Layers of History: Cástulo’s Ibero-Roman Archaeological Splendor

Cástulo, nestled on the fertile banks of the Rio Guadalimar in the upper Guadalquivir valley, stands as a testament to the rich tapestry of human history woven across its landscape. From the ancient days when Neanderthals hunted in the region to the establishment of a sophisticated Iberian city, Cástulo has played a pivotal role in the evolution of human civilization.

The archaeological evidence found on the river terraces near Cástulo provides a fascinating glimpse into the prehistoric era, particularly the time when Neanderthals roamed the area. Tools from this period serve as tangible links to our distant past, offering insights into the daily lives and survival strategies of early human inhabitants. These artifacts not only underscore the longevity of human presence but also hint at the natural resources that likely attracted these early settlers.

Around 5000 BC, Cástulo witnessed the emergence of its first permanent settlement. This marked a crucial juncture in the area’s history as the local population transitioned to a more settled lifestyle. Agriculture and livestock became integral to their economy, signifying a shift towards more complex societal structures. Polished stones and ceramics from this era highlight advancements in craftsmanship and technology, reflecting a society that was adapting and thriving in its environment.

However, it was the discovery of metallic ores in the nearby Sierra Morena that propelled Cástulo into the echelons of prosperity. The abundance of these valuable resources transformed the city into one of the wealthiest and most extensive in the Iberian Peninsula. This newfound wealth likely fueled advancements in various domains, including trade, craftsmanship, and infrastructure.

The geographical setting of Cástulo, surrounded by the Sierra Morena mountains to the north and the Sierra de Cazorla, Segura y Las Villas to the east, further enhanced its appeal. The natural features not only provided a protective barrier but also contributed to the city’s agricultural fertility. The confluence of these factors created a favorable environment for the growth and sustenance of a thriving community.

Cástulo’s historical trajectory underscores the interconnectedness of human societies with their natural surroundings. The city’s evolution from a hunting ground for Neanderthals to a sophisticated Iberian hub reflects the adaptability and resilience of human communities over time. The utilization of natural resources, technological innovations, and economic strategies played pivotal roles in shaping Cástulo’s destiny.

As we delve into the annals history, we are reminded of the intricate interplay between human endeavors and the environment. The echoes of the past resonate in the archaeological remnants, telling a compelling story of a city that, through the ages, embraced change and flourished amidst the challenges of its time. Cástulo stands as a testament to the enduring spirit of human ingenuity and the captivating journey of a settlement that left an indelible mark on the tapestry of Iberian history.

Ancient Routes

The ancient routes originating from Cástulo, intertwined with the exploitation of metallic ores, provide a captivating narrative of trade, exchange, and cultural interactions during the Bronze Age. These routes, established as early as the 3rd millennium BC, reveal a sophisticated network that connected with distant regions, fostering economic and cultural ties.

The primary trade route extended from Cástulo down the Guadalquivir valley, offering a vital link between the inland city and both the Atlantic and the Mediterranean coast at Almeria. This route navigated through a pass nestled between the Sierra de Cazorla and the Sierra Magina. From there, it extended south and east, navigating between the Sierra de Baza to the north and the Sierra Nevada to the west and south. The journey continued southward to the coast, circumventing the Sierra Alhamilla to the east. This major trade route played a pivotal role in connecting with various civilizations along its course.

One significant outcome of this trade network was the establishment of communication between Cástulo and the Tartessians. The Tartessians, known for their wealth and advanced metallurgy, likely engaged in trade and cultural exchange, contributing to the city’s prosperity and facilitating the flow of goods and ideas.

A secondary route diverged eastward, just north of the Sierra Alhamilla, ultimately meeting the Mediterranean coast at Garrucha. This alternate pathway served as a crucial link, connecting Cástulo with regions beyond its immediate surroundings. Notably, this route facilitated communication between Cástulo and the copper-working people of Los Millares. The exchange of copper, a valuable resource, likely played a central role in fostering economic and technological advancements for both communities.

Furthermore, the southern branch of the route connected Cástulo with the Argar people of the Baza area and the Rio Almanzora. This connection was significant, as it allowed for interactions with the Argar culture, a prominent Bronze Age civilization in the Iberian Peninsula. Over time, these interactions contributed to the cultural mosaic, influencing its practices, beliefs, and material culture.

The intricate web of ancient routes emanating from Cástulo underscores the city’s pivotal role as a hub of trade and cultural exchange. The connections forged along these routes not only facilitated the exchange of goods but also served as conduits for the transmission of ideas, technologies, and social practices. Cástulo’s strategic location and engagement in long-distance trade played a crucial role in shaping its identity as a thriving center of commerce and cultural convergence during the Bronze Age.

Iberian Oppidum of Cástulo

The historical evolution of the Iberian oppidum of Cástulo unfolds as a fascinating narrative, weaving together elements of trade, culture, and societal development. The Argar people from Castellon Alto, located approximately 170 kilometers away in Granada province, provide a crucial link to Cástulo’s early history, showcasing the city’s significance as a center for resource extraction and exchange.

As early as 1900 BC, the Argar people were utilizing copper ore sourced from Cástulo, highlighting the strategic importance of the city in the Bronze Age trade networks. This long-distance relationship attests to the economic interconnectedness of ancient societies and emphasizes Cástulo’s role as a key supplier of valuable resources, particularly copper.

The initial settlement of Cástulo saw the population occupying the land on the slopes above the Rio Guadalimar. Over the subsequent thousand years, the city underwent substantial growth, transforming into a society with distinct Iberian characteristics. This progression marked the emergence of tribal leaders and the establishment of a social and political structure within the oppidum.

One notable aspect identity during this period is its recognition as an Iberian oppidum. Oppida were large fortified settlements characteristic of the Iberian Peninsula during the Iron Age, serving as centers of political, economic, and social activity. Cástulo, as an oppidum, played a crucial role in the regional landscape.

The presence of a mint within the oppidum is indicative of Cástulo’s economic autonomy and sophistication. The ability to coin its own currency points to a level of economic organization and control over trade and commerce. The use of the sphinx as a symbol, as documented in the writings of Diodorus of Siculus (60–30 BC), adds an intriguing layer to Cástulo’s cultural identity. The significance and symbolism of the sphinx may provide insights into the religious, mythological, or political aspects of the society that flourished within the oppidum.

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The historical accounts from various ancient writers such as Strabo, Polybius, Pliny the Elder, and Livy further attest to the prominence of Cástulo in the wider Mediterranean context. These references underscore the city’s regional importance and its role as a political and cultural hub.

Cástulo, as the capital town of the Oretani tribe of Iberians, held a central position in the political landscape of the time. The tribal structure and leadership dynamics within Cástulo contributed to the formation of a distinctive Iberian identity that left a lasting imprint on the historical narrative of the region.

In summary, the story of the Iberian oppidum of Cástulo unfolds as a dynamic tale of cultural evolution, economic prowess, and political significance. From its early ties with the Argar people to its emergence as a thriving oppidum with a mint and a distinctive symbol, Cástulo stands as a testament to the complexities of ancient societies in the Iberian Peninsula and their role in shaping the broader historical landscape.

Phoenicians and Greeks

The arrival of Phoenician and Greek traders in the region around 850 BC marked a significant juncture in the cultural and economic history of Cástulo. The influence of these Mediterranean civilizations, particularly the Phoenicians, and to a lesser extent the Greeks, ushered in a period of ‘orientalising,’ akin to the cultural enrichment experienced by the Tartessians further down the Rio Guadalquivir.

The term ‘orientalising’ refers to the adoption or incorporation of Eastern or Near Eastern artistic, cultural, and material elements by Western societies. In the context of Cástulo, this influence is evident in the archaeological finds dating from this period.

One noteworthy discovery from the 7th century BC is a bronze model of a sphinx, likely a handle from an incense jar. The sphinx, with its mythical and symbolic significance, is a notable motif associated with various ancient cultures, including those of the Near East. Its presence in Cástulo reflects the cross-cultural exchanges and the infusion of artistic elements from the East into the local material culture.

The incorporation of a Greek krater from the 4th century BC further attests to the enduring impact of Mediterranean traders on the city. Kraters were vessels used in ancient Greece for mixing wine and water during symposia, showcasing the influence of Greek social and cultural practices in Cástulo. The presence of such artifacts points to a deepening engagement with Greek trade networks and a growing appreciation for Greek artistic and functional elements.

The symbiotic relationship between Cástulo and the Phoenician and Greek traders likely extended beyond the exchange of goods. Cultural ideas, religious practices, and technological knowledge would have flowed between these civilizations, contributing to the development of a more cosmopolitan and interconnected society in Cástulo.

The economic benefits derived from these trade connections would have been substantial. The Phoenicians, known for their maritime prowess, were key players in the ancient Mediterranean trade routes, while the Greeks, with their advanced civilization, brought with them valuable commodities and cultural influences.

The period of ‘orientalising’ in Cástulo, spurred by the arrival of Phoenician and Greek traders, adds a layer of complexity to the city’s historical narrative. It showcases the adaptability of the local population to external influences and highlights the cosmopolitan nature of ancient trade networks. Cástulo, through its engagement with these Mediterranean civilizations, became a melting pot of cultural exchange, leaving behind a material record that speaks to the dynamic interplay of different societies in the ancient world.

La Muela – a Phoenician Temple or Palace

The discovery of a Phoenician-style temple or palace at La Muela, situated on the banks of the Rio Guadalimar in Cástulo, adds another layer of complexity to the city’s archaeological landscape. This structure, with its notable pebble mosaic, not only showcases the architectural prowess of its builders but also hints at the influence of Phoenician aesthetics and design principles.

The presence of a pebble mosaic comparable to those found in the Eastern Mediterranean during the 1st millennium BC is a remarkable feature of La Muela. Such mosaics were intricate works of art, often reflecting cultural and religious symbolism. The quality of the mosaic at La Muela suggests a high level of craftsmanship and a familiarity with artistic traditions that extended beyond the Iberian Peninsula.

The proposal that the Phoenician and Greek influence in Cástulo was a result of communications via the Tartessian route adds an intriguing dimension to the city’s historical connections. The Tartessians, known for their wealth and advanced metallurgy, likely played a role in facilitating cultural exchanges and trade between Cástulo and the wider Mediterranean world. The competition between the Iberians and the Tartessians for control over metal resources, particularly copper from the western end of the Sierra Morena in the Rio Tinto area, underscores the strategic importance of trade routes and resource extraction in shaping the dynamics of ancient societies.

The Almeria routes, connecting Cástulo with the coastal region, also played a pivotal role in this intricate web of interactions. The significant Iberian oppidum at Baria (Villaricos), located along the coast, enjoyed contact with Phoenicians and Greeks during the same period. The discovery of a Greek krater in the necropolis at Baria, similar to the one found at Cástulo, further emphasizes the continuity of cultural and trade connections between these distant locations. The dating of the krater from Baria to the 4th century BC aligns with the age of the krater found at Cástulo, suggesting synchronous cultural developments along these trade routes.

The interconnectedness of Cástulo with both Tartessians and societies along the Almeria routes reveals a complex tapestry of trade, competition, and cultural exchange in the Iberian Peninsula during ancient times. The discovery of the Phoenician-style temple or palace at La Muela stands as a testament to the multifaceted influences that shaped Cástulo, making it a focal point for the convergence of diverse cultures and civilizations. The blending of architectural styles, artistic traditions, and material culture in Cástulo paints a vivid picture of a city that thrived at the crossroads of ancient Mediterranean trade and cultural interactions.

The Carthaginians

The historical events involving Cástulo during the Carthaginian period provide a glimpse into the city’s strategic importance and the shifting tides of power in the Iberian Peninsula during the Punic Wars.

In 228 BC, the Carthaginian general Amilcar Barca assumed control of Cástulo. By this time, the city had gained prominence and was reputedly the largest in the Iberian Peninsula. The wealth derived from the silver mines in the area played a significant role in financing the Carthaginian efforts in the Punic Wars. The strategic location of Cástulo, coupled with its economic prosperity, made it a coveted prize for competing powers in the region.

In 211 BC, during the Second Punic War, Cástulo became the theater of a crucial battle between the Romans and Carthaginians. The Romans, under the command of Scipio Africanus, faced defeat at the hands of the Carthaginians. The military engagements in and around Cástulo highlighted the city’s strategic value and the intense struggle for control between the two major Mediterranean powers.

Two years later, in 209 BC, Scipio Africanus adopted a different approach to secure Cástulo for the Romans. According to historical accounts, he reportedly intimidated the inhabitants of the city, compelling them to betray the Carthaginians. In a brutal episode, Scipio ordered the massacre of all the inhabitants of Illturgis, a nearby town, as a means of exerting pressure on Cástulo. This ruthless tactic succeeded in securing the allegiance of Cástulo to the Roman cause.

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In 206 BC, Cástulo was officially taken over by the Romans. The citizens of Cástulo were granted the status of foederati, designating them as allies of Rome. This status afforded them certain privileges and autonomy while acknowledging their allegiance to the Roman Republic. The integration of Cástulo into the Roman sphere of influence marked a significant turning point in the city’s history.

The events surrounding Cástulo during the Carthaginian period underscore the geopolitical complexities and power struggles that characterized the ancient Mediterranean world. The city’s wealth, strategic location, and the exploitation of its resources played pivotal roles in attracting the attention of competing powers. The transition from Carthaginian to Roman control reshaped the political and cultural landscape of Cástulo, aligning it with the expanding Roman Republic and paving the way for further developments in the centuries to come.

The Roman Occupation of Cástulo

The Roman occupation of Cástulo marked a transformative period in the city’s history, characterized by significant expansion, architectural development, and cultural flourishing. The Romans, known for their engineering prowess and urban planning, left an indelible mark on Cástulo, turning it into a thriving urban center.

Monumental structures, emblematic of Roman civic and cultural life, were erected during this period of expansion. Among these, Cástulo boasted a theater, an amphitheater, temples, and a forum. These architectural wonders not only served practical functions but also reflected the grandeur and sophistication of Roman urban planning. The theater, designed for public performances and gatherings, and the amphitheater, where gladiatorial contests and other spectacles took place, became integral to the social fabric of Cástulo.

In 2017, the application of LiDAR technology unveiled an exciting discovery—the presence of a circus or hippodrome at Cástulo. This revelation elevated the city’s historical significance, placing it on par with well-known Roman centers such as Merida, Toledo, Tarragona, and Italica in Andalucia. Circuses were venues for chariot races and other public events, underscoring the importance of Cástulo as a hub for entertainment and cultural activities during the Roman period.

The exquisite mosaics found in Cástulo provide tangible evidence of the city’s artistic and cultural vibrancy during Roman occupation. Mosaics, intricate floor decorations composed of small colored stones or tiles, were common in Roman homes and public buildings. These artistic expressions not only showcased the craftsmanship of the time but also depicted scenes of daily life, mythology, and religious motifs. The visibility and preservation of these mosaics offer a captivating glimpse into the aesthetic sensibilities of the Roman inhabitants of Cástulo.

The Roman occupation, with its architectural marvels and cultural achievements, solidified Cástulo’s position as a significant urban center in the region. The city became a testament to the Roman ability to integrate and enhance local landscapes, leaving behind a legacy of structures and artworks that continue to captivate historians, archaeologists, and visitors alike. The enduring impact of Roman occupation on Cástulo is evident in the archaeological remnants that bear witness to a bygone era of imperial splendor and urban sophistication.

Mosaic of the Lovers

The Mosaico de los Amores, also known as the Mosaic of the Lovers, is a remarkable archaeological find in Cástulo that provides a window into the artistic and cultural richness of the Roman period in the city. Dated between the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, this mosaic is a testament to the sophisticated craftsmanship and aesthetic sensibilities of the inhabitants of Cástulo during that era.

The mosaic was discovered within a partially built building in the lower city, adding to the archaeological wealth of Cástulo. Its excavation brought to light an intricate and well-preserved mosaic that has since become a prominent attraction, showcasing the artistic achievements of the Roman occupants of the city.

The Mosaico de los Amores, as its name suggests, is commonly referred to as the Mosaic of the Lovers. The title likely stems from the thematic elements depicted in the mosaic. Mosaics often served as decorative elements in Roman homes and public buildings, and they frequently featured scenes from daily life, mythology, and sometimes more personal or intimate subjects.

The restoration of the Mosaic of the Lovers was a meticulous process carried out by experts, taking three months to complete. The efforts of restoration specialists ensured that the mosaic could be presented to the public in all its splendor. This commitment to preservation not only allows visitors to appreciate the craftsmanship of the original artists but also contributes to our understanding of the cultural and social contexts in which these artworks were created.

The public display of the Mosaic of the Lovers provides a unique opportunity for contemporary audiences to connect with the past and gain insights into the lives of the ancient inhabitants of Cástulo. The mosaic, with its intricate patterns and perhaps romantic or mythological themes, serves as a tangible link to the artistic expressions and daily experiences of the people who once inhabited this Roman city.

In summary, the Mosaico de los Amores stands as a captivating artifact, offering a glimpse into the artistic achievements of the Roman period in Cástulo. Its restoration and public exhibition contribute to the broader narrative of the city’s history, enriching our understanding of the cultural legacy left behind by its ancient inhabitants.

The Visigoths

The transition from the Roman to the Visigothic period in Cástulo, like in many parts of the Roman Empire, represents a complex historical era with limited archaeological evidence and historical documentation. As the Roman Empire waned in the late 3rd and early 4th centuries AD, the Visigoths emerged as one of the groups vying for control and influence in the Iberian Peninsula.

In Cástulo, the departure of the Romans during this period left a void in the political and cultural landscape. However, evidence suggests that a Jewish community continued to occupy the central area of the settlement after the Roman withdrawal. This enduring presence of a Jewish community highlights the diversity and continuity of population in Cástulo, despite the political changes.

Regarding the Visigothic period, historical records and archaeological evidence are scarce, making it challenging to reconstruct a detailed picture of this era in Cástulo’s history. The Visigoths, who were a Germanic tribe, began their migration into the Iberian Peninsula in the early 5th century AD. While they eventually established their kingdom in the region, the impact of their rule on individual cities and settlements varied.

In the case of Cástulo, the signs suggest a decline in population during the Visigothic period. The reasons for this decline are not entirely clear and could be attributed to a combination of factors, including political instability, economic challenges, and perhaps even social and cultural shifts. The lack of substantial evidence from this period makes it challenging for historians and archaeologists to provide a comprehensive narrative of Cástulo’s experience under Visigothic rule.

It’s worth noting that the Visigothic period in the Iberian Peninsula is often considered a transitional phase between the decline of the Roman Empire and the subsequent Islamic conquest in the early 8th century. The scarcity of evidence from this time underscores the need for ongoing archaeological research and exploration to uncover more details about Cástulo’s history during the Visigothic period.

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In summary, the transition from Roman to Visigothic rule in Cástulo is a period marked by limited evidence and historical documentation. The continuation of a Jewish community after the Roman departure suggests a degree of cultural resilience, but the signs of population decline during the Visigothic era highlight the challenges and uncertainties associated with this transitional phase in the city’s history.

The Moors at Cástulo

The arrival of the Moors in Cástulo marked a significant chapter in the city’s history. Under Moorish rule, Cástulo was known as Qastuluna, and its transformation is reflected in changes to its urban layout and strategic developments.

During the Moorish period, Cástulo evolved into a settlement characterized by a small fortification and scattered settlements. This suggests a shift in the urban fabric, with an emphasis on defensive structures and dispersed living arrangements. The fortification likely played a crucial role in safeguarding the inhabitants and resources of Qastuluna during a period marked by political complexities and external threats.

There are two notable historical events during the Moorish period that involve Qastuluna. The Battle of Qastaluna in 786 AD is recorded as a significant conflict, highlighting the strategic importance of the settlement. Additionally, there is mention of a revolt around 950 AD, providing glimpses into the political unrest and internal challenges that the city may have faced during this time.

The construction of the castle of Santa Eufemia in the 11th and 12th centuries AD further underscores the defensive strategies employed during the Moorish occupation. Positioned at the southern end of the settlement and featuring a moat, the castle was a fortified structure designed to withstand potential threats. This defensive positioning and fortification were likely responses to the proximity of the Reconquista, a series of Christian campaigns aimed at reclaiming territories from Muslim rule in the Iberian Peninsula.

The Reconquista reached Cástulo in 1227 when Christian forces, led by Ferdinand III of Castile, conquered the area following the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa. The successful reconquest of Cástulo marked a turning point, as the city returned to Christian rule after centuries of Moorish occupation.

The historical narrative of Cástulo during the Moorish period reflects the ebb and flow of power, as different cultures and civilizations left their mark on the city. The fortifications, battles, and defensive structures speak to the challenges and adaptations that characterized this era in Cástulo’s history. The eventual Reconquista and return to Christian rule set the stage for subsequent phases in the city’s development, leaving an enduring legacy that can still be explored and studied today.

Cástulo Abandoned

The abandonment of Cástulo in the 14th century marked the end of a long and dynamic history for the city. The reasons behind the decline and eventual abandonment of Cástulo are complex and likely involve a combination of factors such as changes in economic patterns, political shifts, demographic changes, and perhaps environmental or climatic challenges.

The diminishing population of Cástulo over the years likely contributed to a decline in the city’s economic and social vitality. As the urban fabric decayed and the population dwindled, the once-thriving city likely struggled to sustain its infrastructure and institutions.

The repurposing of cut stones from Cástulo’s monumental buildings for construction in the emerging cities of Linares, Baeza, and Ubeda indicates a pragmatic response to the changing fortunes of the region. The reuse of building materials was a common practice in various historical periods and reflected the practical needs of growing communities. The transfer of stones from Cástulo to these new urban centers suggests a shift in population and economic activity away from the old city.

The 14th century was a tumultuous period in the Iberian Peninsula, marked by political, social, and economic upheavals. The Reconquista continued, and the region experienced the later stages of Muslim rule, followed by the establishment of Christian kingdoms. These transitions likely influenced the fate of cities like Cástulo, contributing to their decline and abandonment.

The abandonment of Cástulo left the city to the ravages of time and the elements. Over the centuries, the ruins of Cástulo became a testament to the layers of history that unfolded within its walls. Today, the archaeological remains of Cástulo offer a glimpse into the city’s past, allowing historians and archaeologists to piece together its rich history and understand the factors that led to its eventual abandonment.

The story of Cástulo, from its Neanderthal roots to its Roman, Visigothic, Moorish, and finally abandoned phases, reflects the ebb and flow of human civilization in the Iberian Peninsula. The city’s legacy endures in its archaeological remnants, providing a tangible connection to the people who once called Cástulo home and the diverse cultures that left their imprint on its landscape.

Tours of Cástulo

Arranging tours of Cástulo from the Archaeological Museum in Linares is an excellent way for visitors to explore and learn about the rich history and archaeological treasures of the ancient city. The Archaeological Museum in Linares serves as a gateway to Cástulo’s past, housing a collection of artifacts and providing valuable context to enhance the tour experience.

Here’s a general outline of what visitors might expect when arranging a tour of Cástulo from the Archaeological Museum:

  1. Contacting the Museum: Interested individuals or groups can typically contact the Archaeological Museum in Linares to inquire about available tours to Cástulo. This may involve reaching out to the museum staff through phone, email, or in-person visits.
  2. Tour Options: The museum may offer various tour options based on the preferences and interests of visitors. Tours could cover different aspects of Cástulo’s history, including its Neanderthal roots, Roman period, Moorish occupation, and more.
  3. Guided Tours: Professional guides may lead the tours, providing insights into the archaeological finds, historical significance, and cultural context of Cástulo. Guides could offer explanations about the layout of the ancient city, the purpose of different structures, and the artifacts on display.
  4. Transportation: Depending on the logistics, transportation to and from Cástulo may be arranged as part of the tour. Visitors might be transported from the museum to the archaeological site, ensuring a seamless and informative experience.
  5. Duration: Tours could vary in duration, with some covering specific aspects of Cástulo’s history in more depth. Longer tours might explore multiple areas within the archaeological site.
  6. Artifact Viewing: Prior to or after the tour, visitors may have the opportunity to view artifacts related to Cástulo at the Archaeological Museum. This could enhance the understanding of the city’s history and the significance of the archaeological finds.
  7. Educational Programs: The museum might also offer educational programs or workshops related to Cástulo’s archaeology, providing a more hands-on and immersive experience for visitors.

Before planning a visit, it’s advisable to check with the Archaeological Museum in Linares for specific details regarding tour availability, schedules, and any special considerations. Exploring Cástulo through guided tours from the museum not only offers a fascinating journey into the past but also supports the preservation and promotion of the archaeological site.

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