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Atlit – Ancient site razed

12 June 2007

Atlit is a town on the shores of Mount Carmel, and is known for its Crusaders castle. The purpose of this castle, called “Castellum Peregrinorum” (castle of the pilgrims), was to protect the pilgrims road along the coast from Acre to Jerusalem, and to add another port for the Crusaders in addition to their main center in Acre. Atlit was the last Crusader outpost in the Holy Land. It is now in ruins and closed to the public. On the sandstone ridge 1KM east to the castle, there are many other ancient sites, such as Khirbet Qarta (a Crusaders police station), ancient rock-cut roads, and the Dustrey water pass (dating to the Roman times). The area was populated by the Phoenicians during the Persian and Hellenistic period.

Emergency excavations were conducted on a small hill, located on the sandstone ridge 20M above sea level, and about 1KM south-east to the castle area. The site was not excavated in the past and dates many centuries earlier to the Crusaders. This whole area, close to the center of the town, is undergoing a new development, and sadly the small hill with its antiquities was recently razed – in prepartion for a new neighborhood, as seen below.

Atlit - site is destroyed

The emergency excavations were conducted in Sep/Oct 2006 by the Israeli Antiquities Authority, and managed by Kamil Sari of the Haifa branch. Kamil compiled a preliminary report, parts of it are reported below.

The team dug into 25 squares of 5M x 5M into 2 areas of the small hill. They unearthed a site from the Hellenistic period, as dated by the ceramics (mostly dated to the 3rd and 4th C BC) and coins (Selucide Kingdom, 2nd C BC). The findings included storage ceramics (amphoras for storage of oil and wine), which were imported from Greece, Cyprus and Israel. The findings also included fishing weights, typical of the towns along the Med sea, and scale weights.

The excavations unearthed two large buildings: a rectangluar house on the south side, and a large round installation on the north side.

The excavated rectangluar house (10.5M by 10.5m) is seen in the photo below. According to the archaelogists, this house was a 2-story farm house, based on the foundation hewn (cut) stones that were found on 3 of its corners. The lower level was used for storage, while the upper level was residential. It was located in the industrial area, outside of the center of the town.

Atlit - emergency excavations - rectangular house

Only the lower layer was found, since the stones were robbed in earlier dates and reused for construction of other buildings.

Atlit - emergency excavations - rectangular house

An important finding was a Columbarium (pigeon breeding cave/house), as seen in the photo below. This is a 10M diameter installation. It was based on unhewn (rough) stones 1.2M wide, with plaster on both sides of the stones. A 1.2M wide wall splits it east to west, and is also covered with non-Hydraulic plaster.

Atlit - emergency excavations - Columbarium

Since only the 0.5M lower section was found, the rest of the installation is missing. However, the experts concluded it was an installation used for breeding pigeons, dated to the 3rd or 4th C BC – the transition from the Persian to the Hellenistic period. On the missing walls used to be holes that housed the pigeons. This makes it the oldest known Columbarium in ancient Israel, since other known installations date back to the end of the 2nd C BC.

Atlit - emergency excavations - Columbarium

Links:

Etymology:

Rotem, Webmaster: Thanks to my uncle, Amnon, who sent us these photos and cared about the lost site; and to Kamil, who shared us with his report.

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