The remains of a 2,300-year-old naval pier have been uncovered in Acre, adding to the coastal city’s long and varied history by showing it was a substantial port in the Hellenistic period.
The remains, unveiled at the site by the Israel Antiquities Authority on Tuesday, were uncovered by marine archaeologists this month during restoration work on Acre’s southern seawall.
The remains appear to be a dry dock on which ships would have been pulled out of the water for maintenance, according to Kobi Sharvit, the IAA’s chief marine archaeologist. They include a ramp 5 meters (yards) wide between two stone walls, with a groove in the middle to fit the bottom of a ship’s hull and a mooring stone to which a vessel would have been tied.
The archaeologists theorize that the dock is a remnant of the naval port built here by the Ptolemaic dynasty, founded by one of the warring successors of Alexander the Great. Historical records suggest several dozen triremes — long, narrow warships propelled both by rowers and sails — operated out of the Ptolemaic port, Sharvit said.
Toppled stones and other signs of destruction at the port, the archaeologists believe, might date to the fall of the Ptolemaic city to the dynasty’s rivals, the Seleucids, in 219 BCE.
The excavation has also turned up coins and pottery dating to the Hellenistic period. Many of them show the reach of the ancient trade routes around the Mediterranean. One clay fragment displayed Tuesday, the circular bottom of a jug, was decorated with the figure of a winged human figure holding a torch. It reached Acre from the Aegean Sea.
After the Hellenistic period, Acre went on to serve as an important port in the time of the Romans, the early Muslim caliphs, the Crusaders and the Mamluks — yet curiously, no remains of any of those periods exist along the seawall. The existing wall, which was built during the time of Ottoman rule and is less than 200 years old, sits directly atop the 2,300-year-old piers now being uncovered.
This absence puzzles the archaeologists. “The more we dig, the more questions we find,” Sharvit said.
The complex work along Acre’s seawall, begun in 2009, includes divers and dredging equipment and has involved building an earthen berm along several hundred yards of the wall and draining the water to allow the excavation to proceed.
Though it largely remains off of Israel’s beaten tourist track, Acre is one of the country’s richest archaeological sites. The picturesque Old City visible today, which dates to Ottoman times, sits atop a Crusader-era town which is uniquely intact and is now being uncovered and opened to the public.
Two new hotels opened in the city this year, and the number of paying visitors to tourist sites in Acre has risen from 24,000 in 1993 to 440,000 last year, according to the Acre Municipality’s Old Acre Development Company.