Open this page in a new tab

Tel Tanninim

Tel Tanninim Aerial View of Tel Tanninim

click on image to open a high res magnifiable image in a new tab

Used with permission from


Transliterated Name Source Name
Tel Tanninim Hebrew תל תנינים
Tell al-Milāt Arabic
Burj al-Malih Arabic
Migdal Malhā Aramaic
Krokodeilon polis Greek
Crocodeilopolis, Crocodilopolis Greek
Turris Salinarum Latin - Crusader
History and Identification

Tel Tanninim 'Crocodiles Mound', (Tell al-Milāt 'Mortar Mound') is situated on the Mediterranean coast of Israel, some 5 km. north of Caesarea Maritima, at the outflow of Nahal Tanninim 'Crocodiles River'. Indeed, there were Nilotic crocodiles in the river, as well as the adjacent Kabbara marsh, now drained. The last of the reptiles was killed shortly after 1905. The tel has been identified with Hellenistic Krokodeilon polis 'Crocodiles City, (Strabo 16.2.27 and Pliny NH 5.17.75 ). In Byzantine times, the settlement marked the northern municipal border of Caesarea and can be identified with the place named Migdal Malhā in the Jerusalem Talmud (Demai 2:1,22c). The Latin name Turris Salinarum, a translation of the Aramaic name, was still in use during the Crusader period. Both names mean 'Saltworks Tower', referring to the production of sea salt, from coastal pans, or to a salted-fish industry at the site.


Surface surveys had indicated the site was occupied from the Persian to the Crusader period. A brief salvage excavation in 1979 unearthed substantial Byzantine remains along the eroded western edge of the tel. Systematic excavations directed by the present writer took place from 1996-99. The earliest pottery, excavated at the lowest stratum of the tel, indicates that the settlement was a Phoenician foundation in the fifth century BCE, no doubt after this stretch of Palestinian coast was ceded by the Persian emperor to his vassal the king of Sidon. The Phoenician name of the site remains unknown. The latest finds were Ottoman, presumably connected with the construction of the now-ruined Kaiserbruecke across the Crocodiles River at the foot of the tel.

The finds in Area A include remains of several structures from the Crusader, Islamic and Late Byzantine periods, which were built atop the foundation walls of a large Early Byzantine church, whose floors were covered with multi-colored mosaics, poorly preserved. Below the Early Byzantine level was a gap, marked by a thick layer of sterile sand, and below that a thick layer with structural and ceramic and other remains of the Persian-Hellenistic settlement.

In Areas B and B2 were found fishponds (Latin: piscina) for breeding of freshwater fish and in Area D and the western coastline were several ponds for saltwater fish. The freshwater ponds were supplied with running water by the Tel Tanninim Aqueduct, which tapped into the high-level aqueduct of Caesarea, had thick plastered walls and utilized a system of embedded ceramic jars either within the walls or along the floor to create a series of cells (Latin: speci) for the freshwater fish, such as the tilapia (St. Peter's fish) bred and grown in the ponds. Each breeding pond had a small tank with a mosaic floor built nearby, presumably for holding and sorting fish. The aqueduct and breeding ponds were evidently built in the fourth century CE and continued to operate through the end of the Seventh century.

Sometimes in the Sixth century CE, the water flow in the aqueduct of Tel Tanninim was disrupted, but the freshwater fishing industry at the site continued to operate with well water. The water was drawn from a round well-built stone well, three meters in diameter, dug into the aquifer adjacent to the breeding pond in Area B2. Across the well's center a wooden wheel had been installed, around whose perimeter were attached a series of ceramic jars, fragments of which were found. In Talmudic sources, this type of pump is called an 'antelayyā-wheel.

Taninim Creek Dam Paleoseismic Site Webpage

Maps, Aerial Views, and Illustrations
Maps, Aerial Views, and Illustrations

Maps and Aerial Views

Normal Size

  • Annotated Satellite Photo of Tel Taninnim and environs from
  • Aerial Drone shot of Tel Tanninim from
  • Aqueducts of Caesarea from Stern et al (2008)
  • Tel Tanninim in Google Earth
  • Tel Tanninim on



  • Illustration of Tel Tanninim in the Byzantine period from Stieglitz (2000)


da Costa (2008)

Phase Period Dates
IX Iron Age
VIII Persian 450-332 BCE
VII Hellenistic 332-ca. 100 BCE
GAP ca. 100 BCE - 324 CE
VI Early Byzantine 324-450 CE
V Late Byzantine 450-600 CE
IV Final Byzantine to Umayyad 600-750 CE
III Abbasid to Fatimid 750-1099 CE
IIB Crusader 1099-1265 CE
IIA Mamluk 1265-1400 CE
I Mamluk to Late Ottoman 1400-1917 CE

Stieglitz (2000)

The stratigraphic table summarizes the occupation history of Tel Tanninim

Stieglitz (2000)

Stratum IV Destruction - mid-8th century CE

da Costa (2008:96-97) in her review of Stieglitz et al (2006) suggests that the Stratum IV destruction layer may have been due to one of the 749 CE Sabbatical Year Earthquakes (the Holy Desert Quake).

There are some substantial difficulties with this publication which detract from its value. The greatest problem is the discrepancy in dating the final destruction of the church, and thus the end of the main period of occupation at the site. The stratigraphic report clearly states that the burnt destruction layer belongs to the mid-eighth century (p. 37 — with some confusion about the meaning of a tenth-century rim in the destruction level). The pottery and glass reports, which are difficult to check, appear to have substantial amounts of material that date from the sixth to eighth centuries, although Oren-Paskal simply ignores this and concludes that "a common sixth—seventh century date has emerged" and the assemblage "is homogeneous in terms of its date" (p. 148). In his overall conclusions, Stieglitz claimed that "in the seventh century, the settlement (Stratum IV) began to experience a rapid decline . . ." and "By the end of the seventh and the beginning of the eighth century, the large basilica church . . . had fallen into disuse. The fish farms . . were certainly abandoned" (p. 227). Yet this is the phase at the church when all the floors, including mosaics, were again raised and an altar platform constructed. It was also the period when a substantial, fortified building was erected in Area A2; and the water reservoir in Area B2 was not thought to go out of use until the eighth century. Since substantial burning is associated with all destruction levels, perhaps the 749 earthquake may have been the cause, even if by then the settlement was much reduced in size.

We might also query the characterization of the Abbasid to Fatimid period as a phase at the site. Even if the undoubted wall robbing that occurred could be dated to this period, should that constitute a phase, or should a second gap in occupation be recorded? The picture is complicated by claims in some sections that there was no Abbasid occupation, contrasting with the existence of some Abbasid pottery and at least one coin.

Notes and Further Reading
Wikipedia page for Tel Tanninim