According to an August 19 news release from American Friends of Tel Aviv University, researchers from the Israeli academic institution have excavated the remnants of gigantic ancient fortifications constructed in defense of an Iron Age Assyrian harbor in Ashdod, Israel. A 12-foot by 15-feet mud-brick wall forms the heart of the crescent shape fortifications, which were constructed in 800 B.C. and cover over 17 acres, and extends for hundreds of feet on either side.
The discovery came at the conclusion of the first excavation season at the Ashdod-Yam archeological dig, south of Tel Aviv. Leading the project is Tel Aviv University’s Doctor Alexander Fantalkin, of the Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures, on behalf of the Sonia and Marco Nadler Institute of Archaeology.
Commenting on the find, Fantalkin said, “The fortifications appear to protect an artificial harbor. If so, this would be a discovery of international significance, the first known harbor of this kind in our corner of the Levant.”
The Assyrians controlled the southeastern portion of the Mediterranean basin at the time the fortifications were built. According to Assyrian inscriptions, at the end of the century, the rebel king of Ashdod, Yamani, led an insurrection against Sargon II, king of the Assyrian Empire. Yamani fruitlessly attempted to convince the Kingdom of Judah, ruled by King Hezekiah, to join the rebellion.
In a violent response to the insurrection, the Assyrians eventually destroyed Philistine Ashdod. Accordingly, control moved to the nearby area of Ashdod-Yam, where the TAU excavations are now taking place. According to archeologists, the fortifications appear to be related to these events, but it is not yet clear how. The fortifications could have been built prior to or after the Ashdod rebellion was put down, either at the enterprise of the locals, or at the orders of the Assyrians.
According to Fantalkin, “An amazing amount of time and energy was invested in building the wall and glacis [embankments].”
The scholars engaged a potent new digital technique, photogrammetry, to create a 3D reconstruction of excavation, using equipment proffered by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Doctor Philip Sapirstein, a postdoctoral fellow at TAU, functioned as a digital surveyor on the assignment.
Previously completed archeological digs at Ashdod-Yam was a series of probing digs led by late Israeli archaeologist Doctor Jacob Kaplan on behalf of the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Museum of Antiquities from 1965 to 1968. Kaplan alleged the Ashdod rebels fabricated the fortifications in anticipation of an Assyrian attack; however, Fantalkin stated that the construction appears too remarkable to have been done under such circumstances.