Archaeological, Alphabetical, Ancient and Modern Byblos

By Jheri St. James

     Byblos is located on the Mediterranean coast, 37 kilometers north of Lebanon’s capital, Beirut. It is a prosperous place, with glass-fronted office buildings and crowded urban streets. But within the old town, medieval Arab and Crusader remains are constant reminders of the past. Nearby are extensive excavations that make Byblos an important archaeological site. It took a long time for this many-layered baklava* of mankind’s history to bake—at least 7,000 years, say modern scholars. “Byblos” means “papyrus” in Greek and at one time this area led in papyrus production and trade. Papyrus is an early form of paper, reedy and fibrous, showing weft and warp, like fabric. About the same time as papyrus production was flourishing, 1200 B.C., the scribes of Byblos developed an alphabetic, phonetic script, the precursor of our modern alphabet. By 800 B.C., it had traveled to Greece, changing forever the way man communicated.

     On June 23, 2003 George Mhanna collected some of the timeless soil of Byblos for Common Ground 191. It is surmised that he felt the historical importance of the “soul of this soil” while doing so. Imagine the ground of one of the oldest continuously-inhabited cities, Byblos (formerly known as Gubla, Begal, and the land of Canaan) traveling thousands of miles to the U.S.A. to become part of Gary Simpson’s visionary project. And now this writer, in the modern American, English-language alphabet, the spawn of that early Byblos alphabet, telling the story, online at www.commonground191.com, rather than on papyrus or paper. The historical reverberations are mind-boggling.

     Although engulfed by successive invaders—Greek, Roman, Arab and Turkish—Lebanon has preserved some degree of autonomy. Its inaccessible mountains were an early refuge for persecuted religious groups, especially Christians. After being under French control, Lebanon became independent in 1943, but has since seen much warfare and political conflict. One additional interesting fact about Lebanon is its success with the process of salt removal from seawater near Tripoli, using windmills for hydroelectric power. Many coastal nations around the world would surely benefit from the use of similar technology. So Lebanon— archaeological, alphabetical, ancient and modern—but always baklava!*

* Baklava is a complicated and delicious Lebanese dessert, made with many of layers of paper-thin filo dough interspersed with nuts and coated with honey or sugar syrup.










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