Role of scientific analysis in the archaeology of a Hellenistic site in Syria

Dr Heather Jackson, School of Historical & Philosophical Studies, University of Melbourne

Jebel Khalid lies on the west bank of the Euphrates in North Syria, about 60 kilometres south of the Turkish border. It has been excavated by an Australian team from Melbourne and Canberra since 1985 and excavation would be ongoing were it not for the current political turmoil. It is a beautiful site on a limestone plateau high above the river, where it must have dominated the landscape for both land and river travellers. It was probably founded in the early 3rd century BC by Seleucus Nicator, one of Alexander the Great’s generals,  as a garrison town guarding the river. Within the fortified walls a large building on the Acropolis, a whole block of houses, a temple, a palaistra and possibly a commercial centre have been excavated. The site was abandoned in the late 70’s BC and for some reason the incoming Romans did not settle on it, making it uniquely and purely Hellenistic.

In spite of the fact that the inhabitants left little behind of value when they abandoned the site, the coins, lamps, tonnes of pottery, figurines, metal and glass artefacts and fragments of wall-painting have told us a great deal about the inhabitants of the site, both Greek and Syrian. This research has been greatly aided and enhanced by scientific analyses of the materials used: clay, marble, glazes, pigments and glass being among them.