2,500-Year-Old Tartessian Anthropomorphic Reliefs Revolutionize Thinking on Ancient Culture
The Tartessian site of Casas del Turuñuelo in Spanish Extremadura, has been under excavation to examine the mythical pre-Roman civilization that occupied southwest Iberia between the 8th and 4th centuries BC. Now, this vicinity of Guareña has yielded five beautiful anthropomorphic, figured reliefs from the 5th century BC belong to the Tartessian culture, found during excavation of the eastern sector of the deposit.
These are the first of their kind to be discovered in Tartessian culture, which had previously been thought of as an aniconic culture that represented divinity through animal or plant motifs or through betilos (sacred stones), reported the Spanish news agency EFE. In layman terms, the representations correspond to human faces, whereas by definition aniconic cultures are opposed to the use of idols or images.
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The discovery was made during the V excavation campaign, which is part of the Building Tartessos project (known as Construyendo Tarteso in Spanish). The project is focused on characterizing Tartessian material culture through the architectural analysis of large adobe buildings that have been excavated in recent decades.
The Construyendo Tarteso team began its first excavation campaign of the Tartessian site in 2015, and the current campaign has received support from the General Secretary for Science, Technology, Innovation and University of the Junta de Extremadura, the Diputación de Badajoz and the Palarq Foundation.
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The team from the Institute of Archaeology, a joint center of the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC) and the Junta de Extremadura, led by Esther Rodríguez González and Sebastián Celestino Pérez, confirmed that two of the figurative reliefs are almost complete and correspond to two female figures adorned with outstanding earrings, reported CSIC, a Spanish research council known as the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas.
Figurative relief with earrings. (CSIC)
These represent typical techniques of Tartessian goldsmithing, and are evidence of a highly advanced culture. The reliefs are believed to represent female divinities from the Tartessian pantheon, but the researchers do not rule out the possibility that they may be prominent figures in Tartessian society.
In addition to the two female figures, other fragments of reliefs have been recovered, including one identified as a warrior due to a preserved part of the helmet. The discovery of these figured reliefs is significant as it represents a profound paradigm shift in the interpretation of Tartessos. These human faces on the reliefs, along with the technical quality and artistic detail, suggest that the Tartessians may have had a more complex and diverse religious iconography than previously thought, reported Voz Populi.
Evidence of mass animal sacrifice has been unearthed at Casas del Turuñuelo in Extremadura. (Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas)
Casas del Turuñuelo and the Tartessians
The Casas del Turuñuelo site remains in an excellent state of conservation. To date, it is the best-preserved building built on land in the western Mediterranean, and its two construction floors are still intact. Its excellent state of conservation makes it possible to document construction techniques and architectural solutions much ahead of their time.
Previously, the site has yielded a marble sculpture from Mount Pentelicus, of which only the feet are visible, and a set of glasses of Macedonian origin, next to the collection of Etruscan ivories. The site is renowned for its mass sacrifice of animals, mainly horses - the largest sacrifice of animals documented till date in the western Mediterranean!
The Tartessian are believed to have been one of the earliest Western European civilizations that thrived in the Iberian Peninsula during the first millennium BC. The Iberians, Celtiberians and the Phoenicians were all heavily influenced by the Tartessians, whose influence was centered in the region of modern-day Andalusia, along the Guadalquivir River.
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One of the most fascinating aspects of Tartessian culture is their writing system, which is known as Tartessian script. This script is still not fully deciphered, and so we know relatively little about the Tartessian language and its literature. However, what we do know is that Tartessian script was used for inscriptions on pottery, metal objects and rock carvings.
The Tartessian religion was polytheistic, and their gods were associated with natural elements such as the sun, moon, and stars, as well as with animals such as bulls and horses. They also believed in an afterlife and had a strong cult of the dead. One of the most famous Tartessian artifacts is the so-called "Lady of Elche," a bust that is believed to represent a goddess or priestess of the Tartessian religion.
Top image: Anthropomorphic reliefs excavated from the remains of the ancient Tartessian culture. Source: Samuel Sánchez/ Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas
By Sahir Pandey
Casanova, G. 18 April 2023. “The first human representations of Tartessos found in Extremadura” in vozpopuli. Available at: https://www.vozpopuli.com/altavoz/cultura/hallan-primeras-representaciones-humanas-de-tartessos.html
Lopez, E. 18 April 2023. “CSIC researchers find the first human representations of Tarteso” in Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas. Available at: https://www.csic.es/en/node/3948937