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ARCHEOLOGY

The Troy of Murcia

Archeologists unearth Bronze Age fortification "with a design from the East"

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The site of archeological exploration in La Bastida, near Totana in the Murcia region.

"A work conceived for combat." This is how the archeologists from Barcelona's Autónomo University (UAB) describe the impressive fortification found in the rich historical site of La Bastida, near Totana in the Murcia region. According to the recent announcement of their discovery, the structure -- about which the researchers are lavish with superlatives -- is a wonder of poliorcetics (siegecraft). Could it be that southeastern Spain was once home to a Troy of its own?

The fort was built in the Bronze Age, some 4,200 years ago, with a level of skill in the art of fortification so high as to be a complete break with the past in this part of the world; and it is, the archeologists maintain, unique in continental Europe. Just what it was doing in Murcia is something that still needs explanation. It seems to reflect a time of social and political change -- possibly the emergence of a new kind of state structure -- that caused a spectacular increase in violence.

It has massive three-meter-thick walls, square towers that would have had an original height of seven meters, a monumental entrance, and a postern gate with a pointed arch that remains intact, something exceptional for that epoch. The wall protected a city of some four hectares situated on a hill. The archeologists -- whose dig is sponsored by Murcia's culture department, Totana town hall, the UAB and the national government -- believe that the fortification was designed by "people with advanced military knowledge, who came from the Near East." The design, unknown at that period in the West, "derives from the ancient civilizations of the Mediterranean."

Specifically, the discoverers, directed by the UAB prehistory professor Vicente Lull, allude to no less than the second city of Troy. Why the second? Well, at the site on the hill of Hisarlik in Turkey, the remains of as many as 10 Trojan cities lie superimposed on one another. The legendary Troy of The Iliad is thought to be Troy VII A. The earlier Troy II dates from between 2,600 and 2,350BC, roughly contemporary with the fortified city in Murcia (2,200BC).

La Bastida was the most advanced settlement in Bronze Age Europe"

The fort's layout "reveals an astute defense strategy, which involved a new style of fighting, and the installation of a violent, class-oriented power system that conditioned the development of the rest of the Peninsula during seven centuries," the UAB team claims. The find makes it necessary to "rethink what is known about the origin of economic and political inequalities in Europe, the formation of the military class and the role of violence in the formation of traditions of identity." In La Bastida innovative arms have also been found, such as halberds.

The discovery confirms that the city being excavated at La Bastida -- the center of El Argar culture, which has been gradually excavated over recent years -- was in its day "the most advanced settlement, in political and military terms, in Bronze Age Europe, comparable only to the Minoan civilization in Crete."

So far, six towers have been found in a 70-meter stretch of wall. The perimeter of the fortification must originally have been some 300 meters. Entry to the city was by a narrow passage flanked by high thick walls, which would have been closed with heavy gates.

The postern now unearthed is reminiscent of Troy II and the Near Eastern urban world, influenced by the civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt. The archeologists think it may show that the construction, or at least its planning, involved people who came here from the East, after the crisis that laid waste to their regions 4,300 years ago. The military innovation of the postern gate, which allows for an outward sally to attack besiegers by surprise, was not adopted by the Hittites and Mycenaeans until between 400 and 800 years after the Murcian fort was built.

La Bastida was probably, the archeologists suggest, the most powerful city in continental Europe during the Bronze Age. At the site, between 2008 and 2011, dwellings of more than 70 square meters were found, and a dyke holding back a great reservoir with capacity for half a million liters of water.