Bronze Age. Tell Burak was established on a natural hill of a Pleistocene aeolianite formation, which brought seawards shelter against enemies.
The project is carried out in cooperation with the American University of Beirut (Prof. Dr. Hélène Sader, Department of History and Archaeology), Dr. Uwe Finkbeiner (Altorientalisches Seminar, Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen) and Prof. Dr. Jens Kamlah (Biblisch-Archäologisches Institut, Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen).
For further information, please contact Prof. Dr. J. Kamlah.
Professor Hélène Sader
American University of Beirut
Department of History and Archaeology
Riad el-Solh Beirut 1107 2020
Prof. Dr. Jens Kamlah
Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen
J. Kamlah - H. Sader, The Tell el-Burak Archaeological Project. Preliminary Report on the 2002 and 2003 Seasons, Bulletin d'Archéologie et d'Architecture Libanaises 7 (2003) 145 - 173; U. Finkbeiner - H. Sader et al., The Tell el-Burak Archaeological Project. A Preliminary Report on the 2001 Season, Bulletin d'Archéologie et d'Architecture Libanaises 5 (2001) 173 - 194; H. Sader, Tell el Burak. An Unidentified City of Phoenician Sidon, in: B. Pongratz-Leisten - H. Kühne - P. Xella (Hrsg.), Ana sadi Labnani lu allik. Beiträge zu altorientalischen und mittelmeerischen Kulturen. Festschrift für Wolfgang Röllig, Alter Orient und Altes Testament 247 (1997) 363 - 375.