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Archaeologists found a gold earring hidden inside a jar that had been placed in a wall at the Iron Age settlement called Tossal de Baltarga. 	Source: Marco Ansaloni/Frontiers

Devastating Iron Age Hillfort Fire Linked to Hannibal

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A violent blaze, possibly linked to the Carthaginian army crossing the Pyrenees to fight the Romans, flared up so quickly people couldn’t save their animals or their valuables.

A Snapshot of Ancient Destruction

In a ruined building deep within the Pyrenees lies a record of an ancient tragedy. Over 2,200 years ago, a devastating fire razed a settlement to the ground, leaving behind charred remnants and a single, hidden gold earring. Recent archaeological excavations at Building G, part of the Iron Age site of Tossal de Baltarga, have unearthed evidence of a way of life abruptly ended by violence—potentially linked to the Second Punic War.

"The destruction was dated around the end of the third century BC, coinciding with the Pyrenees' involvement in the Second Punic War and Hannibal’s crossing," explained Dr. Oriol Olesti Vila from the Autonomous University of Barcelona in a Frontiers report

 "It is likely that this violent destruction was connected to that war. The general fire points to anthropic destruction, intentional and very effective—every building at the site was destroyed. In Building D, we even found a complete dog, burned."

Building G as it might have looked before the fire, interpreted by Francesc Riart, illustrator. (Reconstruction by Francesc Riart, illustrator. Shared by kind permission of the authors/Frontiers)

Building G as it might have looked before the fire, interpreted by Francesc Riart, illustrator. (Reconstruction by Francesc Riart, illustrator. Shared by kind permission of the authors/Frontiers)

Buried Treasure and Daily Life

Tossal de Baltarga was a hillfort belonging to the Cerretani community, strategically positioned near the major settlement of Castellot de Bolvir. Although it lacked defensive walls, the site commanded excellent views over the river and crucial travel routes. The sudden destruction preserved organic remains, allowing archaeologists to reconstruct the daily lives of its inhabitants.

“These valleys were economically and strategically important," noted Olesti Vila. "Hannibal passed through here, fighting against local tribes, likely the Cerretani. Few archaeological remains of this expedition exist, making Tossal de Baltarga one of the best examples."

Building G had two floors. The fire was so intense that the roof, support beams, and wooden upper floor collapsed. Yet, some valuables survived, including an iron pickaxe and a gold earring hidden in a small pot. The upper floor appears to have been divided into cooking and textile production areas, with numerous spindle whorls and loom weights suggesting wool spinning and weaving activities. Archaeologists also found grains like oats and barley and cooking vessels with residues indicating the consumption of milk and pork stews.

The gold earring found by the scientists, photographed against a dark background, in front of the jar it was found in. (Marco Ansaloni/Frontiers)

The gold earring found by the scientists, photographed against a dark background, in front of the jar it was found in. (Marco Ansaloni/Frontiers)

A Memory of Conflict

While no human remains were discovered in Building G, six animals perished. Four sheep, a goat, and a horse—possibly ridden by the building's owners—were trapped in their wooden enclosures. The presence of burned wood at the entrance suggests they might have been locked in by a closed door, possibly reflecting an attempt to safeguard them from an anticipated threat.

“These mountain communities were not isolated but connected with neighboring areas, exchanging products and cultural backgrounds,” said Olesti Vila. "Their complex economy indicates an Iron Age society well-adapted to their environment, exploiting highland resources and maintaining connections with other communities."

The sudden destruction, with no time to rescue the animals, hints at an abrupt disaster, possibly an unexpected local fire. However, the hidden gold earring suggests the inhabitants anticipated danger, likely from an enemy. The presence of many animals in a small stall further indicates preparation for a threat.

The fate of Tossal de Baltarga’s inhabitants remains unknown. However, the site was eventually reoccupied and fortified by the Romans, who built defenses, including an impressive watchtower, perhaps in memory of the earlier destruction.

Top image: Archaeologists found a gold earring hidden inside a jar that had been placed in a wall at the Iron Age settlement called Tossal de Baltarga. Source: Marco Ansaloni/Frontiers

 
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