The site of an ancient city called Auza, the earliest African city of the Phoenician civilization that existed 3,500 years ago, may have been in a different spot than experts have thought, archaeologists report.
Scholars know Auza existed from written records, but its exact location has never been proven. By studying ancient maps and records, emeritus classics professor Sir John Boardman of the Beazley Archive at Britain's University of Oxford was able to locate a more likely site for the ancient city, he said.
"This is simply a matter of making a suggestion of where the place is actually to be located on a map," Boardman told LiveScience. "Too many people have wanted to put it much too far away."
Where previous historians have thought this outpost was probably far to the west, beyond Carthage in Tunisia (the northernmost country in Africa), Boardman submits that Auza lies at a site known as Aziris nearer Egypt and Phoenicia, the home base of the Phoenicians centered on modern-day Israel and Lebanon.
Auza was a port city used to give the Phoenicians a foothold on the continent of Africa. The site of Aziris would have provided "good anchorage, with a defensible promontory and easy access inland," Boardman wrote in a paper describing his findings published in the August issue of the Oxford Journal of Archaeology.
The Phoenicians were a seafaring civilization that lived between 1,550 B.C. and 300 B.C. They were famous for their shipbuilding capabilities and seamanship.
"They were exploring the western Mediterranean the same time the Greeks were," Boardman said. "It's fashionable to think they were in rivalry, but it's much more likely they were friendly to each other."
The Phoenicians were also the first civilization to use the alphabet widely. They spread their system of writing throughout the Middle East, North Africa and Europe, and it is thought to be the ancestor of almost all modern alphabets.
The confusion over the site for Auza likely stemmed from the many names the site of Aziris has been known by over time, and the poor records identifying where Auza actually was, Boardman said. Though he can't be sure he's gotten to the bottom of the matter, Boardman said he thinks Aziris is the most likely place to have hosted Auza.
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