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ARCHAEOLOGISTS EXTEND HISTORY OF BEIRUT BACK TO 3000 B.C.

Archaeologists at the world's largest urban dig are rewriting the history of Beirut, extending the city's known existence thousands of years back to when it was a Canaanite seaport in 3000 B.C.

Finds include the bejeweled body of a young Canaanite girl from 2200 B.C. in a funerary jar, Roman mosaics and sarcophagi, Greek funeral remains, a marble statue of Apollo, Phoenician city walls and fortifications, the street plan of Phoenician Beirut and cooking utensils and household goods dating back to 1400 B.C.Layers of Canaanite, Phoenician, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Mameluke and Ottoman civilizations have been unearthed since digs began in the heart of Beirut in September 1993.

About 150 archaeologists from the Netherlands, France, Italy, Germany, Britain, Poland and Lebanon are excavating a dozen sites totaling 48,000 square yards in the city center wrecked by civil war that is being rebuilt by SOLIDERE.

The greatest achievement, archaeologists say, has been to confirm that Beirut existed in the third millennium B.C., effectively extending its known existence some 2,000 years.

"It is actually now that Beirut has become known to us as a city established in the third millennium B.C.," said Hareth Boustani, an archaeology professor appointed by SOLIDERE to coordinate with Lebanon's Directorate of Antiquities on the digs.

"We were looking for the unknown history of Beirut," added Professor Leila Badr, director of the archaeology museum at the American University of Beirut. "Nothing was known of Beirut in the third and second millennium B.C. We were wondering if it ever existed at that time.

"We located the Bronze Age city. We discovered two city walls from that period, one of which is really monumental and beautiful as it has a gate and stairway that lead to the higher level of the city, totally destroyed by the later Ottoman infrastructure," said Badr, who directed one of the digs.

Excavations have shown that the location of Beirut's commercial district has changed little in thousands of years.