'ILLEGAL' digging in an archaeological site in the south-western city of Huelva is under investigation, and the finger has been pointed at the civil engineering companies building the new railway station.
The site, which has been waiting for permits to be exploited since 2006, may confirm what historians working on it have long suspected – that Huelva is the oldest city in the western world.
It is thought the building companies may have dug up sand from the archaeological site, which is under a strict conservation order, to use as construction material.
The city council says whoever did it will be fined, since digging or even entering the settlement is forbidden.
Opposition PP members on the council have criticised the local government for not keeping the site under proper vigilance to prevent anyone accessing it, saying next time it could be vandals rather than builders.
The Seminario-La Orden settlement, of around 230,000 square metres, was found during its first excavation in 2006 to contain thousands of ancient building structures thought to date back to prehistoric times.
These included two sets of idols, with 29 statuettes per pair – one of which is shown in the inset photo above from Huelva Archaeological Museum, where they are now displayed - believed to originate to somewhere around the 3,000 BC area; at least, older than 2,000 BC but not quite as far back as 4,000 BC.
Until any other findings elsewhere in Europe are discovered which pre-date them, this means Huelva – known in ancient times as Onuba - could officially be the oldest-ever city on the continent or, in practice, on three out of five continents, excluding Asia and Africa.
Until now, nearby Cádiz was considered the oldest city in Europe by a margin of a few hundred years, but both were thought to have been inhabited at least as recently as the ancient Egyptian era.
The dig takes up three entire fields separated by main roads at the edge of the city, bordered by a tree-lined verge and a dual carriageway.