site located on the Mediterranean coast of Israel, 15 km (9 mi.) north of Akko and 25 km (15 mi.) south of Tyre (33°02′ 08″ N, 35°06′ E). The tell, a double mound, is located on a kurkar (sandstone) ridge that overlooks the Mediterranean Sea and is south of the estuary of the Kesib River. To the south a deep riverbed is usable as an anchorage. Beyond the southern bay, a well-protected and sizable harbor (Minat ez-Zib) can accommodate a considerable number of boats. An underwater survey revealed rock installations used in growing crops of the Murex snail that produces the purple and blue dyes so valued in antiquity.
Achziv is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible as a town on the northern coast of Canaan bordering the land of the Sidonians and allotted to the tribe of Asher (Jos. 19:29). Greek and Roman writers, among them Josephus, knew Ekdippa, a city on the Phoenician coast (War 1.257). Travelers and historians in Roman, Byzantine, and Arab times also mention Achziv on the road to Tyre, 16 km (9 mi.) from Akko. The Crusaders built a fortress, the Casal Umberti, on the higher mound of the tell. The native Arabic-speaking population continues to call the village Ekziv/ez-Zib.
In 1963–1964, excavations were undertaken jointly by the Istituto de Vicino Oriente of the University of Rome and the Israel Department of Antiquities, directed by Moshe W. Prausnitz. Four contemporary, or overlapping, Iron Age cemeteries were excavated: the central cemetery (CCA) at the foot of the defenses on the eastern slope; the northern cemetery (NCA) on the northern bank of the Kesib River; the southern cemetery (SCA) overlooking Minat ez-Zib; and the eastern cemetery (ECA), dug into a second kurkar ridge east of and parallel to the coastal ridge. According to Jewish tradition, this is the northwest border of the ancient land of Israel.
Achziv's strategic position on the coastal main artery, the Via Maris, from Tyre to Akko and on to Philistia, was coveted by the Asherites and the Tyrians. In antiquity the harbor was regularly visited by Levantine, as well as Cypriot, coastal vessels. The Sidonians focused all their resources on maintaining control of the harbor. Their flourishing arts and crafts survived the aftermath of the collapse of eastern Mediterranean trade in the twelfth century BCE (see below).
The site's earthworks—its rampart and glacis—and towers were built in the Middle Bronze IIA period. The peninsula was turned into an island city by cutting the fosse to join the creek with the mouth of the Kesib River. At the beginning of the Late Bronze Age I, the site's defenses were destroyed and then rebuilt, only to be destroyed again at the end of LB II.
Inside the city, the excavators discontinued a test trench when it reached the final LB destruction layers. Among the few remains belonging to the transitional Iron Age IA, pits, fireplaces, and occasional walls were excavated. Inside the pits, wall brackets and Philistine-style pottery were discovered. Achziv recovered in the eleventh century BCE (Iron IB). The town proceeded to develop rapidly, and during the eighth century BCE reached its largest size, some 20 acres. Sennacherib of Assyria conquered a prosperous town In 701 BCE. The excavations on the northern part of the mound uncovered a number of storerooms adjacent to the Late Iron Age and Persian-period fortifications. Inside the storerooms were jars given as tax payments “to my lord the king,” incised in Aramaic Adonimelech. The town's prosperity continued throughout the Hellenistic and Early Roman periods. The higher, small central mound contained levels from the Byzantine to the Arab and Crusader periods.
Four phases of activity in the northern cemetery were discerned. Stratum 4, the earliest, revealed part of a floor of an open area—a “high place”—that had a cultic use. It was founded on sand and covered with thick layers of plaster, indicating frequent reuse during the eighth-seventh centuries BCE. A maṣṣēbâ, or stela (1.5 × 1 m), used as an altar was found lying on the floor. Subsequently, this “high place” was enclosed by a wall. The wall remained in use throughout stratum 3. Jars with ashes and kraters containing cremation burials, juglets, and Achziv-ware vessels had been placed around the high place and beneath its foundations. Graves first appear in stratum 3, with small baetyls (upright stones signifying Heb., bêt-ēl, “house of God”) marking each burial. Until recently, this type of baetyl was known only in Punic North Africa. A tophet was discovered nearby—the first instance of a tophet related to a central high place discovered in the Phoenician homeland.
The central cemetery contained cist graves dated to Early Iron IB. Single or pairs of skeletons were buried in a supine position. They were found with cylinder seals, a bronze bowl, a small ivory bowl with a lion couchant on the rim, and numerous locally made bichrome pilgrim flasks—burnished and decorated with vertical, concentric circles. A bronze double axhead, a spear, and a fibula date the cists to the eleventh century BCE. [See Seals; Tombs; Grave Goods.]
The eastern cemetery began to be used at the end of Iron IB. Many rock-hewn burial chambers with shafts were found in a family vault that was in use for 250–300 years. These chamber tombs are identical with contemporary Israelite burials. In them, a sequence of proto–Black-on-Red and Black-on-Red I wares was found along with red-burnished and red-polished jugs of typical Achziv ware. Only a few early bichrome vessels and pilgrim flasks were found.
A different range of Iron II pottery appeared with most of the burials in the southern cemetery. Bichrome, black-on-red, and black-on-pink pilgrim flasks represent the over-whelming majority of pottery in this cemetery's early phase, which was dated by its ceramics, scarabs, and seals to the eleventh–tenth centuries BCE. A recently excavated built tomb illustrates funerary architecture and this cemetery's three phases. A short dromos led to the entrance of a rectangular chamber dug into the earth and hewn into the rock. Its roof, visible aboveground, was covered with large stone slabs sealed by a stepped, upper structure of clay bricks, to form a high place. The dromos and the chamber were arranged on an east–west axis. This was a family tomb in which the bodies were placed on their back facing the entrance in the southern corner of the east wall. The cemetery's middle phase (end of the tenth to end of the eighth century BCE) is marked by the first appearance of red-polished Achziv jugs and bowls. The final phase (seventh century BCE) is noteworthy for the large imported storage jars used as receptacles for funerary gifts. During all three phases, valuable metals (lead net weights, bronze armrings, and other ornaments of gold), ivories, amber beads and seals, and votive figurines were buried with the deceased. These finds bear witness to the range of Sidonian trade throughout the Mediterranean basin and the rest of the Near East.
- Giveon, Raphael. Scarabs from Recent Excavations in Israel. Fribourg, 1988. See pages 22–39 (nos. 5–28).
- Oren, Eliezer D. “The Pottery from the Achzib Defence System, Area D, 1963 and 1964 Seasons.” Israel Exploration Journal 25 (1975): 211–225.
- Prausnitz, M. W. “Notes and News.” Israel Exploration Journal 9 (1959): 271; 10 (1960): 260–261; 13 (1963): 337–338; 15 (1965): 256–258.
- Prausnitz, M. W. “Red-Polish and Black-on-Red Wares of Akhziv.” In The First International Congress of Cypriot Studies, pp. 151–156. Nicosia, 1969.
- Prausnitz, M. W. “Israelite and Sidonian Burial Rites at Akhziv.” In Proceedings of the Fifth World Congress of Jewish Studies, vol. 1, pp. 85–89. Jerusalem, 1972.
- Prausnitz, M. W. “The Planning of the Middle Bronze Age Town of Achzib and Its Defences.” Israel Exploration Journal 25 (1975): 202–210.
- Prausnitz, M. W. “Die Nekropolen von Akhziv und die Entwicklung der Keramik vom 10. bis zum 7. Jahrhundert v. Chr. in Akhziv, Samaria und Ashdad.” In Phönizier im Westen, edited by Hans-Georg Niemeyer, pp. 31–44. Madrider Beiträge, 8. Mainz, 1982.
- Prausnitz, M. W. “Akhziv (North).” Excavations and Surveys in Israel 4 (1985): 2.
- Smith, Patricia M., et al. “Human Remains from the Iron Age Cemeteries at Akhziv.” Revista di Studi Fenici 18.2 (1990): 137–150.
M. W. Prausnitz