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updated 1/30/2008 6:45:35 PM ET 2008-01-30T23:45:35

An archaeological dig in downtown Berlin has uncovered evidence that the German capital is at least 45 years older than had previously been established, authorities said Wednesday.

During excavation work last week in the Mitte district, archaeologists uncovered a wooden beam from an ancient earthen cellar, said Karin Wagner of the city-state's office for historical preservation.

It was in exceptionally good condition, having lain under the water table for centuries, and scientists were able to determine from a sample taken that it had been cut down in 1192.

That means it dates to 45 years before the official date of Berlin's birth, 1237 — the year in which documents first mention the settlement, referring to the priest of the Petrikirche church, which stood not far from the site of the new dig.

Wagner said the best guess is that the cellar — measuring about 10 by 13 feet — was built around the time the tree was cut.

"The archaeologists know it was felled in 1192. What it doesn't prove is that it was built in 1192, but it probably was at least within a year or two," she said.

The dig has been going on since last 2007 in Berlin's Petriplatz, an area near the Spree river where the settlement was originally known as "Coelln," with Berlin being on the other side of the banks.

In addition to being home to the Petrikirche — which was badly damaged in World War II and was eventually removed entirely in 1960 by East Berlin's communist authorities to build a parking lot — it also housed an early City Hall and a Latin school, Wagner said.

The cellar where the wood beam was found would have belonged to a building that predated the Latin school, but on the same site, Wagner said.

Even with the find, Berlin remains young compared with other European capitals such as Paris and London, which predate it by hundreds of years.

But it adds a new chapter to the city's history,

"We had hoped with the excavation to be able to show the people of Berlin a piece of their history," dig leader Claudia Melisch told Die Zeit weekly. "And now we have really found the cradle of Berlin here by the Spree."

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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