An underwater excavation was conducted in June and November 2002 at the Phoenician harbor of ‘Atlit (License No. G-53/02; map ref. NIG 1941/7345; OIG 1441/2345). The excavation, on behalf of the Institute of Maritime Studies of the University of Haifa, was directed by the late A. Raban and A. Haggai, assisted by N. Liphschitz (archaeobotany) and E. Buarto (14C analyses).
‘Atlit harbor is the only single-period Phoenician harbor, without any later construction remains. The purpose of the excavation was to expose the quay walls down to their foundations and examine the sort and size of the stones used to build the walls and the foundation, as well as to investigate the seabed upon which the quay was constructed. This data should increase our knowledge about Phoenician maritime building techniques. The excavation was focused on two areas in the northern quay: Area K1, located in the middle of the quay, on the inside of the harbor, and Area L––at the eastern end of the quay (Fig. 1).
Area K1. The elevation of the southern quay wall (the inner wall) top course is 2.2 m below sea level; it was built using the ‘header’ method. Ground surface was covered with ashlar stones that fell from the upper courses of the quay’s wall and fieldstones that served as fill material for the core between the two quay walls. Different-sized ashlar stones (0.5 × 0.5 × 0.7–0.5 × 0.5 × 1.0 m) and even narrower ones (0.2–0.3 m), which may have been used in paving the quay, were found.
Wooden wedges were discovered between the quay wall's ashlar stones and the stones that collapsed from its upper courses. On several of the wedges (length c. 5–6 cm) were signs showing they were used lengthwise. The archaeobotanical examination had established that the wooden wedges were of two kinds of wood: the European olive tree that also grows in the country and the cedar of Lebanon, growing only in Lebanon. The cedar of Lebanon wedges were smaller and not as well preserved. It seems that the wooden wedges were used to level the stone courses and straighten the stones. The 14C analyses conducted on several of the wedges have shown that the wood is probably from the end of the nineth century or the beginning of the eighth century BCE. Accordingly, the wedges enable to date the construction of the quay and the establishment of the harbor.
Today, the remains of the quay wall in Area K1 rise to four courses high. The bottom course (elevation -4.2 m) rests on a foundation of flat and round river pebbles that was deposited on the sandy seabed. Geological thin sections performed on the foundation stones had shown that most of them were brought to ‘Atlit from northern Syria and probably from Cyprus as well. The imported river pebbles were basalt, ophiolites and gabbro and their large number indicates the permanent maritime commercial relations, existing between ‘Atlit and northern Syria. Some of the foundation stones were kurkar blocks that probably derived from the local quarries, which were utilized by the builders of the harbor. The remains of one of the quarries are visible today on the western side of the Crusader fortress. The foundation stone layer is located only in those places where the seabed is sandy or muddy; it is intended to prevent the waves from undermining the quays. It covers the entire width of the quay with margins extending c. 2 m in all directions. The western part of the northern quay was built on top of bedrock seabed that was leveled and straightened for that purpose.
Area L. The seabed (depth 5.5–6.5 m below sea level) is covered with a thin layer of sand, shells and small fieldstones, resting atop the clayey soil that is characteristic of the entire region of the Nahal Oren estuary. Large ashlar stones of different sizes (max. size 0.65 × 0.65 × 1.80 m) are scattered on and in the sand, as well as running the entire length of the quay. This section of the quay was built in a different method than that discovered in Area K1, namely fieldstones and semi-hewn stones were piled up into a rampart that rose to c. 2.7–3.5 m high above the seabed.
The bottom layer of the rampart comprised roughly hewn stones that were placed on a foundation of river pebbles. It was superposed with layers of fieldstones discarded by sailing vessels and thus creating a large rampart that was connected to the end of the northern quay. On top of the southern side of the rampart (the inside of the harbor), which was better protected from the wind and the waves, one can see the remains of a meticulously constructed building of ashlar stones (0.65 × 0.65 × 1.80 m).