Tell ‘Acharneh, Syria

Tell ‘Acharneh is a large multi-period mound located in western Syria. Excavations at the site, carried out between 1998 and 2010, were conducted by a joint Canadian expedition comprising team members from Laval University and the University of British Columbia. Research on the site will continue until 2014, with the aim of completing the final reports of the most recent phase of excavations at the site (2009-2010 seasons), and the survey of the surrounding Ghab Valley (undertaken in 2004 and 2006).

Description: Tell ‘Acharneh is an impressive 77-hectare mound located in the fertile Orontes Valley of western Syria. It features an acropolis mound and small secondary tell, as well as an expansive lower town, around which a high earth rampart was built (fig. 1). On the basis of the pottery recovered from the mound, as well as information provided by ancient inscriptions (which in all probability identity the site as ancient Tunip), we know that Tell ‘Acharneh was occupied from around the mid-third millennium up to the 8th century BCE. The site could even have been inhabited earlier if we account for the recovery of a Palaeolithic hand-axe in a secondary fill in the lower town (c. 300,000 b.p!).

Around 720 BCE, in the aftermath of the conquest of western Syria by the Neo-Assyrian king Sargon II and his subsequent efforts to deport many of the country’s inhabitants to other parts of the Assyrian empire, the site was abandoned. Except for a brief occupation during the Hellenistic period, Tell ‘Acharneh remained uninhabited until the early 12th century, around the time of the First Crusade. A military garrison, observation towers, and storage facilities were erected by Frankish soldiers, probably in their efforts to maintain a strong hold on the countryside south of Apamea. They also wished to keep a watchful eye on the comings and goings of their Arab opponents, many of whom were stationed at the nearby castle of Qalat Sheizar.

Since 2009 our excavation work has focused on the southern slope of the main acropolis mound, where we have endeavoured to establish a stratigraphic sequence composed of the Iron Age occupation and underlying, earlier levels (fig. 2). To that end, beginning in 2009 and continuing in 2010, we were able to reach architectural features dating to the Late Bronze Age (c. 1550- 1350 BCE). This included the exciting discovery of part of a large building that had been destroyed by fire. Massive storage jars stacked and arranged in rows were found in situ in this building’s rooms (fig. 3). Our other recent work has taken place outside of Tell ‘Acharneh, where a surface prospection of the landscape within the Lower Ghab Valley has resulted in the identification of over 100 large and small mounded sites, ranging in date from the Neolithic to Islamic periods, with the heaviest settlement occurring during the Early and Middle Bronze Ages, and the Iron II period.

Excavations at Tell ‘Acharneh between 1998—2010 have taken place under the direction of Professor Michel Fortin of Laval University. Dr. Lisa Cooper (UBC) is the project’s Assistant Director and chief ceramicist for the project. To date, several graduate students from the department of Classical, Near Eastern and Religious Studies at UBC have been invited to partake in the challenging excavations of this site, the survey of the Ghab Valley (fig. 4), and the cataloguing and digitizing of the site’s extensive collection of pottery back at UBC (fig. 5). The project has been funded by two SSHRC grants, the GEOIDE Network (NCE), and two HSS grants from the University of British Columbia. In addition to numerous published articles, a monograph report on the first phase of Tell ‘Acharneh’s excavations was published in 2006: M. Fortin (ed.) Tell ‘Acharneh 1998-2004. Subartu XVIII, Brepols.