Institute of Biblical Archaeology

Middle Bronze Age

In the Middle Bronze Age, Tell el-Burak harboured a monumental public building of considerable archaeological importance. At the beginning of the second millennium B.C. the builders started by erecting an artificial hill: with huge lumps of stone they delimited an area of ca. 100 x 120 m and heaped it up with earth to a height of ca. 15 m above sea-level. In excavation area II, underneath the Iron Age fortification wall, there appeared remains of the Middle Bronze Age retaining wall. The steep slope on the coastal side of the hill was strengthened by an imposing plastered stone-glacis. This architectural element has been corroborated by the excavations conducted on the tell's north slope.

On top of the artificial hill the Middle Bronze Age builders erected a 30 x 40 m large palace made of mud bricks. By the end of the sixth season (2009) 19 rooms and 52 walls of that mud brick palace have been exposed, in part or completely. The following unities of rooms or courtyards stand out in the regular ground-plan (see plan).

As the building was exclusively made of mud bricks, the rising walls and the floors of the rooms are preserved in very few places. Therefore there were only a few finds in situ within the palace. Room 13 showed ceramic finds from the last occupational phase of the building. Room 15 yielded pottery fragments of an earlier occupational phase of the building. Several good 14C samples were retrieved from the layers belonging to the construction phase of the palace. Accordingly – but with a final comparative evaluation of the samples still pending – the palace was erected at the beginning of the second millennium B.C. (Phase 1). Soon after the construct of the palace problems regarding the structural integrity of the building must have come into question. Due to this the lower storeys of rooms 10-17 were backfilled, while the upper storeys of these rooms continued to be in use (Phase 2).

The find situation in room 10 is exceptional. That room was completely backfilled with several fill materials so that its walls are preserved from floor to ceiling. Just as the floor of the room, the walls show a light lime plaster with painting. Until the end of the sixth season 2009 it was only possible to lay bare a small part of the inner walls of Room 10. The paintings are only partially preserved, yet the evaluation of the trace remnants of paint is not yet finished. But it is already obvious that the floor and the walls were painted in several colours, following a concept that encompassed the entire room and included a complex geometric design and figural and mythological elements. The following themes and motifs were recognized:

The palace on the artificial hill of Tell el-Burak was not surrounded by a settlement but rose as a free-standing structure in the coastal plain south of Sidon. The building of the palace can only have been commissioned by the Middle Bronze Age city-king of near-by Sidon. In ancient times, the centre of the metropolis was within sight from the fortress-like palace on top of the man-made hill of Tell el-Burak.

The unique findings of the excavations at Tell el-Burak give testimony of the flowering of culture in Middle Bronze Age Sidon, of the prosperity of the harbour-town in those times, and of the cultural connections with other regions of the Mediterranean in the second millennium B.C.