Missing Stone Inscription Holds Key to Almazán Skeletons Enigma
Archaeologists in Almazán Spain are boxed into a corner with a double-edged mystery in which a missing carved stone holds the answer to why eleven bodies were buried beneath a massive medieval village wall, and by whom.
Spain’s Soria province, in the Castile and León region, features many medieval villages with horse-worn stone streets shadowed by Romanesque architecture. The Museo Numantino exhibits the regional archaeology, including a 400,000-year-old elephant pelvis. The town of Almazán was founded around 1128 AD when a vast defensive wall and deep moat were constructed to protect this powerful Spanish political center where the kings of Castile and Navarre met on the banks of the River Duero to strategize on their guerrilla campaigns into the Muslim territories of Al-Andalus during their so-called War of Reconquest against Islamic Spain which lasted almost 800 years.
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According to a recent report in the Spanish daily El País, “Doña Urraca, Alfonso VI, Sancho III of Castile, Alfonso I of Aragón, Alfonso I “The Battler,” and Alfonso VII "The Emperor” all visited Almazán, and it is for this reason archaeologists excavating at Almazán have announced a two-fold mystery. A “missing” medieval stone inscription saying “King Alfonso” holds the key to identifying twenty-two skeletons, eleven of which were buried beneath a stone wall at the the bastion. Without it, researchers cannot identify exactly when the wall was built, or by whom.
Left: Diagram showing a group of graves in the southern section of the medieval wall at Almazán. Right: Detail of one of the skeletons partially covered by the medieval wall itself. (Retuerce Velasco, M. et. al. / Universidad Complutense de Madrid)
Raising Skeletons from Their Almazan Graves
A team of archaeologists and biologists from Madrid ’s Complutense and Autonomous Universities and the Baraka archaeological team, have published a new paper titled Almazán: its necropolis and medieval walls which presents the results of fifteen archeological surveys and details about the remains of “22 bodies, 11 of which were buried under the stone wall,” according to the paper.
Co-author Professor Manuel Retuerce Velasco, who teaches archeology at Madrid ’s Complutense University, explains that the apparently “odd location of the graves” might related to the 12th century church of Santa María de Calatañazor that was located near the eastern wall of Almazán, a part of which might have been built over the church ’s cemetery. Dr. Retuerce said his team excavated and removed the human remains that were found surrounding the foundations of the wall to a laboratory, while those eleven that were buried directly beneath it were left in situ.
Section of the medieval village wall in Almazán, Spain. (Retuerce Velasco, M. et. al. / Universidad Complutense de Madrid)
It Is “Unbelievable” That This Key Stone Is Missing
The researchers say it is currently unclear whether the graves belonged to Christians, Jews or Muslims, and the second, intricately-linked, unanswered question at this site, relates to the construction of the town ’s Market Gate that is built into the defensive wall. 19th century archaeological records describe a carved inscription on the keystone of the inner arch referring to “King Alfonso,” and a letter dated March 2, 1896 AD confirms this stone was transferred to the Royal Academy of History in that year. However, while the letter suggests it was created in the reign of King Alfonso VI, it notes that it might have referred to “Alfonso I The Battler, Doña Urraca and Alfonso VII.”
It is known the ornate carved stone was transferred to the Royal Academy of History in 1896 but it has since vanished without trace. A spokesperson from the Royal Academy of History told El País that the stone “is definitely not in the academy ’s storage or in the National Archaeology Museum,” adding that it “is unbelievable that it has disappeared from an institution like this one.”
The Quest to Identify King Alfonso
But let’s return to the wall at Almazán. Without being able to analyze the missing stone, understanding which King Alfonso created the wall cannot be determined. Was it Alfonso VI of Castile and León, Alfonso I of Aragón, Alfonso VII of León and Castile, Alfonso VIII of Castile or even Alfonso X of Castile and León? Until this questioned is answered the origin story and development of Almazán will remain shrouded in mystery since all of these Alfonso’s are recorded as having connections with the town.
It is likely that testing of the recovered skeletons surrounding the wall will enable the researchers to identify the King Alfonso referred to on the carved stone and more information about the identity of those buried and their role in the complex history of Spain. As to the question of how the remains of eleven ancient bodies came to be located beneath the wall, well this is not so much a perplexing mystery as it is an archaeological gift: for archaeologists live for, and love, exploring and solving such apparent paradoxes.
Top image: The human remains discovered under and near the medieval wall of Almazán in Soria, Spain, are the basis of an archaeological mystery which researchers are attempting to decipher. Source: Retuerce Velasco, M. et. al. / Universidad Complutense de Madrid
By Ashley Cowie