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HomeNewsThe Iberian civilisation that vanished

The Iberian civilisation that vanished

(Credit: Alamy/ WHPics)

Mystery and myth surround the historical society of Tartessos – it became even connected to Atlantis at one point. But excavations and generation are dropping new mild at the culture.


After crunching throughout a gravel path, surrounded through sun-parched plains, I finally arrived on the Cancho Roano archaeological webweb page. Standing right here, withinside the Guadiana Valley of the Extremadura location in south-western Spain, I imagined how extraordinary this dusty and arid flatland might have seemed 2,500 years in the past whilst it became a hub of alternate and worship for Tartessos, a mysterious Iberian society that thrived among the ninth and fifth Centuries BCE – after which unexpectedly disappeared.

Today, though, a end result of ongoing studies and new generation are revealing greater approximately this misplaced civilisation and the function it performed withinside the records of Iberia.

Going again millennia, Tartessos has been mentioned in Greek and Roman texts, however because of conflicting descriptions – and, for a protracted time, a loss of conclusive archaeological proof – it has now no longer been clean for modern historians and archaeologists to pinpoint what Tartessos even became – a town, a kingdom, a river?

Herodotus, the Greek historian from the fifth Century BCE, wrote of a harbour town past the Pillars of Hercules (cutting-edge Strait of Gibraltar), which led a few researchers to suppose that Tartessos became a frame of water and others to suppose it became a port (possibly positioned round cutting-edge Huelva on Spain’s southern coast). There had been even theories, stimulated through Aristotle’s writings, that Tartessos became the legendary Atlantis, even though this has been extensively disregarded withinside the medical community.

Tartessos is now commonly taken into consideration to be a civilisation that fashioned from a combination of indigenous human beings and Greek and Phoenician colonisers withinside the Iberian Peninsula. And it became rich too, way to wealthy sources of metallic and a prosperous alternate economy. Early discoveries had led historians to consider that the civilisation became focused round Andalucía’s Guadalquivir Valley, however greater latest unearths withinside the Guadiana Valley – farther west close to Spain’s border with Portugal – have made archaeologists reconsider how expansive Tartessos became. In total, greater than 20 Tartessos webweb sites were diagnosed throughout Spain, and 3 were excavated withinside the Guadiana Valley: Cancho Roano, Casas de Turuñuelo and La Mata.

"The discovery of Cancho Roano was a revolution in the archaeology of the Iberian Peninsula," said Sebastián Celestino Pérez (Image credit: Getty/Cavan Images)

Archaeologists exposed Cancho Roano in 1978, and it found out but some other piece of the story. The webweb page includes the remnants of 3 Tartessian temples that had been constructed in succession, every at the ruins of the preceding, they all oriented toward sunrise. An interpretation centre explains what is regarded of the records of the temples and the artefacts that had been observed inside.

The adobe partitions of the maximum latest temple (built across the stop of the sixth Century BCE) define eleven rooms and span a place of round 500 sq m. But for motives that archaeologists have now no longer but deciphered, on the stop of the fifth Century BCE, the human beings dwelling right here carried out a ritual wherein they ate animals, discarded the stays in a relevant pit, set the temple on fire, sealed it with clay after which deserted it all – leaving a bunch of gadgets to burn inside, together with iron gear and gold jewellery.

“The discovery of Cancho Roano became a revolution withinside the archaeology of the Iberian Peninsula,” stated Sebastián Celestino Pérez, who became director all through the 23-yr excavation and is now a systematic investigator on the Institute of Archaeology in Merida. He defined that now no longer simplest had been the webweb page’s partitions, altar, moat and artefacts (such as jewellery, glasses and a warrior stele) well-preserved no matter the fire, however many scientists did not consider such an area may be observed outdoor of Andalucía, wherein all preceding proof have been unearthed.

Casas de Turuñuelo, which has simplest been studied withinside the beyond few years (it became observed in 2015), is the first-class preserved protohistoric constructing withinside the western Mediterranean and the webweb page of the most important animal sacrifice withinside the place – greater than 50 animals – which is supporting scientists recognize greater approximately the Tartessian culture.

“Turuñuelo [was] a sanctuary wherein a sacrifice of animals became additionally practiced and that they had been then thrown into the pit,” stated Celestino Perez, noting that this webweb page became additionally burned down and sealed with clay withinside the equal way as Cancho Roano. “But Turuñuelo has some other functionality, greater ostentatious – it’s miles like a image of power. It is modern to Cancho Roano, however although the production strategies used at Turuñuelo are a lot greater superior and the substances of extra richness and taken from many factors of the Mediterranean.”

Using a new generation known as photogrammetry, archaeologists are taking pictures of the ruins at Turuñuelo, after which the use of software program to combination them and create three-D images that definitely reconstruct the homes. The system facilitates them recognize the production sorts and strategies and the uncooked substances used – and as a result, the ruins at Turuñuelo are actually regarded to be Tartessian, as opposed to Roman as formerly thought.

The La Mata webweb page became observed a lot in advance than the alternative two (in 1930), however it has striking similarities – and the method now getting used at Turuñuelo ought to unencumber greater of its secrets. “The maximum sudden aspect for me is the very peculiar habit [the Tartessos] had of destroying their homes, that is, in all of the webweb sites observed, the equal behaviour has been observed: emptying all of the vessels and amphorae, burning the constructing and burying it,” stated Ana Belén Gallardo Delgado, a historian and manual at La Mata.

“With the new technologies, I wish that rather more may be clarified approximately the foundation of this civilisation and delve a touch greater into its manner of life. The Tartessian presence withinside the Extremadura place is turning into increasingly critical way to new advances in archaeology. Also, it’s miles believed that some other 8 burial mounds observed withinside the Badajoz place may be Tartessian homes like those already excavated,” she stated.

While studies keeps on the Extremaduran webweb sites (Cancho Roano and La Mata are open to the public), records buffs also can view recovered Tartessian gear, horse statuettes and adorned ivory on the Archaeological Museum of Badajoz. It’s positioned withinside the Alcazaba, a 12th-Century Moorish fortress perched atop a hill and surrounded through well-saved gardens close to the Portuguese border. As I browsed a gallery committed to the Spanish protohistoric period, museum attendant Celia Lozano Soto talked about a stele engraved with Tartessian inscriptions, the primary instance of writing withinside the Iberian Peninsula.

“The language continues to be being studied and translated now,” she stated, “it’s a combination of various matters which make it specific on this respect.”


A curious, palindromic script from across the eighth Century BCE, this writing stems from the Phoenician alphabet. It may be examine from proper to left or vice versa, even though the sounds represented through every image are nonetheless uncertain.

In addition to the language, mass sacrifices and fires, the alternative huge enigma of Tartessos is why it unexpectedly vanished approximately 2,500 years in the past.

Eduardo Ferrer-Albelda, professor of archaeology on the University of Seville, pointed out that for the reason that Tartessian society became wealthy in metals, any slow-down in alternate ought to have ramped up tensions. “A disaster in mining is additionally documented, however violence needed to play an critical function,” he defined. “The collusion among the Phoenician and indigenous aristocracies ought to have ended unexpectedly, in order that an anti-Phoenician and anti-aristocratic movement may be assumed most of the populations of the Tartessian place.”

Celestino Perez espoused some other theory. “The maximum cutting-edge aspect is that it appears that there might have been an earthquake withinside the center of the sixth Century BCE, observed through a tsunami that would have affected the principle Tartessian ports, and that could be the reason of the speedy fall of Tartessos,” he stated.

While knowledge why the civilisation disappeared is critical, the social and cultural impact of the Tartessos is the focal point of cutting-edge studies.

As Celestino Perez defined, “What appears to be the Tartessian port of Huelva has been positioned. If confirmed, it is able to be a massive step to knowledge the Tartessian alternate network. And the so-known as Tartessian tombs of the Guadiana [Cancho Roana, Turuñuelo and La Mata] appear to have the important thing to realize this culture better.”

BBC Travel’s Lost Civilisations delves into little-regarded records approximately beyond worlds, dispelling any fake myths and narratives which have formerly surrounded them.


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