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Ancient Fortifications Built Around Assyrian Harbor Uncovered

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Aug 22, 2013 12:43 PM EDT
Artificial Harbor Fortification
This image represents a 3D rendering of the ancient fortification dating back to the Iron Age built around an artificial harbor. The discovery was made in the city of Ashdod, located 20 miles south of Tel Aviv. (Photo : Philip Sapirstein)

A team of researchers say they have unearthed the remains of ancient fortifications built around an Iron Age Assyrian harbor located in the coastal city of Ashdod, some 20 miles south of Tel Aviv.

Dating back to the eighth century BC, the crescent-shaped structure covered more than 17 acres back when it was built, and includes at its heart a mud-brick wall 12 feet wide and 15 feet high with layers of mud and sand stretching for hundreds of feet on either side.

"An amazing amount of time and energy was invested in building the wall and [embankments]," project leader Alexander Fantalkin of Tel Aviv University said in a statement.

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According to Fantalkin, the fortifications appear to have been constructed in order to protect an artificial harbor, or a harbor constructed through a number of engineering projects, such as sea walls and breakwaters.

"If so, this would be a discovery of international significance, the first known harbor of this kind in our corner of the Levant," the researcher said.

During the time the fortifications were built, the Assyrians ruled the southeastern region of the Mediterranean basin. According to Assyrian inscriptions, the rebel king of Ashdod, known as Yamani, led a rebellion against Sargon II, the king of the Assyrian Empire, toward the end of the century. The Assyrians responded with a vengeance, quickly quelling the uprising.

However, while it appears that the newly discovered fortifications were somehow related to these events, whether or not they came before or after the rebellion is unclear. Currently, researchers remain divided. Jacob Kaplan, an archaeologist who conducted a dig in the area between 1965 and 1968, argues that the rebels built them in preparation of an Assyrian attack. Fantalkin contends the construction represents an undertaking far too great to have been conducted under such circumstances.

Ruins dating back to a time period that stretched between the fourth and second centuries BC were identified on top of the sand of the Iron Age fortifications, including buildings and walls that appear to have been built after the fortifications were abandoned and perhaps destroyed by an earthquake during the latter half of the second century BC.

In order to carry out a thorough analysis of the site, the researchers used photogrammetry, a new digital technique used to create a 3D reconstruction of the features of the excavation.

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