Tel Shiqmona

Tel Shiqmona (Arabic Tell a-Samq, meaning the hill of the fish), is located on the Mediterranean seashore west of Haifa at a height of about 12 m above sea level. The mound spreads over eight dunams, and the area of ​​the Byzantine city that existed at its foot is about 220 dunams. The origin of the name is unknown but there are several hypotheses regarding its origin. One suggestion holds that the place is called “Shakmona” after the sycamore tree, which is Sycamina in Greek. Another opinion is that the origin of the name is from the god “Shakmona,” who was known during the reign of Babylon. The mound includes many finds from the Late Bronze Age and Iron Age and continuous settlement from the Persian to the Roman period. The city reached its peak in the Byzantine period and was abandoned in the seventh century CE. Shiqmona is mentioned by Josephus Flavius ​​in a description of a battle from the Hellenistic period, in the Babylonian Talmud, and in later Christian writings, from which we can learn about the existence of a large Jewish community living there.

Excavations at the site
In 1951 Moshe Dotan excavated around ​​the Byzantine monastery at the site on behalf of the Antiquities Authority. Between the years 1963-1979, the mound was excavated by Dr. Yosef Elgavish on behalf of the Museum of Ancient Art of Haifa. In 2008, the place became a national park. In addition to the mound itself, an area was excavated in the Byzantine city at the foot of the mound, where a residential district, a commercial district, and a monastery were found. The city’s cemeteries had 21 burials. 20 graves have been dated to the 3–4th century CE.

The Bronze Age
The earliest find at the site is the tomb of the “Hyksos warrior”, which dates from 1750–1550 BCE (Middle Bronze Age 2) and is 150 years earlier than the beginning of the settlement. In the cave of the ancient tomb, a seal with hieroglyphic writing was discovered that reads: “Ben Rea, Jacob-Har, Nachon Ha’im,” along with many weapons and a horse’s skull. Jacob-Har was a ruler of the Hyksos pharaonic dynasty in Lower Egypt, and Aharon Kamipinski suggested that it could be linked to biblical Jacob.

Shiqmona was first settled in the Late Bronze Age (15–16th c. BCE) as one of the coastal cities that were added to Canaan with the encouragement of the Egyptian Empire. From this period, a large public building, two silos, many ritual objects, an Egyptian ivory percussion instrument of the goddess Hathor, a seal of Pharaoh Seti I (1318–1304 BCE), and imported pottery were uncovered. In light of the many ritual tools found at the site, Dr. Elgavish believed that Shiqmona served as a ritual center during this period, a conclusion also supported by its proximity to the sacred Mount Carmel.

The Iron Age
The Canaanite settlement was destroyed by the end of the Late Bronze Age. According to Elgavish, the reason may be King David’s conquests in the Akko Valley and Dor. The place was resettled in the Iron Age and according to the excavators became an Israelite settlement. From this period, a wall of enclosures, a fabric house, and a fragment of a lmlk” jar were found. Elgavish argued that the fortifications at the tel should be associated with the time of King Solomon when Shiqmona became a border city in the space between Phoenicia and Israel. Today most archaeologists agree that the region was not part of Israel, but part of the Phoenician settlements.

In the 10th c. BCE, the city was destroyed during the campaign of Shishak (925 BCE) and was rebuilt in the 9th c. BCE. From this period, many finds were discovered (fabrics, warehouses, pressing facilities, olive pits) which indicate that Shiqmona was used as a large center for oil production. Tools also indicated that the city was part of the Phoenician purple dye industry that flourished along the coast. Pottery figurines in the form of horsemen and women were also found from this period, which according to Elgavish are attributed to a pagan cult. This cult probably resulted from the effects of the alliance between the Kingdom of Israel and the Phoenician kingdom of Tyre in the days of the House of Omri.

In 738 BCE it was destroyed once again as part of the Assyrian war campaign of Tiglath Pileser III. The city was rebuilt, apparently, by settlers brought by the Assyrians. According to the findings, these residents engaged in maritime trade. In the 7th c. BCE it was destroyed again.

Persian period
During the Persian period (539-332 BCE), Shiqmona was under the rule of Phoenician Tyre. During this period, the settlement spread for the first time to the slopes of the mound and the wide plain at its foot, and a significant increase in its scope is evident. From the end of the 4th c. BCE, a Tyrian or Persian citadel was uncovered, which was apparently destroyed in the Diadochi’s struggles.

The Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine periods
During these periods (4th c. BCE to 4th c. CE), the settlement expanded to the foot of the mound. Storage rooms from the Hellenistic city were excavated. It appears the city was destroyed in 130 BCE. Elgavish identified two citadels from these periods. One of which was built in the Roman period, probably the second half of the first century CE, possibly in preparation for the Great Revolt of the Jews against the Romans. Apparently, the city was destroyed in 351 CE following the Jewish rebellion against the Roman emperor Gallus.

The settlement reached its peak during the Byzantine period. A large and planned residential district indicates a high standard of living during this time. One of the oldest churches in the country was also found, with a magnificent mosaic of dove and plant decorations. The settlement was destroyed at the beginning of the 7th c. CE, potentially following the Islamic conquest, or an earthquake.

Since 2010, conservation operations have been carried out on the site, which include expanding excavations and preparing the site for visitors.


Michael Isenberg 2021. Tel a-Samkh (Porphyrion/Shakmona) in the Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine periods. Machman 29. 55-79.

Singer, A. 2008. Shakmona and its north. Haifa museums, the National Maritime Museum. Haifa.

Elgavish, Y. Shekmona., The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Land of Israel, Society for the Exploration of the Land of Israel and Its Antiquities, Volume 4, Page 1553.

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