By Linda Meiberg, PhD
Volume III Issue 2
As a field archaeologist, I am used to spending my summers excavating in Israel, and intermittently since 2005, at the Philistine site of Tell es-Safi/Gath. Due to their biblical notoriety as adversaries of the Israelites, the Philistines are the best known of the Sea Peoples, various groups of seafaring emigrants with piratical tendencies who invaded Egypt around 1200 BCE and settled along the coast of southern Israel.
In 2018, I decided to make a change, and instead of excavating at Tell es-Safi, I spent the summer as a member of the Tel Akko Expedition in search of the Shardana. To most, the Shardana are not as well known as the Philistines. They are another group of Sea Peoples who are thought to have settled along the coast of northern Israel, and the remains of their material culture have, unlike the Philistines, been particularly elusive. As a Sea People, the Shardana may have taken their name from, or leant their name to the island of Sardinia.
It was particularly poignant for me to begin working at Tel Akko, the site with the best chances for uncovering the material cultural remains of the Shardana, as the previous summer we had just launched our new Catalina 425 named after these elusive Sea Peoples. Admittedly, since my research focused on the Philistines, I had originally lobbied to name the boat “Phyllis Stein,” but Andrew and Davis quickly quashed my proposal. That is when friend and colleague, Tanya McCullough, suggested we name the boat after the more melodious sounding Shardana.
Although I love the process of excavation and the discovery of the finds on site, my time at Akko was spent back at the (air conditioned!) field school, registering the finds and sorting all of the many shards of ancient pottery coming out of the excavation. The field school, where the team sleeps, eats, and does the off-site office work, is located, by the way, at the Israel Nautical College right on the beach in the city of Akko, which trains cadets and officers, master mariners and nautical engineers for the merchant navy. On most mornings in the summer, you can see the Sea Scouts doing calisthenics on the beach and dragging their sailboats from the boat sheds into the waters of the Bay of Haifa.
At the end of the excavation season, I spent an additional two weeks in the archaeological storerooms at Haifa University where the finds from the previous seasons at Tel Akko are kept. My main task consisted of sorting through the artifacts, including pottery, as well as stone, shell, and metal objects, and even the odd cannon ball (Tel Akko had been the site of a battle between Napolean’s forces and the Ottomans) from a previous expedition to the site that occurred between 1973 and 1985. The work was not overly stimulating, but it was a lot of fun opening boxes of objects that hadn’t seen the light of day for some 35 years and discovering, almost anew, what lay inside. On my final day of work before returning home to Philadelphia, I opened a particularly moldy cardboard box, and, much to my excitement and surprise, I discovered the very type of 3,000 year old pottery that is attributed to the Shardana! This is a locally produced wheel-made fine ware with motifs almost identical to Philistine pottery dating to around 1200 BCE
As I prepare to embark on my second season as part of the Tel Akko Expedition in further search of the original Shardana starting in June, I realize that I won’t have much time to sail yet again this summer on S/V Shardana. Aside from the soft breezes, blue skies, and calm waters of the Chesapeake Bay, I enjoy meeting our clients, learning about them, and hearing their stories. For now, I must continue to excavate my story while you sail yours…
For more about the Israel Nautical College, see: https://www.imta.org.il/en/about/