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Phoenician-Punic and Roman port located in Spain's port city Cadiz

Experts from the University of Cadiz, coordinated by the Professor of Archaeology, Dario Bernal-Casasola, and the researchers José J. Díaz and Macarena Lara, from the Department of History, Geography and Philosophy, have carried out geoarchaeological research beneath the Valcárcel Building, the centre of the old Bahía-Caleta palaeochannel, situated between the islands of Erytheia and Cotinusa in the historic archipelago of Cadiz in southern Spain and which has made it possible to identify the remains of a Phoenician-Punic and Roman port.

Phoenician-Punic and Roman port located in Spain's port city Cadiz
Phoenician-Punic and Roman port located in Spain's port city Cadiz
View from the roof of the current Valcárcel de Cádiz building and the locations from
 where the core samples were taken [Credit: Bernal-Casasola et al. 2020]

This finding, published in the Journal of Maritime Archaeology, shows that this area was a semi-protected anchorage, which today has abundant ceramic and archaeological-botanical remains. The access to this port was at least 200 metres wide towards the west, and the depth of the available water was unmatched in such a developed context, which did not represent any limitation for the draught of ancient ships (more than 20 metres deep). 

"The remarkable depth of the pre-Roman and Roman port, which far exceeded the draughts of the largest ships sailing in antiquity, could have been a problem for anchoring, so we believe that alternative methods could have been used to secure the ships such as mooring, berthing and beaching. The paleochannel was still more than 20 metres deep in the first centuries of our era, which reveals that difficulties in anchoring still existed during that period," the researchers explain in their study.

Phoenician-Punic and Roman port located in Spain's port city Cadiz
Reconstruction of the Bahía-Caleta palaeochannel
[Credit: Bernal-Casasola et al. 2020]

Moreover, the silting of this port, especially between 20 and 40 metres, represents a sedimentary archive of great importance with which to trace the first steps of Cadiz from its origin to the first millennium of our era. The abundance of artifacts and organic material shows that this paleochannel is an "exceptional" space that recorded the history of Cadiz. In fact, more than a hundred ceramic fragments have been identified corresponding to the period in which the channel was active and used as a port for maritime and commercial activities, a time period that spans from "the archaic Phoenician colonization and the first Roman imperial periods".

This important discovery has been possible thanks to two interrelated methodological strategies: archaeological excavations carried out in the central area of the canal; and deep geotechnical drilling, a strategy that has been very effective in Cadiz to date.

Phoenician-Punic and Roman port located in Spain's port city Cadiz
Core samples retrieved during the research
[Credit: Bernal-Casasola et al. 2020]

In addition to the above, special attention should be paid to the remarkable depth of this paleo-channel. "Its formation is due to natural and geological factors, and not to man-made causes. No detailed geophysical studies have been carried out to determine the maximum depth of the channel, but these will have to be developed in the light of these new findings", as the researchers at the UCA defend. Likewise, it will be necessary to re-evaluate the geological genesis of the channel, since its depth does not rule out the traditional belief that this is a paleo-channel of the Guadalete River.

The work carried out in Valcárcel "raises other doubts and is the starting point for future studies that will analyse, for example, the absence of river deposits in this area. This new evidence shows how the interest in the findings of the Valcárcel Building not only connects with historical-archaeological research, but also with the geological research carried out in the Bay of Cadiz".

Phoenician-Punic and Roman port located in Spain's port city Cadiz
Pottery fragments found in the core samples [Credit: Bernal-Casasola et al. 2020]

In fact, a detailed geo-archaeological study is being carried out in order to obtain a chronology of the existing deposits and to reconstruct the paleogeomorphological modifications (coastal mobility), but also the climatic changes and extreme phenomena (storms, tsunamis, etc.) that have occurred in this area. 

The combination of all these analyses will provide a new set of data to reconstruct the palaeodynamics of the channel, the origin of sedimentation taking into account the human and natural factors affecting this coastal landscape. 

These studies will be carried out by specialists from the universities of Strasbourg and Cadiz, together with the collaboration of other institutions.


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