Cartagena has a history of struggle, home to one civilisation after another, the reason for its importance being it´s location, which attracted interest from the earliest traces of human settlement.
The almost unique geographical features of the port of Cartagena give it safety from the elements, and made it an ideal place for settlement even in pre-historic times. Various different civilizations have taken advantage of its sheltered natural harbour, surrounded by nature´s defences.
The five hills inside the city made it safe from intruders, and additional protection was given by the Sierra Minera, the Mar Menor and a lagoon to the north (this lagoon is now dry land, and is where the Paseo Alfonso XIII runs through the modern city from east to west). The first settlements were on what was a peninsula, linked to the mainland by a thin stretch of land to the east, towards the area of La Unión.
Of course pre-history is defined by the lack of reliable records and information, but the relics discovered in settlements around the mountainous coastline make it possible to sketch an outline of pre-historical settlements in the municipality. The oldest human remains discovered were in the Cueva Victoria, close to Llano del Beal, and are about 1.3 million years old.
This cave is considered to be one of the most important paleontological sites in Europe, since the finds are related to the complex problem of the beginnings of Eurasian civilization. The human phalanx found in 1984 at Cueva Victoria shows that it was one of the first settlements in Europe, together with the sites at Venta Micena (Granada) and Dmanisi (Georgia). Since then more items have been found which confirm the presence of human settlements in the south-east of Spain during the lower Pleistocene era. Click to see report following Mayorial visit to the Cueva Victoria.
Plans are currently in place to open the Cueva Victoria to the public at some point in the future, but in the meantime you can see prehistoric remains in the Cartagena Municipal Archaeological Museum. Click Archaeological Museum.
The Mousterian period covers the beginning of the last European Ice Age, from 35,000 to 100,000 years ago. This is primarily the age of Neanderthal Man. Archaeological findings in the Sierra Minera near Cartagena have revealed that Neanderthals hunted in the area, before heading down to the coast to fish. Remnants of animals which were eaten have been found in the Cueva de los Aviones at the entry to the Bay of Cartagena.
The Higher Paleolithic settlements can be seen in the Monasterio de San Ginés de la Jara, a place which must have been used seasonally by hunter-gatherers at the beginning of the period. Up in the coastal mountains lies a cave, known as the Cueva del Caballo ("Cave of the Horse"), where there are relics from a human occupation at the end of the Paleolithic. The occupants were probably drawn to the spot by its orientation as well as its proximity to the sea. Also worthy of mention is the Cueva de los Mejillones (Los Belones), with its harpoons and darts fashioned from bone and antlers.
The Neolithic saw true permanent settlements appearing for the first time. The basic economy changed from a hunter-gatherer existence to one of agriculture, through farming and the domestication of animals. This occurred in Cartagena in the fourth millennium BC, later than in the Eastern Mediterranean.
In Cartagena the most important archaeological sites from this period are the Cueva de los Pájaros (Cabo de Palos), Calblanque, the Cerro de San Joaquín (Portmán), where the foundations of some roofed dwellings can still be seen, and the poblado de Las Amoladeras, which belongs to the Enolithic period.
This culture existed between 1800 and 1300BC, and came out of Almeria. Basically it was an early Bronze age culture which became quite advanced, working in a number of metals, as well as creating sophisticated pottery and ceramic techniques.
The Argar (1800 BC to 1300BC) culture left few traces in Cartagena itself, although there are some traces in the surrounding countryside. This could be due to the Argar interest in the mining resources which were less obviously available in the immediate environment of Cartagena, the main mineral deposits being centred in the Sierra Minera.
The Late Bronze Age is represented only at the coastal site of Cala del Pino, in La Manga del Mar Menor.
An excellent place to go and discover more about these various cultures is the Archaeological Museum in Murcia which has a very good display going back through prehistory and has some beautiful Argaric ceramics. Click Archaeological Museum, Murcia.
History of Cartagena Part 2, Mastia, The Iberians, Carthaginians and Romans Click History of Cartagena Part 2
For the History of Cartagena Part 3, 5th Century to 15th Century, Click Cartagena History Part 3
For the History of Cartagena Part 4, From the Austrias to today, Click Cartagena History Part 4
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