Joint research project

Establishment of Phoenician pottery database on the chemical composition of terracottas using ion beam analysis techniques IBA and application to the study of artisanal production (pottery and coroplastic) from Kharayeb archeological site in southern Lebanon

Project leaders
Ida Oggiano, Mohamad Roumie'
LIBANO - CNRS-L - National Council for Scientific Research of Lebanon
CNR/CNRS_L 2015-2016
Social sciences and humanities, cultural heritage
Thematic area
Social sciences and humanities, cultural heritage
Status of the project

Research proposal

Pottery is the most abundant archaeological artifact and therefore it is the most studied by archaeologists nowadays, since it is characteristic of ancient civilizations and, thus, several related information could be revealed. In this project, arose from two autonomous ongoing researches of CNR and CNRL, it is proposed to study the Phoenician ancient cult place of Kharayeb, in the rural hinterland of Tyre, dated to Persian and Hellenistic periods. In 1946, the Lebanese scholar M. Chehab excavated part of the site centring his attention on a rectangular building and on the so-called favissa (a deposit near the temple) contained lots of different types of figurines. The cult place was intensely frequented between the sixth and the first cent. B.C. so that about 8000 objects were collected in the favissa. The archaeological activity was suspended for years until the 1969 when I. Kaoukabani took up again the investigations of the site. He found, under the paved external courtyard, a layer with a lot of figurines dating from the fifth to the first century B.C. Since 2009, all the fragments of figurines from the old excavations kept in the stores of the General Directory of Antiquities (around 13700) were examined within a project of Istituto di Studi sul Mediterraneo Antico. The material has been studied from a different point of view: technical (macroscopical analysis of the paste), stylistical and iconographical aspects. Recently, an agreement between the ISMA and the Lebanese University was signed to collaborate in the project of excavation and survey in the area of the cult place (co-financiated by the CNR and the Italian Ministery of Foreign Affaire). A first campaign of research in the site of Kharayeb was carried out during the month of November 2013. The team is working under the co-direction of Ida Oggiano (Istituto di Studi sul Mediterraneo Antico of CNR, Italy) and Wissam Khalil (Lebanese University).Through the analysis of the material composition and the technique of production and with the use of archaeometric tools, it will be possible to obtain a large number of information about the life of this rural region. Besides, as the history of religion is concerned, it could be also possible to reconstruct the cults practiced in the hinterland of Tyre during the transition from Persian to Hellenistic period, with particular attention to the problem of persistence of local cults and the different levels of perception of the Greek religion and ideological universe. Rural contexts, in fact, are particularly helpful in evaluating the complexity and variability of the so called "Hellenism" and of "Greek cultural influences" in the Phoenician world.
Since 1999, a particle accelerator located at the Lebanese Atomic Energy Commission in Beirut, has been devoted to elemental analysis in different domains of application: Archeology, Environment and Materials Science. Several nuclear analytical techniques are performed, such as PIXE, RBS, PIGE, ERDA and others. In view of the considerable Lebanese heritage, special attention was given to PIXE applications in art and archeology. It is known that "Particle Induced X-ray Emission" technique is suitable for the study of archeological objects because it is sensitive, multi-elemental, relatively fast and could be nondestructive. Comparing to other analytical techniques that require sample digestion, chemical extraction and some other preparation before analysis, the advantages of PIXE are enhanced especially when a considerable number of objects are analyzed. The analytical technique PIXE has been proved to be an effective tool to determine the elemental composition and consequently to characterize chemically archaeological artefacts. Indeed, PIXE has already shown to be sensitive enough to characterize production workshops, at particular period, as well as to determine the provenance of excavated potsherds, hence valuable insight into ancient trade connections can be determined.
The use of PIXE technique with multivariate statistical methods (e.g. cluster analysis) has already shown to be sensitive enough to attribute certain ''carrot amphorae'' found in southern France to Beirut production of the Roman period. Other studies on Italian, Syrian, Mexican, African and American archeological materials have revealed as well the capacity of PIXE to answer different archeological questions.
Since few years, a program was started at the Lebanese Accelerator, using PIXE technique, concerning the characterization of archaeological artefacts from the Lebanese coast and thus to establish a database of pottery production. The application of ion beam analysis in the study of objects in art and archaeology represents an innovative research topic in Lebanon, which was initiated few years ago by the accelerator laboratory, in order to contribute in a better way to the knowledge and understanding of the rich patrimony in Lebanon and in the region. During this joint research project, figurines and pottery samples from Kharayeb site will be analyzed according to a well-established analytical protocol which was used in similar studies that were undertaken at the accelerator laboratory. The results will contribute to enlarge the chemical composition database about Lebanese ceramics collected till now from different sites and concerning different periods (Beirut, Jiyeh, Sarafand, Tyre/ Hellenestic, Roman, Byzantine, etc.). From the other side, information about the ancient technique of pottery production, sources of used clay and link to workshops of coastal sites could be obtained. Therefore, some facts could be revealed about the life of ancient society, the movement of artisans, the spread of know-how and people from the coast to the hinterland.

Research goals

Several objectives have to be addressed during this project:
- Characterization of figurines and other artisanal objects by chemical analysis and obtain information about the clay used.
- Broaden the existing database, mainly from coastal sites in Lebanon, on chemical composition of archeological ceramics with the implementation of new data, from hinterland this time, which will result from this project.
- Use the information about the composition of the clay to understand if the figurines were locally produced or imported from the coast and how was the process of production connected to the sanctuary.
- Obtain information about the technique of production of ancient pottery workshops of this area. The comparison between materials of different periods can give us information also about change in the productions (manufacturing technology and cooking temperatures) during the transition from the ancient system of production, typical of the Iron Age, to the new system of the Hellenistic period (with the introduction of the double mould technique).

Last update: 27/11/2021