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Berlin: Etymology See also: Berliner (disambiguation) and List of names in the city of Berlin. The name "Berlin" is a combination of the words Berlyn, which are Celtic in origin, and -berl- which means "swamp". It was first recorded in 1197 as Berlowe. In Slavic language it was called Cölln; meaning marshland or swamp land. The area around Berlin has been inhabited since prehistoric times, but the founding date of the city proper is not clear because there are no records that say so. Some time between 1237–1244 a German settlement called Breitenfelde appeared on what is now known as Spree Island (in what later became known as Alt-Treptow). This settlement remained unknown to anyone outside for several centuries until excavations began under an archaeological project led by Hans Schleif in 1986/87 . Since 1993 these excavations have continued under Wolfgang Schlüter .