Beirut's history goes back more than 5,000 years. According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, its antiquity is indicated by its name, derived from the Canaanite be'erot ('wells'), referring to the underground water table that is still tapped by the local inhabitants for general use. Excavations in the downtown area have unearthed layers of Phoenician, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Crusader and Ottoman remains. The first historical reference to Beirut dates from the 14th century BC, when it is mentioned in the cuneiform tablets of the Amarna letters, three letters that Ammunira of Biruta (Beirut) sent to the pharaoh of Egypt.
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