Geoarchaeology in an urban context: The uses of space in a Phoenician monumental building at Tel Dor (Israel)

Ruth Shahack-Gross, Rosa Maria Albert, Ayelet Gilboa, Orna Nagar-Hilman, Ilan Sharon, Steve Weiner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Interpretation of past urban societies in the Near East, whose settlements are known mostly as tell sites, is largely based on macro-stratigraphy and on the association of architecture with macroscopic artifacts. Analyses of sediments, common in prehistoric sites, are rare in tell sites. Here we show the results of a detailed geoarchaeological study of the micro-stratigraphy of a sedimentary sequence associated with early Iron Age Phoenician monumental architecture. The study involves mineralogical, micromorphological and phytolith analyses and provides new insights into the stratigraphic sequence and the use of architectural spaces. The sedimentary sequence examined comprises alternating layers of gray 'fill' deposits and white 'floors'. We show that 'floors' made from local calcareous sandstone in the lower part of the sedimentary sequence were heated and are thus in effect 'plaster floors'. A concentration of micro-laminated, trampled fish remains above the most elaborate of these plaster 'floors' indicates activities related to fish processing. Fine white layers in the upper part of the sedimentary sequence that were considered as plaster based on macroscopic examination are in fact composed almost entirely of opaline grass phytoliths. The phytoliths appear in an undulating micro-laminated structure and are associated with dung spherulites and phosphate nodules, thus probably reflecting livestock penning. The formation of 'phytolith floors' involves extensive volume reduction due to the degradation of the organic material and this may result in 'floor' subsidence, a phenomenon that is often observed in archaeological sites. Most 'fill' deposits include macroscopic and microscopic remains of wood ash, bones, phytoliths, charcoal, ceramics, plaster and mollusk shells, reflecting the debris produced from household activities. This study shows how a combination of macro-stratigraphy with microscopic and mineralogical analyses of the sediments within architectural spaces can provide information on the varying ways in which the space was used through time, and also contributes to solving macro-stratigraphic problems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1417-1431
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2005

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Between 1980 and 2000, Tel Dor was excavated by E. Stern of the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, heading an international consortium of universities. Section drawings and plans were produced by John Berg, Svetlana Matskevich and Talia Goldman. We thank the people from the Kimmel Center for Archaeological Science at the Weizmann Institute for their help in sampling and analyzing bulk sediment samples using the on-site infrared spectrometer. Special thanks are due to Eugenia Mintz and Meirav Yizhaq for helping R.S.-G. through the sediment sampling for micromorphological analysis. R.S.-G. is also indebted to Panagiotis Karkanas and Francesco Berna for useful discussions of the data. We also thank two anonymous reviewers for their useful comments. This study was funded in part by generous support from Mr George Schwartzmann, Sarasota, Florida, and by the Kimmel Center for Archaeological Science at the Weizmann Institute.


  • Iron Age
  • Micromorphology
  • Mineralogy
  • Phoenician architecture
  • Phytoliths
  • Site formation processes
  • Tel Dor

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Archaeology


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