Duel between archaeologists over the location of the Hercules-Melqart temple in Cádiz | Culture


The experts only agree on one thing: Julius Caesar cried with emotion when he discovered the statue of Alexander the Great inside the temple of the god Hercules-Melqart, built somewhere in the bay of Cádiz. But on the exact point where that happened, there is no scientific consensus. The thesis presented this week on the possible location of the underwater sanctuary in the Sancti Petri channel, a coastal and intertidal area of ​​the bay between Chiclana de la Frontera and San Fernando, has opened a debate between two groups of researchers. The idea publicly explained on Wednesday by a doctoral student from the University of Seville, Ricardo Belizón, backed by a team of scientists from the University of Seville and the Andalusian Institute of Historical Heritage, collides with the hypothesis held by researchers from the universities of Córdoba and Cádiz, which locate it in the Cerro de los Mártires, an area of ​​the Ministry of Defense in San Fernando 300 meters away from the coastline.

To reach such disparate conclusions, both groups of experts have used the so-called LiDAR technology, which is roughly a remote position measurement system, based on a laser scanning sensor that registers returns against the surface; that is to say, a system that allows to measure the distance between the emission point and an object. With the results obtained, a high-resolution 3D map can thus be produced. Archaeologists, among other professional groups, use it to locate objects under the earth’s surface.

But Antonio Monterroso-Checa, professor in the Area of ​​Archeology at the University of Córdoba and whose study The location of the Melqart shrine in Gadir: contribution of PNOA-LiDAR data sHe maintains that the temple is in San Fernando, he warns that “LiDAR is not a radar. With water, the light emitted by the LiDAR has a mirror effect, it does not pass through, and the computer processing generates a random pixelation as a solution. Radar, on the other hand, is a radio wave that can, in certain frequency bands, pass through surfaces. They are different things ”.

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In other words, the collision with the water from the LiDAR light generates what is called an “artifact”: a bad triangulation of the points and a pixelation in the form of triangles, which can be very heterogeneous. Or what is the same: the data from the University of Seville would be wrong, according to Monterroso-Checa, and under the Santi Petri pipe there would be nothing. The results of that study “which unfortunately is in the media these days”, considers the expert from the University of Córdoba, only shows “an inability to triangulate the light bounced off a sheet of water by a software. Nothing of reality ”.

On the other hand, Milagros Alzaga, head of the Center for Underwater Archeology (CAS) of the Andalusian Institute of Historical Heritage and participant in the possible discovery in Sancti Petri, prefers to remain silent and not enter into cross accusations. Antonio Sáez Romero, professor at the Department of Prehistory and Archeology at the University of Seville, maintains the same position as Alzaga and refers to the data provided in the public presentation this past Wednesday, supported by the Junta de Andalucía and prepared after a scientific presentation last week at the Sapienza University of Rome. In it, the scientists made it clear that after discovering these “aberrations” in the territory – which draw the possible temple, piers, an inland port and a large mass of constructions yet to be defined – they contrasted with the experts of the National Geographic Institute in case it could be a triangulation error, and they ruled it out. However, the remote sensing technicians at the University of Cádiz think just the opposite. For them, the images that appear on the computer screens do not show any construction or any temple under the Santi Petri pipes. In fact, they detail that if they use the visualization programs Arcgis or Global Mapper to interpret the data, the result is negative. There is nothing at all.

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But the defenders of the possibility that the temple is under the pipe maintain that their assumptions are also supported by inquiries combined with historical sources, the map of archaeological finds and several visits to the place. The superposition of all this geopositioned information shows outstanding coincidences, they say, as is the case of the rest of an underwater column – documented years ago – that coincides in its situation with the data reflected in the LiDAR. With all this information and after more than a year of research, the scientists at the University of Seville have been encouraged to present their preliminary results, as hypotheses, which can only be confirmed after campaigns and archaeological surveys that can last for years.

Monterroso-Checa replies, however, that Sancti Petri could never be the place where the temple was built because, due to its rocky bottom, ships that tried to approach it in Ancient times would have needed between six and eight meters more depth to maintain safe browsing. That would have made the temple on the islet directly under the water, something that would not happen in the case of San Fernando, which would always be above this level.

Lázaro Lagóstena, professor of Ancient History at the University of Cádiz, predicted EL PAÍS last March: “Everything is debatable and there will be a great debate. Non-invasive technology will allow us to confirm it soon. The bay of Cádiz is a box of archaeological surprises ”.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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