The Cerro del Villar site can be seen from the motorway near the airport. / F. SILVA

Cerro del Villar: the dig resumes two decades on

The phoenician remains are being excavated after a gap of 20 years, in a project directed by Malaga university. Interesting items from centuries ago are already being discovered

FRANCISCO GRIÑÁN

Excavations resumed this week at Cerro del Villar, one of the most important and best-preserved Phoenician archaeological sites in Spain, 20 years after the last ones came to an end. This project, which is coordinated by Malaga university, hopes to find a wharf on the ancient island in the mouth of the Guadalhorce river, which would have been used by the settlers who founded the first Malaga in the 8th century BC. And it wasn't long before some interesting items began to be uncovered.

"A lot of pottery has begun to surface," explained José Suarez, who is directing the excavations, showing us the base of an Etruscan ceramic cup dating back to 570 BC. "We have found other pieces in the past from the Cerveteri workshop, which was in operation during that period," he said. "Cerro del Villar, after Ampuria, is the site where the most Etruscan pottery in Spain has been found".

The excavations at this site, which can be seen from the motorway near Malaga Airport, are due to continue for four weeks. More than 50 archaeologists, anthropologists, researchers and students are involved in the search for the urban structures of Cerro delVillar which they hope will start to appear within a few days. As the site had been abandoned and was not destroyed by later civilisations such as the Romans or Moors, the remains are not only very well preserved but the constructions are barely 30 centimetres from the present surface.

Among the team involved in this project are 20 professors, technicians and students from the University of Chicago. "When Malaga university asked if we were interested in taking part in a new excavation we jumped at the chance, because we would be working directly on a phoenician site," said Carolina López-Ruiz. The Americans are working on the area closest to the ones previously excavated by Aubet, and are looking for continuity with what he found.

That is not all. They also hope to find the religious building or enclave which would have existed on the phoenician island, and evidence of the way the community was organised in economic, urban and social terms.

Suárez explained that the area excavated so far is in a U-shape and they believe the port of the then island could have been at the opposite end to where the American team is working. From geophysics and georadar they know there is a strong wall in that area and they hope to uncover it to see if it was where the phoenician ships used to arrive.

The Cerro del Villar site holds many secrets, the archaeologists know that already. Of the eight hectares it is believed to have covered, 4.5 have been preserved, and in these four weeks the archaeologists plan to search about 300 to 400 metres.

José Suárez is over the moon about participating in this project. "Centuries of history are at our feet," he said. "I started here in the 1980s with a pick and a shovel, excavating with Aubet, and I hope some of the people taking part today will continue in the future".

This is currently the only phoenician settlement being explored in Spain. There is no shortage of land to investigate, nor history to be revealed. Malaga is about to find out even more about her past inhabitants.