Lebanon’s seabed yields its historic secrets

Updated 19 April 2019

Lebanon’s seabed yields its historic secrets

  • Divers find pottery and stone in shipwrecks dating back 2,300 years
  • Discoveries are from Alexander the Great’s siege of Tyre in 332 BC

BEIRUT: Forty meters down, on the Mediterranean seabed off the coast of Lebanon, the divers knew they were looking at history.

Among the shipwrecks they investigated this month at 11 sites south of the city of Tyre, they found pottery and stone that had been there for more than 2,300 years.

“The shape of the pottery confirms that it dates back to more than 332 BC,” said the Lebanese archaeologist Dr. Jafar Fadlallah.

Mohammed Al-Sargi, captain of the diving team that found the wrecks, is even more certain. “The pottery and stone found on these wooden ships indicate that they were part of the campaign of Alexander the Great, who in 332 BC attempted to capture the city of Tyre, which was then an island,” he said.

“According to the history books, Alexander built a causeway linking the mainland to the island. These vessels might have been used to transport the stone required for the construction of the road, but due to the heavy loads and storms, they might have sunk.”

UNESCO recognized the archaeological importance of Tyre in 1979, when it added the city to its list of World Heritage Sites. Lebanon’s Directorate of Antiquities, in cooperation with European organizations, has carried out extensive excavations since the 1940s to uncover its historical secrets. They have revealed that the ancient maritime city included residential neighborhoods, public baths, sports centers, and streets paved with mosaics. The discoveries date back to the Phoenician, Roman and Byzantine periods.

During the Phoenician era, Tyre played an important role as it dominated maritime trade. It contributed to the establishment of commercial settlements around the Mediterranean and the spread of religions in the ancient world. It also resisted occupation by the Persians and the Macedonians, choosing to remain neutral in the struggle between the two bitter enemies. However, Macedonian king Alexander the Great considered gaining control of the island and establishing a naval base there to be a key to victory in the war, and he set out in January 332 BC to conquer it at any cost.

The area in which the diving team discovered the wrecks is “an underwater desert with no valleys or seaweed, a few hundred meters from the coast of Tyre,” said Al-Sargi.

“We found 11 sites, some of them close to each other and others far apart. In each location, there were piles of stones and broken pots.

“We continued to explore the sites quietly to keep away fishermen and uninvited guests. We sought the help of archaeologists, who assured us that the discovery rewrites the history of the city, and specifically the campaign of Alexander the Great. So, we decided to put the discovery in the custody of the General Directorate of Antiquities for further exploration and interpretation.”

The most recent find, which Al-Sargi described as a “time capsule,” is only the latest important discovery made by the team in Lebanon.

“In 1997, the divers discovered the submerged city of Sidon,” Al-Sargi continued. “In 2001, we discovered the city of Yarmouta opposite the Zahrani area. In 1997, we discovered sulfuric water in the Sea of Tyre. We conducted studies on fresh-water wells in the sea off the city coast.

“We are not archaeologists and we cannot explain what we have seen. Our role is to inspect and report to the relevant Lebanese authorities and abide by the law.”

Fadlallah, an archaeologist with 40 years experience of working at Lebanon’s ancient sites, picks up the story to explain what he believes to be the significance of the discovery at Tyre.

“The sites are about 700 meters from where Tyre beach was when it was an island,” he said. “The piles of stones were 50 meters to 200 meters apart and the pots seemed to have been broken by a collision because there was not one left intact. This means that these stones and pots were on ships and there was a violent collision between them.”

He said that studies of the remains of the pots suggest that they are of Greek origin.

“There are various forms of them,” he said, “and it is clear that the ships that were carrying them were related to the ships of Alexander the Great during his campaign on Tyre, and they appear to have been hit by storms.”

There are, of course, always skeptics — among them Dr. Ali Badawi, director of archaeological sites in the south at Lebanon’s General Directorate of Antiquities. The pots alone did not constitute sufficient “evidence that the ships belonged to the campaign of Alexander the Great,” he said.

“What was published by the captain of the divers contains unclear details, and the subject should be based on scientific explanations. I think that the sea is wide and piracy was possible at the sites of the submerged ships.

“Exploration operations are taking place in the breakwater area, involving a French mission and Lebanese archaeologists. Before that, a Spanish expedition along with marine archaeologists participated in examining the remains of a ship dating back to the BC era.

“Ship exploration is very expensive, and the city of Tyre was subjected to numerous military siege campaigns and many ships sank. But this does not mean that we will not investigate this new discovery, according to the instructions of the minister of culture.”

 


UN tries to salvage Libya talks after Tripoli govt withdraws

Updated 20 February 2020

UN tries to salvage Libya talks after Tripoli govt withdraws

  • Salame was trying to convince the Tripoli delegation to stay in Geneva and resume indirect talks

GENEVA/CAIRO: The UN tried to salvage talks over a cease-fire for Libya on Wednesday after the government based in Tripoli said it was pulling out after a single day to protest against the shelling of the capital’s port.

Talks began on Tuesday in Geneva between the internationally recognized Tripoli government and its main rivals, the eastern-based Libya National Army (LNA), which has been trying to take the capital.

Late on Tuesday, the government said it would suspend its participation after the LNA shelled Tripoli port in the latest of several strategic plays by troops loyal to eastern commander Khalifa Haftar that have coincided with attempts to ease tensions.

Delegations in Geneva

UN Libya envoy Ghassan Salame was trying to convince the Tripoli delegation to stay in Geneva and resume indirect talks, a source close to the talks said and the UN confirmed.

“Delegations are still here (in Geneva) and Dr. Salame has a meeting today with the head of the GNA delegation,” said Jean El-Alam, spokesman for the UN Libya mission, referring to the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord. 

“The mission leadership is in contact with the GNA in Tripoli and member states to keep the momentum going.”

In a separate statement, the UN mission said it was “expressing its strong and renewed condemnation of the bombing of Tripoli’s seaport yesterday by the Libyan National Army.” 

There was no immediate comment from either side. 

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu met with Haftar and they discussed to resolve the conflict in the north African state, the ministry said in a statement.

They agreed a political settlement is the only option for Libya, according to RIA news agency.

Shoigu and Haftar also discussed “the important role of talks” held in Moscow in January as well as “the need to fulfil” terms agreed at an international summit in Berlin later last month, Moscow said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday that outside players should push both sides in Libya to sit down for peace talks.

“All those who in one way or another influence political or other forces in Libya should stimulate them to sit down for talks. The first steps in this direction were taken but now additional difficulties are coming up again,” Lavrov said while meeting his Jordanian counterpart Ayman Safadi in Moscow, RIA Novosti news agency reported.

Nearly nine years after rebel fighters backed by NATO airstrikes overthrew Muammar Qaddafi, Libya still has no central authority. The streets are controlled by armed groups, with rival governments based in Tripoli and the east.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu met with Haftar and they agreed a political settlement is the only option for Libya, according to RIA news agency.

• Since the LNA marched on Tripoli nearly a year ago, fighting has displaced 150,000 people.

Since the LNA marched on Tripoli nearly a year ago, fighting has displaced 150,000 people. Both sides have support from an array of foreign governments, with Turkey supporting the Tripoli government.

The Geneva meetings have so far been held in different rooms, with Salame shuttling between the parties. Another round of talks is scheduled next week in Geneva.

The latest attack is part of an emerging pattern amounting to an apparent power play by the commander.

Haftar’s forces last month shut down Libya’s main oil ports as European and Arab powers and the US were meeting with his supporters in Berlin aimed at halting the campaign to capture the capital. 

In 2019, eastern military forces moved to western Libya just as UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres arrived.

The LNA initially said its strikes on Tuesday had targeted a Turkish vessel bringing weapons. It later said it had hit an arms depot.

The port is the main entry gate for wheat, fuel and other imports for Tripoli and has also been used by Turkey to send military trucks and other equipment to its government allies.

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