According to Real Estate agents, there are only three relevant factors when selling a house:  location, location and location.

When choosing a location for a settlement, whether in the ancient world or today, there are four factors which are necessary.  In Hebrew, they can be easily remembered  because they all begin with the same letter – mem.

Water (Mayim in Hebrew)
Food (Mazon)
Protection from one’s enemies (Migun)
Location – connection to other settlements through transportation/communication (Makom)

Most settlements in Israel during the Bronze age through approximately the advent of the Roman period were located on tels.  A “tel” is a somewhat artificial mound, with different strata corresponding to different material cultures which existed one after the next in the same spot.

Why did different civilizations build one on top of the other? Because of Location.

The same four attributes were available regardless of who was in control.  Water systems were built around springs; food is grown in arable land; the ever-growing hill on which the settlement was built did not decrease in its ability to protect the residents (in the age before propellants, the longest range weapon was the bow and arrow); and the roads are based on topography.  None of these natural elements are affected by politics.

And so the question arises:  Why are modern cities not built on tels?  When did tels go out of use and why?

In the news this month are the continued finds of a Hasmonean-era port near the Ottoman walls of Akko, on Israel’s northern coast. Could the construction of the port be the cause of the abandonment of the ancient city on the Tel?  What allowed them to build the port on the open sea in that time period?

The ancient city of Akko was built on a tel overlooking the Ne’aman Stream.  The stream provided a port.  In ancient times (and until today), it is impossible to build a port on the open sea. Some locations, like Jaffa and Dor in Israel were lucky enough to have a natural breakwater which made construction of a port possible.  (If you don’t have a breakwater, storms wreak havoc on the ships which are docked and ruin the coastal storage areas.) Instead of building ports on the open sea, settlements took advantage of stream outlets into the sea.  A boat could sail a short distance up the river/stream and dock in relative safety. This happens all over the world until today.  Examples of major ports on rivers near the ocean include New York, Lisbon, and Tokyo.

There are disadvantages to the system.  Once boats got too big, the bottoms could scrape along the bottom of the stream bed. Also, because streams and rivers are reliant on yearly weather conditions, their status – depth, strength, etc. –  can vary greatly from year to year (something we know all too well here in Israel) and impinge on the commercial viability of a port.  Rivers and streams can also sometimes change course.  The Ne’aman Stream, because it is such a lazy stream, does not have one clear channel, and is today nowhere near the ancient tel.  Perhaps during ancient times it also sometimes moved away from the settlement on the tel.

Current locations of Tel Akko, Ne’aman Stream, Ancient Akko, Modern Akko

In order to cope with changing conditions, technological advancements were called into play in the construction of ports. With the development of concrete which could be laid under water, entire artificial ports could be constructed regardless of the natural topography or geography.  One such port here in Israel was Caesaria, constructed by Herod between the years 22 – 10 B.C.E.

Back to Akko.  The history of Tel Akko is like the history of other tels in Israel – layer upon layer of construction and destruction – until the Hellenistic time period. At that time, the tel is under the control of the Greeks, but the change in location off of the tel does not happen because of political reasons.  Nature and technology conspire against Tel Akko. During this time period, the level of the Mediterranean drops several meters.  The tel of Akko “moves” farther and farther inland as the waters recede.  There is pressure to build a port closer to the sea.

The other factor which comes into play here is the introduction to the Land of Israel of Greek engineering and technology.  Numerous aqueduct systems were built during this time period taking advantage of the scientific discoveries in the ancient Greek world.  So, it should come as no surprise, that this combination of nature and technology led to the construction of a sea port in the area of current-day Akko.  The archeological finds on Tel Akko show that at this time, most of the tel has been abandoned, with only scarce finds from the Roman and Byzantine periods.  Archaeological finds from this summer reveal a port on the sea, adjacent and under the current “Old Akko” Ottoman port city walls.

The tel is abandoned in favor of the new city of Akko.  With its new harbor, it becomes the main port of the Land of Israel in its time.  Indeed, the status of Akko as Israel’s #1 port continues through the ages until it is destroyed in 1840 C.E. by the British, Austrians and French who come to return Akko  to the Ottomans after Ibrahim Pasha from Egypt tries to throw off the Turkish yoke.

John Adams said:
I have heard my father say, that he never knew a piece of land to run away or break.

But as we see from the history of Akko, settlements can and do change location, running away from their former site.  Real Estate markets also change – what’s a good location today, may not be so tomorrow.  In Israel this plays out in the movements, through the ages, of settlements.

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