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The town of Águilas (Murcia, Spain) treasures some of the most beautiful coves in the southeast of the Iberian Peninsula. Around the crystal clear waters of the Hornillo Bay, located east of the town, is also concentrated a rich heritage dominated by a monumental outcrop: the island of Fraile. The existence of archaeological remains in this place was known since the eighteenth century, but had only raised some attempts at excavation in the 1970s. These attempts, however, were not followed up. Thanks to the institutional support of the City Council of Águilas, two years ago a new interdisciplinary research project was initiated led by Professor Alejandro Quevedo, from the Complutense University of Madrid (UCM) and Juan de Dios Hernández García, director of the Archaeological Museum of Águilas, which has also had the support of the assistant in Archaeology Ricardo Muñoz Yesares. Now, after months of work, the project is making its first advances on the past of the area.

When the work began, nothing foreshadowed the surprises hidden by several tons of earth from the lower part of the island. One of the most shocking to date has been the discovery of a Roman warehouse from more than 1,500 years ago. The roomThe amphorae, with walls up to four meters high, housed a magnificent collection of amphorae. Exceptionally, some of them preserved part of their original contents: garum, the famous Roman fish sauce. From the clay from which they were made to the fish bones they contained, everything has been subjected to rigorous scientific analysis. The small bones and scales are being studied in collaboration with French specialists in ichthyofauna to understand how this popular product was made. A recently published paper within the framework of the project has shown that sauces made from sardines, but also from species such as chucla, a fish with little commercial value today, were already being marketed in the 4th and 5th centuries AD in the Aguilas.

The amphorae discovered in the Roman storehouse still contained part of the original contents: garum, the famous Roman fish sauce.

The study of the pottery has revealed that some of the amphorae came from Tunisia, the ancient Roman province of proconsular Africa, while others were of local production. In fact, a new type has been identified, which has been named Fraile 1 in honor of the site where it was found. This discovery, together with that of a huge salted fish tank four meters long, confirms that the island was an important economic center linked to the exploitation of sea resources.

By extending the intervention in an adjacent sector, several burials were unexpectedly documented. The lateral position of the bodies, the absence of grave goods and their orientation towards the east, in the direction of Mecca, soon led to the suspicion that this was an Islamic necropolis. For the moment it is possible to date it between the XII and XIII centuries A.D., a period that barely
has parallels on the coast. The detailed study of the remains of these individuals, currently underway, will attempt to determine the diseases they suffered, their possible kinship relationships and even aspects of their diet.

The detailed study of the remains of the individuals found in the Islamic necropolis, currently underway, will attempt to determine the diseases they suffered, their possible kinship relationships and even aspects of their diet.

The works, which have counted with the participation of the prestigious underwater photographer Jordi Chías, are allowing the mapping of submerged materials in the Hornillo Bay with the intention of identifying possible shipwrecks and areas used as anchorage. Among the most singular findings of the campaign, the bronze handle of a Roman jug decorated with a satyr and a winged horse, currently in the process of restoration, stands out.

The enthusiasm aroused by this project, but also the challenge it represents at a scientific level, has meant that in recent years a whole series of researchers have joined the project, making Águilas a reference in interdisciplinary work in archaeology. Forensic archaeologists Ángel Fuentes and Víctor A. Morcillo, from LafUAM, have been joined by specialists in Architectural Archaeology such as Francisco Moreno, from the Complutense University of Madrid, in Geoarchaeology such as Mario Gutiérrez, from the University of Jaén, and in African ceramics and ichthyofauna such as Tomoo Mukai and Myriam Sternberg, from the Centre Camille Jullian of the University of Aix-Marseille. Together with the latter, a project will be developed to explore the links between the island and North Africa: "CERAFRICS. Consumption and Exchange of Roman African Ceramics in Southeastern Spain", funded by the École des Hautes Études Hispaniques et Ibériques (EHEHI - Casa de Velázquez).

The enthusiasm aroused by this project, but also the challenge it represents at a scientific level, has led to the incorporation of a number of international researchers in recent years.

The archaeology students from ten different Spanish universities, the many companies and private foundations that have contributed to the success of the excavation through sponsorship (OSS, Culmárex, Fundación Cajamurcia, etc.), and the many companies and private foundations that have collaborated in financing it through sponsorship (OSS, Culmárex, Fundación Cajamurcia, etc.) have also contributed to the success of the excavation, Hostel Isla del FraileCressi, Muebles Montalbán), and the logistical support of Civil Protection and the unquestionable backing of the Águilas City Council have also been fundamental.


The Fraile Island is a real landscape and emotional icon for the inhabitants of Águilas, who are very aware of the historical and archaeological importance of the site, and who fully understand the need to protect a unique site in the Mediterranean. Preserving its archaeological value, but also its ecological value, with its posidonia beds and the different bird colonies that live in the area, is one of the main objectives of the project. Located next to the Cabo Cope Regional Park, it is the only archaeological site catalogued as an Asset of Cultural Interest at terrestrial and underwater level in the Region of Murcia. Its delicate ecosystem, as well as the existence of wells and structures at risk of collapse, mean that, for the moment, access is restricted exclusively to the research team. However, part of the material recovered will gradually be exhibited in the Municipal Archaeological Museum of Águilas.

FOLLOW THE LINK TO THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SITE https://historia.nationalgeographic.com.es/a/anforas-necropolis-y-casa-espia-ultimos-descubrimientos-excavaciones-isla-fraile_17414

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