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Sci/Tech Archeology
Sci/Tech: Ancient Alexandria Older Than We Thought?
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Thursday, 26 July 2007 Written by Elena Gwynne
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New evidence suggests that Alexandria could much older than historians had thought. Archaeologists have discovered material suggesting that the site was home to a major settlement for seven hundred years or more before the time of Alexander.

Founded in 332 B.C.E. the city of Alexandria on the coast of Egypt was home to one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World, the great Lighthouse of Alexandria. It was also known for centuries for its great library. During the time of the Ptolemies, Alexandria became known as a center of learning,and by the time of the Romans, it is thought that the great library held around seven hundred thousand works. Not much however, is said about the history of the place before Alexander chose it for his city.

It is said by Plutarch that Alexander the Great settled on the location near Pharos for his city because of a dream. The famed writer describes the location as “exceptionally favourable” with “a large natural harbor” (Plutarch. Alexander 26).

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Although the island of Pharos and the harbor are mentioned in some ancient sources such as Homer's Odyssey, almost nothing has been known about it's history prior to the settling of Alexandria. The most said about the earlier settlement in many books is that it was a fishing village by the name of Rhakotis. Plutarch gives the impression in his telling of Alexander's life that there was no prior settelment at all. Recent discoveries however are showing us more about the early history of the region.

Homer says of the region around Pharos only that “it has a harbor, a sheltered bay, where shipmasters take on dark water for the outward voyage.” (The Odyssey. Fitzgerald trans. 384-386) The emphasis on the harbour though, shows how important such things were to the sea-men of the ancient world.


The latest findings are to be published in the August issue of GSA Today. LiveScience and ScienceDaily have given us a preview of the discoveries made through the use of sediment cores in the harbor of modern-day Alexandria. Findings from these cores show that there was a fairly large settlement on the site as early as seven hundred years before Hellenistic Alexandria or around the year 1,000 B.C.E. Some of the material found by the archaeologists included ceramic shards and imported building stones.

With these dates, it is quite possible that the site was used by the Minoans, the Phonecians and the Egyptians as well as the Greeks of Alexander's time and before.

One of the factors which makes working on Alexandria more difficult is that the ancient city has ended up under the waters of the current harbor.