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Ancient Salting Factory Discovered at Baelo Claudia Roman Ruins, Tarifa

Rosario Pérez | Photos: ©Fran Montes,ReachExtra

A team of archaeologists led by University of Cádiz professor, Darío Bernal, have unearthed a previously unknown fish-salting factory at the ancient Roman ruins of Baelo Claudia in Bolonia, Tarifa.

Baelo Claudia Roman Ruins, Tarifa, Salting Factory, Recuperando Garum

Despite the COVID19 crisis and the health and safety measures that are now part of the “new normal”, a new series of archaeological excavations finally commenced this July at the ruins of Baelo Claudia; a port city built by the Romans towards the end of the 2nd century BC. It is in the Bolonia cove (which lies about 22 kilometres northwest of Tarifa), close to the beach and is visited by thousands of tourists every summer.

“Recuperando el Garum” (“Uncovering Garum”) is the name given to this exciting excavation project, and the site was cleared and prepared on Monday July 6. This involved the removal of sterile levels to bring archaeological layers to the surface, and the field work finished on the 17th until next month. A team of 15 people were involved in the project, which included students and researchers from the HUM440 group at the University of Cádiz (UCA) as well as the Universities of Granada and Bologna (Italy).

Baelo Claudia Roman Ruins, Tarifa, Salting Factory, Recuperando Garum

According to project leader, UCA professor of Archaeology Darío Bernal Casasola, the aims for this year are ambitious: to deepen our knowledge of the southern sector of this ancient city, document ancient fish salting techniques which were previously unknown, carry out DNA studies of tuna fossils and to study micromorphology techniques.

In the field of Archaeology, it tends to be the case that the most optimistic goals are not always achieved, but on this occasion they have been. Now that the field work has been completed, it will be followed by a detailed analysis of the unearthed remains, and the results have been promising. As Darío Bernal himself confirmed to RechExtra, “we have located a new Roman salting factory which was totally unknown to us until now, and we have now laid the foundations to be able to make an in-depth study of this new building in the next 4 or 5 years, which will be carried out in monthly campaigns”.

The project leader of “Recuperando el Garum” recalled that seven other salting factories had been previously discovered at the Baelo Claudia site, but that none could be studied until now, with this eighth fish-salting industry at this important city, which reached its peak between the 1st century BC and the 2nd century AD. “Years ago, the method used to dig was different, and the information that we were able to obtain at the time from those first factories at the Baelo Claudia site was minimal compared to what we are able to find out today with advanced techniques from the very moment of discovery”, he explained.

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The Paella of the Ancient Romans

Baelo Claudia Roman Ruins, Tarifa, Salting Factory, Recuperando Garum

In fact, these excavations are going further than just studying the building itself and has led the team into the field of “Food Archaeology”; to learn how the famous garum sauce was prepared in this paradisiacal corner of the world, which would end up being part of the vast Roman Empire. “Garum was like the paella in those times: a very popular dish, which was prepared and eaten everywhere, with variations from one place to the other depending on the local produce”, explains the archaeologist. “Among the remains of this latest discovery, we have found many sea urchins, which were probably used to make the garum,” he added.

But… there is more. The successful July 2020 campaign, which saw the clearing of almost 500 square meters (a comparatively large area to other excavation sites) , the team of archaeologists have also found a considerably large building whose specific purpose will have to be determined in future studies. “It is close to the salting factory, but it doesn’t seem to be another factory, because we have found remains of paintings, which were not commonly found in that type of building… It is still too early to know what it is, maybe it was a house, but also, due to its size and location, it could have been a market”, explains Darío Bernal.

An Ongoing Process of Discovery

Baelo Claudia Roman Ruins, Tarifa, Salting Factory, Recuperando Garum

The excavations and analysis of the ruins will soon allow the team to unravel a whole host of mysteries on the premise that “the important thing is not to discover many things, but to study what we do discover in depth.” This is what the “Recuperando el Garum” project aims to achieve with the support of the Andalusian Regional Ministry of Culture – by putting this ancient site and history on the map, not only at a national level, but internationally.

“Archaeological sites, if not investigated, become fossilized … On the other hand, excavations, and research, keep them alive,” explains Darío Bernal. Under his leadership, in the coming years “Recuperando el Garum” will undoubtedly contribute to ensuring that the Baelo Claudia site continues to be well positioned on the international scene and continues to be what it is today: a “catalyst” that enhances the attractiveness of the entire area as well as being an significant cultural and tourist site in southern Andalusia.

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