In an excavation conducted in late October about 100 meters north of the Old City wall of Acre, a unique find was discovered from the Crusader period in the 13th Century: a hoard of 350 marble items that were collected from destroyed buildings.
According to Dr. Edna Stern, excavation director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, the hoard was found in an archaeological excavation conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority before the Acre Municipality began building a new structure to house classrooms in the Hilmi Shafi Educational Campus.
"We have here a unique find, the likes of which have never been discovered in the Kingdom of Jerusalem in the Crusader period (the capital of which was Acre)," Stern said in a statement on Tuesday.
"During the archaeological excavations we came upon a cellar that was sealed by a collapse, comprised of building stones and charred beams."
Stern said that beneath the cellar floor a hoard of about 350 marble items and colored stones were discovered, including two broken marble tombstones with Latin inscriptions with one belonging to a person by the name of Maratinus.
Flat marble slabs and marble tiles of various sizes and colors were found as well.
"Some extraordinary items were also found, among them a large stone cross and a large fragment of porphyry (a rare precious purple stone, which was the color of royalty in Roman times)," Stern said.
"The quality of the marble is excellent and it was undoubtedly imported from abroad."
She said that the marble is a major find in helping to learn about the history of the area.
"Everyone knows that Crusader Acre was an important center for international trade and the marble hoard reflects the magnificent buildings that were erected here but have not survived, as well as also the commerce and the wealth of its residents," Stern said. "Just as there is a trend today to incorporate wooden doors from India or roof tiles from old buildings in Italy in modern villas, at that time they used to integrate ancient architectural items from the Roman and Byzantine periods in their construction. And just like today, people at that time also yearned for the classic and the exotic."
She said that written sources showed that such stones, which were exceptionally valuable, were bought and sold to be reused in buildings.
"We can assume that the owner of the hoard, whether he was a merchant or he collected the stones for his own construction, was aware of impending danger and therefore buried the valuable stones until such time as the tension abated," Stern said.
However, according to Stern the cache of stones was not sold in the end due to the building's destruction in 1291 when Crusader Acre was conquered by the Mameluks and was completely devastated.
The marble hoard was removed and transferred to the Israel Antiquities Authority for further study.