By M. Christine Walters

The Little Phoenician Juglet

What could be more wonderful than finding an almost perfect little juglet that has been buried for thousands of years, the very first week of my dig in Akko! Yes, I carefully dug out of the side of the wall within my square this beautiful little jug with only a small chip along the lip opening. Otherwise it was so perfect, filled with dirt and debris. It was like a little animal caught, but looking up at me with longing eyes saying, “free me, free me!” It was such a thrill to find it all intact, since so much of the pottery was broken and smashed around me in the square.

This experience is a once-in-a-lifetime drama that everyone should try. The reality of how hard it is to dig: the heat, the dirt, the bending over and heavy lifting, over and over and over just to find that one special find, fills you with refreshed enthusiasm. It is truly indescribable. A person has to feel it, do it, experience it, overcome it in order to understand the thrill of the hunt.

I am grateful for my early years of farm girl lifestyle which included chores of all kinds like gardening, plowing, and digging. So, I feel right at home with the tools. Years of shoveling out animal stalls and barnyard areas come back to me as we work around the dig. It is comfortable, but the passing of many years presents new obstacles to overcome. My knees don’t bend. My hips hurt. My stamina is just not there, and that frustrates me. I watch the young people around me jump into their work with such passion and focus. I miss those days of feeling like I can handle this job and get the site cleared TODAY!

Yes, the little juglet will always be MY little juglet because I was the first one to release it, to have it see the sun again after being in the dark dirt so very long. I have made a contribution I will always remember.


By Evan Taylor

Community Archaeology, Outreach, and the Old City

Community Archaeology, Outreach, and the Old City

By Elena Sesma (Anthropology, UMass Amherst) and Evan Taylor (Anthropology, UMass Amherst)

Community archaeology is a spectrum of engagement and collaboration with local people who live at, in, and around a research site. Here at the Tel Akko project, the community archaeology and outreach program brings together local teens and field school students to work towards understanding contemporary life, heritage, and material culture in this unique place. Over two weeks, we learned the importance of conservation in a coastal city built in vulnerable sandstone through workshops with local conservator and stone mason Saleem Amer; we talked about the cultural and heritage values placed in this uniquely diverse and beautiful city through tours led by local residents, professional archaeologists, and conservationists; and we studied the ancient and recent past of Akko/’Akka through archaeology and conversations with people who study and live in this place. These varied activities exemplify what it means to do community archaeology today: learning with and from local or descendant communities, and contributing to a common goal, in this case sharing the stories of life in Akko/’Akka in the past and present.

Over the past few years, the community outreach program has integrated Photovoice into its basic structure. Photovoice is a method used by many anthropologists to highlight local understandings of place through photography and storytelling. Some use it as a research method, but in our case Photovoice is a tool for cultivating relationships between local communities and the archaeological project. The basic idea is to enable participants to share their own perspective on a place or on a special topic by giving them cameras to document how they see the world around them, sometimes with prompts and sometimes with little instruction. In this case, participants in our Photovoice tour had the following prompts: “This place is important to me”; “I want to know more about this place”; “I would take a visitor to this place”; “I would change something about this place”. Many of the photos from this tour correspond with these prompts, while others were produced for different reasons. Ultimately all photos were taken because the participant wanted to share their experience, knowledge, or curiosity about something.


This year, we expanded the Photovoice exercise into a digital map that can be saved and shared more widely than within our group alone. Using Google Tour Builder, we have compiled the photos and stories from our tour and placed them on a map of Akko/’Akka. Anyone with the link can take a tour of the city through the eyes of those who live here (our teen participants) and those who have come to know it in recent weeks (our American field school students). These photos, stories, and occasional audio recordings help to populate the city’s map for people who might not be familiar with the landscape. The tour is also valuable for residents and frequent visitors to the city who want to see their local values and histories represented through familiar eyes and with familiar narratives. Tour Builder is a flexible platform that will allow us to add more content to the map as the program develops in future seasons.


An especially neat feature of this exercise was the overlapping stories that began to emerge as we toured the Old City. Often a participant would lead us to one site for a particular reason, and when we arrived we found out that this same location represented another unique story or memory to another person. The digital tour does its best to represent the many layers of memory and value that our participants attached to each site. The sites included in this tour range from family homes, to favorite bakeries, to religious sites, to the excavation site on the Tel. We invite you to take a tour of Akko/’Akka and see what makes this city so meaningful to those who call it home for a lifetime or for the summer.

Explore these sights and sounds at the Google Tour Builder site here.

Note: All photos are shared with permission from their creators.


By Dr Melissa Rosenzweig

Crops of Tel Akko

In this post I am going to run through some of the most common domesticated plant species that we find in the archaeological record at Tel Akko.  These taxa give us a good sense of the economic plants used at Tel Akko, particularly for food.

The two most prolific crops at Tel Akko, from all the historical periods excavated thus far, are olive (Olea europaea) and grape (Vitis vinifera).  Fun fact: The grape pips we recover occasionally show up mineralized, rather than charred.  This means people ate these seeds, which then calcified as they passed through the human gut (Green 1979).


















Cereals were also staples at Tel Akko.  We find grains of barley (Hordeum sp.) and different varieties of wheat (Triticum spp.).  Wheat would have been the preferred grain for people to eat, while barley would have been consumed by humans and fed to animals as fodder.

A handful of pulses, which comprise beans and peas, are found in the Tel Akko excavations.  They include lentil (Lens culinaris), common pea (Pisum sativum), and bitter vetch (Vicia ervilia).  Fun fact: Bitter vetch is considered a famine crop because it has to be boiled in order to be safe and palatable for human consumption (Zohary and Hopf 2000: 116).  However, this legume was also a popular fodder crop for livestock, who ate it as-is without any harmful side effects.







Other plants that round out our picture of cultivated crops at Tel Akko include fig (Ficus carica), safflower (Carthamus sp.), and flax (Linum usitatissimum).  Fun facts: We only have a few finds of safflower thus far.  But these seeds provide tantalizing links to maritime contacts with the Egyptians, who grew and prized safflower for both its oil (used in cooking) and red dye (used in cloth production) (Marinova and Riehl 2009: 345-6).  We have recovered just two (two!) flax seeds so far, but these plants were also important sources of oil (linseed) and linen for textiles.  They are hard to find archaeologically because their rich oil content makes them susceptible to ashing, rather than charring, when exposed to fire.  By the first millennium BCE, safflower and flax were largely (but not entirely) replaced by the red/purple dye of Murex shellfish and sheep wool for textiles.  And as it turns out, we have a fair amount of Murex shells and sheep bones (Ovis sp.) at Tel Akko.



















Works Cited

Green, Francis J. (1979) Phosphatic mineralization of seeds from archaeological sites. Journal of Archaeological Science 6: 279-284.

Margaritis, Evi and Martin Jones (2008) Olive oil production in Hellenistic Greece: The interpretation of charred olive remains from the site of Tria Platania, Macedonia, Greece. Vegetation History and Archaeobotany 17: 393-401.

Marinova, Elena and Simone Riehl (2009) Carthamus species in the ancient Near East and south-eastern Europe: Archaeobotanical evidence for their distribution and use as a source of oil. Vegetation History and Archaeobotany 18: 341-9.

Zohary, Daniel and Maria Hopf (2000) Domestication of Plants in the Old World.  Oxford: Oxford University Press.


By Emily Holt

Cows’ Ankles and Urchin Spines: A Day of Zooarchaeology at Tel Akko

My alarm went off at 4:15 am today. Work starts early at Tel Akko, and I like to run in the morning to wake myself up and collect my thoughts. When I open the lab at 5:30 am, I’m feeling alert and ready to meet the past. And it’s a good thing, too, because my tables are covered with piles of fragmented animal bones. It looks more like a mess than information.

I’m the zooarchaeologist at Tel Akko this year, and it’s my job to identify, record, and interpret the animal remains recovered by the excavations. Animal remains are an extremely common find on archaeological projects, and they provide a wealth of information about diet, economy, environment, social status, mobility, and other aspects of ancient cultures that archaeologists work to understand. But getting from broken bits of bone to a reconstruction of something like ethnic differences in food choice is a complex and painstaking process.

How does zooarchaeological analysis begin? One bone at a time. I examine each bone or bone fragment for

the shapes and features that would allow me to identify it to species – if I’m lucky – or as close to species as possible. All kinds of factors come into play when I make these identifications. For example, an astragalus (ankle bone) of a cow has basically the same shape as the astragalus of a sheep or goat, but of course it’s much bigger. Telling the difference between the astragali of sheep and goats is much more difficult – only a few parts of the bone are different, and it’s best if all of them are preserved for me to make a really secure identification. Often this can’t be done, and I’ll record a bone as “sheep or goat.” That particular bone won’t help me tell if Akko ever developed an intensive wool-producing industry, but it will contribute to answering other questions, such as how food preferences at the site changed over time with the influence of new ethnic groups. Zooarchaeological analysis is many-layered, and the only way to get at all the questions we’d like to answer is by collecting a lot of data.

Every bone fragment provides some kind of data – even those that are unidentifiable. Unidentifiable bones can still show evidence of being chewed by carnivores, often an indication of the presence of dogs on the site. Similarly, many bone fragments preserve evidence of rodent gnawing. Some bones may preserve cut marks and help us understand ancient butchery practices (one of my favorite studies in zooarchaeology uses differences in butchering practices to look at inter-ethnic marriage in the ancient world*). Burned bone fragments can tell us about both cooking and trash disposal.

Even tiny bones are important sources of information, and some of the bones I study at Tel Akko are very tiny indeed. These are the bones recovered through the process of flotation – taking samples of excavated sediment and processing them with water to extract carbonized plant remains and other tiny finds. The resulting animal remains are often only a few millimeters in size, but they can be one of our most important sources of information for the use of marine resources and the presence of reptiles, amphibians, and small mammals like mice on the site. If you’re not sure what mice have to do with understanding the past, check out this excellent study.

Zooarchaeology takes a long time, and today I worked seven hours before lunch and still feel like I’ve barely made a dent. After lunch, I’ll attend a lecture by another of the specialists at the site and then spend two hours washing the new bones that have come in from the last few days of excavation. At this point in the season, it feels impossible. I have to take a deep breath and remind myself that no matter how daunting it looks, it will all get done in the end. And when it does, we’ll be thousands of fragments closer to understanding the past at Tel Akko.



* Gil J. Stein. 2012. Food Preparation, Social Context, and Ethnicity in a Prehistoric Mesopotamian Colony. In S. R. Graff and E. Rodríguez-Alegría (eds.), The Menial Art of Cooking: Archaeological Studies of Cooking and Food Preparation, pp. 47-63. University Press of Colorado, Boulder.

The Little Phoenician Juglet
Community Archaeology, Outreach, and the Old City
Studying conservation in old Akko
Crops of Tel Akko
Tel Akko's Eye of Horus
The Eye of Horus watching over Tel Akko
Cows’ Ankles and Urchin Spines: A Day of Zooarchaeology at Tel Akko