400+ Ancient Muslim Graves Unearthed in Spain
Roadworkers in northeastern Spain unexpectedly came across an Islamic burial ground in use from the 8th-11th century. Archaeologists have unearthed more than 400 ancient Muslim graves at the site. The lucky find is challenging previous beliefs about Muslim settlements in the area and has revealed one of the oldest and best-preserved Islamic-era graveyards in the country.
Unearthing the Ancient Muslim Graves
The first of the ancient Muslim graves surprised workers while they were widening a road in the town of Tauste, near the city of Zaragoza. The extensive necropolis, which stretches over five-acres, demonstrates that the Muslim population in the area was larger than previously believed. Before recent excavations began, traditional and written sources thought the Muslim presence was essentially “incidental and even non-existent” in this town.
Workers discovered the ancient Muslim graves while widening a road in Tauste, a small town near Zaragoza in northeast Spain. (El Patiaz Asociacion Cultural)
Miriam Pina Pardos, the director of the Anthropological Observatory of the Islamic Necropolis of Tauste with the El Patiaz cultural association, told CNN that the cultural association saw the clues that the town once held a large Islamic population, even before the skeletons were recently found. They knew it just by looking at the architecture and from examining previous finds of other ancient Muslim graves in the town. As archaeologist Eva Gimenez, who has been working at the site, told CNN:
"We can see that the Muslim culture and Islamic presence in this area is more important than we thought. We can see there was a big Muslim population here in Tauste from the beginning of the presence of Muslims in Spain. It is very important -- the 400 Muslim tombs shows the people lived here for centuries.”
Other ancient Muslim graves had been discovered in Tauste before the 400 burials. (El Patiaz Asociacion Cultural)
Living in Troubled Lands
Rafael Laborda, another of the archaeologists excavating the ancient Islamic necropolis, further explained to the Times “We have discovered one of the oldest and best-preserved Muslim cemeteries in the Iberian Peninsula. Even though this was a volatile frontier area our work indicates that this necropolis belonged to a stable Muslim community that lasted for more than four centuries.”
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In 711 AD, the Moors invaded the Iberian Peninsula, which they called Al-Andalus. It only took them seven years to conquer the region. By the 10th century, the Muslim control of the peninsula was declining and in 1492 the Christians had reconquered the area. But there was a lot of political and social change that happened in the centuries that the Iberian Peninsula was known as Al-Andalus.
It went from a province of the Umayyad Caliphate to an independent emirate, and then broke up into smaller independent principalities known as taifas. Although the period of Muslim rule is often described as La Convivencia (‘The Coexistence’), a time when supposedly Muslims, Christians, and Jewish people all co-existed “peacefully” – the reality was more complex than the name suggests.
As Laborda said, “This cemetery is at the furthest limit of Islam, and they would have been threatened by Christian kingdoms,” a reference to the fact that the people who lived in the area were in a “tumultuous region of warring Christian and Muslim fiefdoms,” according to ArabNews.
A Treasure Trove of Information to Explore
Paleoymás SL, the archaeology firm in charge of the site’s excavations, stated that all of the human remains will be removed from the site within a month. Most of the remains are well-preserved, except for a few of the burials which were damaged by modern pipes. Pina Pardos said that all of the skeletons were buried following Islamic customs, “positioned to the right and facing southeast toward Mecca.”
All of the skeletons were buried following Islamic customs, “positioned to the right and facing southeast toward Mecca.” (El Patiaz Asociacion Cultural)
Middle East Monitor reports that 10% of the remains will be analyzed by researchers, including scientists who will analyze the DNA, with hopes of pinpointing the origins of the population and perhaps even “the speed of conversion to Islam among the local people.” The rest of the human remains are going to be stored in a crypt which is being specially built to hold them.
The discovery of the ancient Muslim graves in Tauste has provided researchers with a wealth of archaeological and ancient genetic information to sift through. Continued analysis of the DNA and archaeological material will help researchers to better understand the impact of the ancient Islamic presence on the Iberian Peninsula’s history.
The discovery of the well-preserved ancient Muslim graves in Tauste has provided researchers with a wealth of archaeological and ancient genetic information. (El Patiaz Asociacion Cultural)
Top Image: Archaeologists have unearthed more than 400 ancient Muslim graves in a Spanish town. Source: El Patiaz Asociacion Cultural