Welcome to the history page.
This week, as promised, we will review the groundbreaking revelations made at
the Conference of Phoenicio-Punic Archaeology, held last week at Ibiza's branch
university. This prestigious lecture series is fully sponsored and organized
every autumn by the island's Archaeology Museum. Since its inception in 1985,
the conference has become one of Spain's most important meeting-of-the-minds
in the field of Phoenicio-Punic studies.
Before going on, I cannot
help but interject, perhaps ill advisedly, that Ibiza's primary claim to fame
could easily rest on its historical prominence rather than on its highly developed
party life. Trends come and trends go. At present, the island is a haven to
clubbers and assorted bons vivants - which is not a bad thing as long as there
is a parallel respect for (and cognizance of) past eras.
Nobody expects holidaymakers
to sit in reverend awe of Ibiza's by-gone splendour. Nonetheless, a healthy
dose of curiosity as to the crucial role the island played in the founding of
Western Europe (ergo its designation as a World Heritage Site), would be the
dog's Balearics, to use a tenuous new cliché.
I might add that, as in all
things, the decisive factor controlling public interest is the media. Needless
to say, media coverage of Ibiza has barely begun to scrape the surface of the
historical, cultural and ecological wealth that is waiting, nay begging, to
be discovered. Sadly, sensationalist reporting (which barely begins to scrape
the surface of reality let alone the inside summer scene) seems to be the order
of the day.
I suppose I've digressed enough
for one edition, so we'd better get back to business. It was the museum's 16th
annual lecture series we were discussing, and I was about to say that, despite
the shortage of air links to Ibiza, all of the scheduled speakers were able
to make it to the conference, albeit in a different order than previously reported.
To quickly review and update the information we forwarded in Weekly Edition
035 of Saturday 27th October 2001:
1) Monday's lecture was given
by Dr. López Pardo from the University of Madrid and carried the title The
Phoencician Presence on the African Atlantic Coast: Received Heritage and New
2) Tuesdays' lecture was given
by Dr. González Prats from the University of Alicante and was called The
Phoenicio-Punic Colonization of the (Spanish) Mediterranean Seaboard.
3) Wednesday's interesting
lecture was given by Dr. Torres Ortiz from the University of Madrid under the
title Phoenicinas in the Peninsular Southwest
4) Thursday's lecture was
a truly galvanizing experience delivered by Dr. Carrilero Millán from the University
of Almería and was called Phoenicians and Autochthons in Mediterranean Andalusia. (Tip: that
really big word beginning with 'au' means 'indigenous inhabitants'.)
5) Friday's lecture, touted
to be one of the best, lived up to its promise with flying colours. Despite
the fact that she spoke very softly, did not stand up and rarely gesticulated,
Dr. Aubet Semmler delivered the kind of talk that leaves you glued to your seat.
Her thoughts emerged in neat succession, like crystalline drops of empiricism,
painstakingly distilled from the treacherous seas of archaeological deduction.
Her paper, The Phoenicians in the West:
The State of the Science and Perspectives for the 21st
Century, addressed the evolution of archaeological methodology over the
past 30 years, summarized the field's most conclusive discoveries to date, and
mapped out the direction of research it will follow as we usher in the new millennium.
New Facts Loom Large
The influx of information
over the course of the five days was so overwhelming that, now, in the afterglow
of illumination, it is difficult to single out key facts. If pressed, I would
have to say that the week's top revelation was the recent discovery of several
major Phoenician colonies near Lisbon that date back to the early archaic period,
i.e., the 9th century BC.
It is not
my personal assessment that regards these finds as ground-breaking, but rather
the fact that they were mentioned by each and every one of the five speakers
at the conference - whether they pertained to his/her area of expertise or not!
Even Dr. González, whose talk dealt with the easternmost stretch of Spanish
coastline (roughly, Catalonia to Murcia), could not resist making a passing
reference to the Portuguese excavations, the most important of which are Abul
Abul, in particular has yielded
splendid findings: a large pier with adjacent warehouses for the storage of
surplus wine, oil, etc. (a typical Phoenician practice), as well as two ancient
sanctuaries, both with rectangular inner patios where fire rites were performed.
It boggles the mind to think
that the Phoenicians had turned even this remote corner of the known world into
a hub of commerce and industry as long ago as the 9th century BC.
Not surprisingly (in light of the Abul excavations), Phoenician artefacts such
as scarabs and ceramic jugs have also been discovered under the actual Castle
of Lisbon, La Seo.
The reason these finds are
so important is two-fold. First of all, until recently, archaeologists never
suspected that the Phoenicians had left the confines of the Mediterranean to
brave the rough Atlantic waters as early as the 9th century. Later, we know,
they sailed all the way to England, which they called the 'Tin Islands', in
search of . . . tin, of course! Interestingly, tin was very plentiful in Portugal
and, along with high quality alluvial gold, was most certainly the reason for
Tyre's colonisation of the area.
The second serious implication
of the Portugal finds is the rationale that Spain's more easterly foundations
- Malaga, Cadiz for example - must have been founded prior to the dates that
are currently accepted. The question of Cadiz's founding is a hotly debated
subject with academic opinion ranging between the 10th and the 8th
centuries BC. The discovery of Abul and Almada seem to add more weight to the
10th century supporters in that a minor colony would not have been
founded in advance of a major one. Common sense tells us that the ever-practical
Phoenicians would not have glibly sailed past the excellent natural harbour
of Cadiz, for example, to venture into the scary Atlantic without a some sort
of outpost to fall back on. Even the dates for Ibiza's founding (7th
century BC) may have to be pushed back, although corroborating material evidence
is still lacking.
In addition to the Portugal
finds, the lectures were sprinkled with juicy titbits of information that many
readers will no doubt find interesting.
FACT: Tyre founded more colonies
on the Iberian Peninsula than anywhere else in the Mediterranean.
FACT: The Phoenicians introduced
both the chicken and the donkey to Western Europe.
FACT: The Phoenicians introduced
square architecture to Iberia. Before their arrival, all man-made structures
had round walls.
FACT: The Phoenicians travelled
as far south as Bambuk in Africa (between the River Niger and the River Senegal)
in search of gold.
FACT: The Phoenicians collected
and crafted amber (which traditionally comes from the Baltic regions) in the
north of Africa.
FACT: Iberia is full of majestic
royal burial tombs containing luxury grave goods of gold and silver. Both the
tombs and the funeral dowry are nearly identical to those found in Tyre, indicating
that Iberia was the New World of antiquity, full of promise and prosperity.
Interestingly, the central Mediterranean colonies, such as those founded in
Italy and Sardinia, developed their own culture under the aegis of Carthage.
How's that for sensationalism?
Like they say, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em! Tune in next week for a few
reflections on the Yule-tide. Until then.