'Europe's oldest city' is found

Archaeologists in Spain's southern port of Cadiz believe they have found remains which prove that it is Europe's oldest inhabited city – Phoenician Gadir, or Gades in Roman times.

Remnants of walls have emerged seven metres deep in a dig beneath Cadiz's old town centre which have been dated to the 8th century BC. Scientists found shards of Phoenician pottery, and pieces of jars, bowls and plates once used in everyday life which all point towards the existence of a town. A well-preserved bronze brooch has also appeared, suggesting a high level of civilisation. Previous finds, including funeral relics, did not provide conclusive evidence of urban settlement.

"We need to excavate further to see where these walls go," said the director of the dig, Juan Miguel Pajuelo. "The existence of items of daily use suggests the walls were of houses."

Historians have long known that Cadiz was founded by Phoenician traders more than 3,000 years ago as their first settlement in Europe.

Mariners from Tyre in today's Lebanon established Gadir as a transit point for minerals brought from the Rio Tinto mines further north. The Romans later developed Gades as a naval base, and the poet Martial praised the city's dancing girls.

But until now, no one has established exactly where Gadir (meaning "the fortress") was. Scientists in the 1970s uncovered traces of a Phoenician settlement near Santa Maria del Puerto, to the north on the Guadalete river, but not quite the remains of a town. More recently, archaeologists in Chiclana, 16 miles south-east, found remains of Phoenician walls and traces of a temple.

Scientists from the three sites lay rival claims to Gadir. But Jose Maria Gener, who began the dig in the town centre 12 years ago, is sure it is the most likely location. "In Chiclana," he said, "they still have to establish if their findings are Phoenician or an earlier indigenous settlement."

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