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The lost soda of the biblical Shikmona has been revealed

Among other things, on the site, located on the Carmel coast, is the first facility discovered so far from the biblical period for the production of luxurious crimson clothes

Artifacts from the First Temple period discovered at Tel Shekmona. Photo: Haifa University
Artifacts from the First Temple period discovered at Tel Shekmona. Photo: Haifa University

Forgotten archaeological findings from the 60s and 70s reveal a wonderful secret: the first facility discovered so far from the Biblical period for the production of luxurious crimson clothing is located in Tel Shekmona, in southern Haifa. "Until now, no direct archaeological evidence has been found for factories for the production of crimson-dyed textiles from the Iron Age, which is the biblical period - not even in Tire and Sidon, which were the great Phoenician centers of crimson production. If our identification is correct, Tel Shikmona on the Carmel coast becomes one of the unique archaeological sites in our region," said Prof. Ayelet Gilboa and research student Golan Shloy from the University of Haifa, who began to investigate the forgotten finds that reveal the secret of Tel Shikmona.

Tel Shekmona, located on a small coastal mound in the southern outskirts of Haifa, is known mainly for the Byzantine settlement around it, with magnificent mosaics. The settlement from the Iron Age (between the 11th and 6th centuries BCE), that is, the period of the United Kingdom (Saul, David and Solomon) and the period of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, is a very small settlement located right on top of the mound. Its size is about five dunams in total out of the 100 dunams of the Byzantine city at its peak. This area of ​​the mound was thoroughly excavated between 1963-1977 by Dr. Yosef Elgabish on behalf of the Haifa Museum, with the active support of the mayor at the time, Abba Khushi, and was known among archaeologists and experts for the rich material found there. However, for various reasons most of the findings were never published in scientific journals and most of them were hidden from the eyes of the researchers.

The inability to examine the findings meant that a great deal of mystery surrounded the small biblical settlement: the reason for the location of the small mound was never completely clear to archaeologists, and this is because the rugged coastline that abuts the mound does not allow safe mooring. The areas around the mound are not fertile, so agriculture could not have been the reason for settling there either. In addition, according to what is written in the Bible, it is common to think that in biblical times the coast of Carmel was under Israeli hegemony and at Tel even an enclosure wall and a house of four spaces were identified, which are accepted in research as belonging to Israeli culture. However, according to the few findings that were published, the researchers knew that pottery was found at the site that was not of Israeli origin but from other regions such as Cyprus.

Artifacts from the First Temple period discovered at Tel Shekmona. Photo: Haifa University
Artifacts from the First Temple period discovered at Tel Shekmona. Photo: Haifa University

Now, after Prof. Gilboa and research student Golan Shloy were finally given access to the "lost" findings of Dr. Elgabish, it is possible that Shakmona's secret is beginning to be revealed. According to them, two things immediately stand out from the hundreds of pottery vessels and pottery fragments found waiting on the shelves of the archives: this is a great wealth of finds belonging to the Phoenician culture and unusual quantities of imported vessels that arrived from overseas. For example, the largest number of vessels from the "black on red" family that originated there is found in Shekmona ever found outside of Cyprus. The second find was even more amazing: the largest number of pottery basins in the world in the context of the first millennium BC on which a crimson color of various shades has been preserved. A chemical test conducted by Dr. Naama Soknik, Curator of Organic Materials at the Antiquities Authority, in collaboration with a team of researchers from Bar Ilan University, Dr. David Ilouz, Dr. Alexander Vervak ​​and Prof. Zohar Amar, proved that it is indeed a true crimson color, That is, one produced from marine snails. "It is rare to find fragments of vessels from this period with crimson color on them. Such findings were found along the northern coast of Israel, but they are few. And here, in Shekmona, the number of these pots approaches 30. This is an unusual finding," said the researchers. Along with the evidence of crimson production, dozens of flech and tuye weights were discovered, indicating the production of wool and textiles that were dyed on the spot.

A small stop to explain about the color of crimson in biblical times: the most prestigious fabrics in biblical times were those dyed in the legendary crimson color produced from the glands of marine snails from the scarlet family. Since thousands of snails were needed to produce one kilo of dye, wearing crimson clothes became a symbol of nobility and royalty - synonymous with the crown and power - and in many kingdoms ordinary citizens were forbidden to wear them. The secret of the production of crimson and its dyeing has been well kept, and even today the complex production process of antiquity is not precisely known.

Thanks to the findings that have now been rediscovered, the researchers offer a new perspective to the understanding of Shakmona. The small isolated site was not a village, and in fact was not a settlement at all, but a fortified factory for the production of crimson and the dyeing of fabrics and wool. Now the location on the jagged rocky shore without a convenient mooring option makes sense: it is an excellent habitat for the crimson snails and here you could collect them by the thousands. The predominantly Phoenician material culture of the site also makes sense: the inhabitants (or more precisely, the workers) were connected to the cultural space and information networks of the Phoenicians - who were the ones who controlled the secret of scarlet production. Since crimson dyed fabrics were products that drove trading networks, the Cypriot pottery left by merchants who came to trade crimson and dyed fabrics were found at the site. "Until today, no production center of the color that can be associated with the beginning of the Phoenician culture has been discovered. We know that there were production centers in Tire and Sidon, and even thousands of scarlet shells were found there, but the production centers themselves and no direct evidence of the color itself have yet been found. Our identification of the nature and function of Shekmona makes it the first production center found from this period and certainly one of the main ones, and thus from a rather forgotten area, the Carmel Coast once again takes its rightful place as one of the most important areas for scarlet production in antiquity in general and in the biblical period in particular", concluded the researchers.

And what about the Israeli identification of the place? "Today it is already clear to us that the closing wall and the house of four spaces are not typical only for Israel and Judea. The Phoenicians even transferred the method of building enclosure walls to their colonies in the west, for example to Spain and Portugal. However, it is clear to us that the reality was certainly much more complex and more in-depth research is required in order to understand the nature of the site and the people who worked on it", concluded the researchers.

The Shekmona project takes place under the auspices of the Zinman Institute for Archeology at the University of Haifa, supported by the Antiquities Authority and the National Maritime Museum in Haifa. Today, some of the findings are displayed in the exhibition "Blue" at the Museum of the Biblical Lands in Jerusalem, as part of the celebrations of 70 years of independence for the State of Israel.

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