A Phoenician City in the Far West
The excavations and research currently taking place at La Fonteta in Alicante have highlighted the importance of Phoenician colonization on this stretch of Spanish coastline and confirm that La Fonteta was one of the most important Phoenician cities in the West.
During September, October, and part of November 1996, the first season of regular excavation took place at the site known as La Fonteta, a city buried under the dunes at Guardamar del Segura. The excavation resulted in the discovery of a long stretch of defensive wall and the demarcation of an inhabited area located outside the wall. Thus, we began an effort intended to firmly establish the boundaries of the site, which greatly exceed the currently enclosed area. An overall plan of action will be needed to reconcile archaeological and environmental interests, given the effects that the excavation will inevitably produce on the environment of the Guardamar dunes, due not so much to the necessary sacrifice of pine trees as to the removal and transfer of sand and earth that cover the Phoenician city.
In one of the depressions along the southern stretch of the defensiva perimeter, where some of the tons of rock and sand coming from the 1991 excavation at the upper site of La Rábita had been dumped indiscriminately (affecting a section of Phoenician wall mistakenly identified as Islamic), we had the good fortune to find a small area not covered by dunes. A successful sondage led to opening sin area of 1 0 x 11 meters. The archacological record in this area (A25) has provided a stratigraphic sequence consisting of three different sedimentary layers. The most recent phase (IA) consists of a fill of gray strata deposited in the form of pockets that dip down, filling up pits produced by an erosive process (flooding?) that affected the remains of the earlier phase. Currently there are no signs of inhabited structures, and thus the spot appears to have been used as a dump for domestic debris. Phase IB is represented by the remains of a large dwelling with walls of orange-colored mudbrick, with stones at the base forming a foundation. The stratigraphic record shows the existence of two stages in the construction of this house. The earlier stage appears to have rooms of greater size; later the number of rooms was increased by reducing their size to an average width of 2 meters. The strata from the interiors of these rooms have produced rich collections of pottery. Finally, the earliest phase (IC) is represented by a sedimentary reddish-brown formation that gets lighter the farther down we go. This formation provides little archaeological material, but at the bottom we can detect remains of flimsy structures of ash-gray color (post holes and other holes filled with sand) that we believe may correspond to the earliest stage of the large dwelling of Phase IB.
The surprising collection of material culture recovered from A25 illustrates the entire repertoire of Phoenician pottery types: amphorae with carinated shoulders (Al), gray plates, cups with monochrome and bichrome decorations, and a rich variety of red slip and burnished pottery: lamps, rimmed plates, carinated bowls, mushroom-mouth oenochoes, tripods, etc. Along with this pottery we found a large number of fragments of ostrich eggs with red ocher on the interior surface and some with bichrome motifs on the outer surface. On the floor of one of the rooms of Phase IB (Ib8) we collected slag from the smelting of bronze.
The dating of the three phases was determined by various chronological indicators, such as the red slip plates and oenochoes and the Greek imports (proto-Corinthian pottery in Phase IB and East Greek pottery in Phase IA).
While waiting for a detailed inventory of all the archaeological material, we would like to propose the following chronology, based on what we observed directly during the course of the season:
Phase IA: 630-590 B.C.
Phase IB: 720-630 B.C.
Phase IC: no conclusions yet
The work on the section of wall has exposed 60 meters of defensive fortifications and has clearly defined one of the corners of the city perimeter, where we found a bastion of apparently quadrangular shape (although we were not able to excavate it completely during the 1996 season). The sturdy wall, between 4 and 5 meters wide, was constructed from medium-sized stones of very soft sandstone and calcarenite. The analysis of the exposed wall shows that it is composed of central vertical masses, covered by reinforcing materials set on a slant, producing widths that may exceed 7 meters at the base.
The wall was constructed with a sophisticated architectural technique to protect against destruction or deterioration, possibly because of frequent earthquakes in the region of the lower Segura: buttresses, hígher than the mudbrick, were placed transversely at certain points, thereby separating sections of the wall and preventing tension and problems of instability from being transmitted along the entire wall. Another phenomenon that we have observed in the wall is the reuse of ashlars from previous structures, although we do not know if the earlier structures were defensive or not. In the layer of collapsed wall, we also see the interesting reuse of cultic stelae (betyls) that surely came from an older cultic or burial area.
One of the excavated areas next to the interior facade of a section of wall with projecting ashlars (their crude placement may indicate a reuse) has added to our knowledge about the series of events in the port city of La Fonteta. Area A7 has provided evidence of dwellings placed against the sloped side of the interior facade of the fortification wall. The two rooms that were discovered have stone walls reaching a height of 1.50 meters, on top of which were set gray quadrangular mudbricks 10 centimeters thick cemented together with orange clay. A complex sedimentation fills up the original height of the rooms with alternating layers of fallen mudbrick and gray pockets that contain abundant remains of food, mostly snalls. The lower and upper levels of this fill present surfaces with several hearths. The mudbricks that have been excavated show signs of heat-related changes, and their standard size is 30 x 25 x 10 cm. The unbaked bricks that have been recovered show a composition of clay and seaweed (posidoniae), while other blocks of clay show impressions of reeds or cane, proving the collapse of the roof or an upper story. The whole scene gives the impression of a phase of fill with loose rubble and pockets of debris, after the dwelling next to this part of the wall was ruined or destroyed. Further down an earlier phase appears, with ruins of different buildings. At this point the 1996 excavation ended.
What stands out most about Area A7 is that it allows us to show how the placement of the internal row of ashlars (along with the corresponding sloped covering) is higher than the floor level of the adjacent rooms, whose sides go down significantly below the row of ashlars. The phase of earlier dwellings that we are just beginning to detect is actually underneath the defensive wall, indicating the existence of phases of habitation previous to the construction of the defensiva enclosure.
The East Greek pottery that appears in the strata of this fill allows us, at least initially, to synchronize it with Phase IA of the fill from Area A25, thus deriving a date from the middle to the third quarter of the 7th century for the construction of the defensive walls, at least for the section in contact with Area A7.
In spite of the full and rich archaeological record of the 1996 season, it is premature to present research conclusions, given the large size of the site. Initially, however, we are working with the hypothesis that the construction of the defensive walls is a relatively late event in the history of this Phoenician colonial enclave. The walls literally stand on top of Phase IB detected in Area A25, and the reuse of architectural material of a more archaic flavor (ashlars and stelae) during the construction of the walls also appears to support this interpretation. Thus we deduce that we cannot calculate demographic extension or density simply by looking at the area bounded by the defensive walls. The existence of ancient houses outside the walls confirms this belief and suggests an original perimeter either larger or different from the perimeter of the second phase of the city. This is one of the hypotheses that we may test in future seasons. For now we can only look suspiciously at some of the dunes that lie in an unusual crosswise direction in relation to the other dunes in the pine forest.
The 1996 excavation at La Fonteta has begun to fulfill the expectations that we have held ever since we were shown the first Phoenician pottery in 1985. We are dealing with a Phoenician settlement at the mouth of the Segura River whose dimensions appear to indicate an urban area that could well reach 8 hectares, converting it into one of the principal Phoenician cities on the Mediterranean. If, in addition to its size and the quality of its archaeological record, we consider its special state of preservation due to the cover of sand, we undoubtedly find ourselves before one of the best Phoenician cities of the 8th and 7th centuries B.C., outdoing many classic centers of Phoenician civilization in the West as well as in the homeland. The excavations at La Fonteta highlight the same phenomenon that the work of the German Archaeological Institute (D.A.I) demonstrated in the 60s and 70s on the Andalusian coast: our knowledge of the characteristics of the Phoenician world is being made possible due to discoveries in the overseas colonies.
From the beginning of its existence in the 8th century, the great port city of La Fonteta had at its disposal a typical setting that included a sanctuary located at Castillo de Guardamar (where a temple with incense offerings to Ceres-Demeter later stood during the Iberian Age). Surely the sanctuary attracted worship to Astarte, protectress of navigation (the "Venus Marina"), at a point which was crucial for nautical visibility. Behind the sanctuary, on another bend of the Segura River, the fortification of Cabezo del Estaño (an incorrect Castilian rendering of estany 'lagoon') was built prior to the founding of La Fonteta at the mouth of the river. Thus we can speak of the reproduction of a characteristic model of occupation, in which we lack only the proof of an ancient presence on the nearby island of Tabarca.
Whatever the case, the location of this port complex, primarily commercial in nature (though we should not forget the agricultural potential of the fields now buried under the dunes) and right in the middle of the southeastem coastline, must have been crucial for the very dynamics of Phoenician colonization in the West, since we are dealing with the first stable peninsular city within the área of the Island Route. The role that the port of Guardamar must have played in the colonization of Ibiza is becoming clearer as we analyze cultural characteristics that are beginning to be recognized. It is evident that Ibiza was already founded in the 7th century, if not in the 8th, by people who were not Carthaginians, but rather western Phoenicians. The ceramic clays of Sa Caleta are the same as those of the cups produced in the centers on the Andalusian shore (Guadalhorce, Toscanos, Mezquitilla, Chorreras) and the same as the vessels from Guardamar.
In any case, Ibiza must have served to transmit commercial and cultural currents coming from the central Mediterranean. This fact is illustrated by the burial stelae from the sanctuary or tophet at La Fonteta (which have the same style as certain examples from Motya, Carthage, and Ibiza) and samples of gold and silver work with parallels in Tharros, Carthage, and North Africa.
The presence of eastern peoples at the mouth of the Segura surely coincides with the period of initial Phoenician implantation in the West, refuting interpretations that saw on the southeastem Mediterranean coast only a pale reflection of the process of colonization in the southem Peninsula and that, in passing, dated these colonies to a late period of Phoenician colonization. The bronze, ivory, and glass objects found in the strata of the Final Bronze Age at Peña Negra (in the nearby Sierra de Crevillente) alerted us ten years ago to the early date of contacts with the Phoenician world already in the 9th century and, with more regularity, in the 8th century B.C.
Today it is'clear that the Atlantic-style metallurgical focus of Peña Negra I led directly to the
arrival (if it did not develop as a response to the presence) of eastern peoples, who benefited from metallurgical production in the Sierra de Crevillente, a stone's throw from the mouth of the Segura. The early Phoenician presence in Peña Negra probably led to the installation of a small, exotic pottery production center during the transition from the 8th to the 7th century, principally in sectors 7 and 8 of this important orientalizing city. In 1983 we identified Peña Negra with the Hema of the Ora Maritima, a crossroads for diverse peoples and products and a flourishing market center where various trade routes converged. Trade must have been so dynamic in the Southeast that already in the 8th century we witness the establishment of the first monetary system in the westem Mediterranean to employ flat bars of metal (copper, bronze and lead), which has been confirmed by the two pieces found at La Fonteta (Areas A7 and A25).
In summary, the excavation of one of the largest and best preserved cities of the Phoenician world has begun, which is a favorable sign that expectations for the research project at La Fonteta (Proyecto de Investigación La Fonteta) will be broad and ambitious. We are confrontad with the only Phoenician site in the Valencian Community, and public and private entities and administrative bodies must be aware of what their support can mean for the historical-archaeological heritage representad by La Fonteta, which lies buried beneath a marvelous natural heritage.
García Menárguez, A. "Avance sobre las excavaciones en yacimientos con fases del Hierro Antiguo en el tramo final del río Segura (Guardamar del Segura, Alicante)." Pp. 225-29 in XXII Congreso Nacional de Arqueología (Zaragoza), 1995.
González Prats, A. "Sobre unos elementos materiales del comercio fenicio en tierras del Sudeste peninsular." Lucentum 4 (1985) 97-106.
"Las importaciones y la presencia fenicia en la Sierra de Crevillente (Alicante)." Aula Orientalis 4 (1986) 279-302.
"La factoría fenicia de Guardamar." Azarbe (Guardamar, 1990).
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"La presencia fenicia en el Levante peninsular y su influencia en las comunidades indígenas." Pp. 109-18 in I-IV Jornadas de Arqueología Fenicio-Púnica. Ibiza, 1991.
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“púnica” de Ibiza." Arqrítica 2 (Madrid, 1991) 18-19.
“Quince años de excavaciones en la ciudad protohistórica de Herna (La Peña Negra,Crevillente, Alicante).” Saguntum 26 (1991) 181-88.
González Prats, A., and García Menárguez (in press). "El conjunto fenicio de la desembocadura del río Segura (Guardamar del Segura, Alicante)." IV Congreso Internacional de Estudios Fenicios y Púnicos. Cádiz: Ministry of Culture.
Editor's note: This articie appeared in Spanish under the title "La Fonteta: Una ciudad fenicia en Occidente," Revista de arqueología 18,190 (1997) 8-13.
Authors'note: These excavations have been subsidized by the General Administration of Artistic Heritage (Dirección General de Patrimonio Artístico) of the Council of Culture, Education, and Science (Consellería de Cultura, Educación y Ciencia) of the Valencian government (Generalitat Valenciana) and by the Very Illustrious City Council (Muy Ilustre Ayuntamiento) of Guardamar, with a total investment of some five million pesetas.
This research project is linked to the project directed by Prof. González Prats, of the Department of Prehistory at the University of Alicante, with his epigraph Phoenician Colonization in the Southeastern Iberian Peninsula and Cultural Interaction with Indigenous Communities (Colonización fenicia en el Sudeste de la Península ibérica e interacción cultural con las comunidades indígenas). The work combines the efforts of the Department of Prehistory with those of the Archaeological and Ethnographic Museum of Guardamar.
Tbe resolution of July 4, 1996, with file number 73/89, initiated the research project, using the same place name given for the site in 1986 in the Ministry of Culture, within the framework of the Spanish Committee for Cultural Itineraries of the Phoenician-Punic Era (Comité Español para los Itinerarios Culturales de Epoca Fenicio-Púnica), of which one of us was named a consulting member representing the Valencian Community.