Vienna, June 24 : The discovery of an ancient city buried beneath the sands of modern-day Syria has provided evidence for a Hellenistic settlement that existed for more than six centuries extending into the time of the Roman Empire.
The Syrian deserts have long kept an important secret hidden deep beneath their sands - the remains of the pre-Roman Hellenistic settlement of Palmyra.
Until now, the only evidence for the existence of such a settlement was to be found in historical writing.
As part of an FWF-funded joint project, the Institute of Classical Archaeology at the University of Vienna, the German Archaeological Institute and the Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums in Syria have been the first to track down the location of this early city.
Moreover, their findings are now producing a unique insight into the structures of a pre-Roman Hellenistic settlement.
"While we know a great deal about the later Roman city, the Hellenistic settlement of Palmyra has never been investigated," explained Project Manager Professor Andreas Schmidt-Colinet from the Institute of Classical Archaeology at the University of Vienna.
"The current investigation gives us a unique opportunity to analyse the transition from the Hellenistic period to the time of the Roman Empire by studying the settlement structures that have been uncovered here over a wide area," he added.
The research work is already yielding results, particularly as regards the chronology of the individual phases of construction and the trade and commercial background of the Hellenistic "Sand City".
The investigations show that building activities were divided across various major phases stretching from the third century B.C. to the end of the third century A.D.
This indicates that the site could have fallen out of use around the time when the city was conquered by the Roman emperor Aurelian or around the construction of the wall under the emperor Diocletian.
Pottery finds are particularly important for helping to determine the trade routes used by the citizens of Palmyra.
Overall, the archaeologists have found far larger amounts of local domestic pottery at this site than imported ceramic goods from other areas. evertheless, amphorae from Rhodes - large clay containers used to transport wine - and goods imported from Africa show that Palmyra had connections with far-flung corners of the world from the late Hellenistic period until the late Roman period.
The team of archaeologists has also uncovered initial evidence for the keeping and usage of domestic animals. "Kitchen waste" shows that the inhabitants kept and ate primarily sheep and goats, as well as dromedaries, cattle and pigs.