Category Archives: SPAIN

Long-lost temple of Hercules from 9th century BC discovered, claim researchers

Long-lost temple of Hercules from 9th century BC discovered, claim researchers

The Roman Empire-era Lansdowne Herakles from the collection of the Getty in Los Angeles.

Archaeologists near Cádiz, Spain, believe they have located the site of the lost Temple of Hercules Gaditanus, an ancient pilgrimage destination visited by the likes of Roman dictator Julius Caesar and Carthaginian general Hannibal.

The elusive site has been something of “a holy grail” for archaeologists, according to El País, which first reported the potential discovery.

The reason experts have failed to uncover it? The temple has been underwater, submerged by the Caño de Sancti Petri, a shallow channel off the Bay of Cádiz between San Fernando and Chiclana.

Ricardo Belizón, a graduate archaeology student at the southern Spain’s University of Seville, made the discovery while examining topographic models of the region created using Light Detection and Ranging, or LiDAR, a remote sensing technology.

This 3-D map shows a rectangular structure that could be the lost Temple of Hercules Gaditanus, now submerged under the Caño of Sancti Petri

Looking at public data from Spain’s PNOA-LiDAR project, which began mapping the country in 2009, he spotted what appeared to be a nearly 1,000-foot-long, 500-foot-wide structure just offshore beneath the waves.

That matched the description of the lost 8th-century BC temple.

“Researchers are very reluctant to go for ‘show archaeology’ fed by the mass media, but in this case, we are faced with some spectacular finds. They are first class,” University of Seville director of archaeology Francisco José García told the London Times.

Working with the Andalusian Institute of Historical Heritage, a University of Seville team of researchers further consulted a digital terrain model provided by the National Geographic Institute and the Navy Oceanographic Institute to confirm the LiDAR data.

Archaeologists have yet to attempt to excavate the watery site, but plans to do so are in the works. Digs in the area have faced challenges in the past, due to the marshy coastline and shifting topography of the shallow channels, which are subject to rising and falling sea levels.

This 3-D map shows a rectangular structure that could be the lost Temple of Hercules Gaditanus, now submerged under the Caño of Sancti Petri.

That actually matches up with the historical record on the Temple of Hercules, believed to have been built by the Phoenicians. (Their god Melqart later became equated with the famous divine Roman hero.)

Ancient writings about Caesar’s and Hannibal’s visits mention “a changing environment, in contact with the sea, subject to the changing tides, in a temple where there must have been port structures and a seafaring environment,” Milagros Alzaga, head of the Andalusian Institute’s Center for Underwater Archaeology, who assisted with the research, told El País.

“The documentary sources we analyzed, the archaeological information together with the images obtained with digital models of the site, lead us to believe that this could be the mythical temple of Hercules,” he told Euro News.

But other experts are sceptical that the LiDAR maps are being accurately interpreted.

In 2020, University of Cordoba archaeology professor Antonio Monterroso-Checa published a study concluding that the temple was located at Cerro de Los Martires, or “Hill of the Martyrs,” to the south of Cádiz, in the San Fernando area.

The new theory is based on “a triangulation error,” he told the Times. “No reality at all.”

Hungry badger accidentally unearths hundreds of ancient Roman coins in Spain

Hungry badger accidentally unearths hundreds of ancient Roman coins in Spain

A badger has led archaeologists to a hoard of more than 200 Roman coins that had been hidden in a cave in Spain for centuries.

The animal had burrowed into a crack in the rock inside the La Cuesta cave in the Asturias region of northwest Spain and dug out coins that were later discovered by a local man, Roberto García, according to a paper on the find published in December.

García called in archaeologists, including dig director Alfonso Fanjul, who believes the badger was searching for food or digging itself a nest.

“When we arrived we found the hole that led to the badger’s nest, and the ground around it full of coins,” Fanjul told CNN on Monday, adding that more than 90 coins had been dug up by the badger.

The team then performed an archaeological excavation that recovered a total of 209 coins dating from 200 AD to 400 AD.

The cave is in the Asturias region of northwestern Spain.

This corresponds with the Late Roman period when barbarians such as the Suebi arrived in the Iberian peninsula.

Fanjul believes the coins were hidden by refugees sheltering in the area, saying: “We think it’s a reflection of the social and political instability which came along with the fall of Rome and the arrival of groups of barbarians to northern Spain.”

The coins were probably hidden by people fleeing barbarians, archaeologists say

The coins are currently being cleaned and will be put on display at the Archaeological Museum of Asturias, said Fanjul, who plans to carry out further excavations at the site this year.

“We’ve taken out the first deposit, but we think there is a lot more to take out,” he said, adding that it’s already the largest Roman hoard recovered from inside a cave in Spain.

“It’s a unique moment that you dream about from a young age,” Fanjul said. “It’s an exceptional moment that you never think you will have as an archaeologist.”

Fanjul believes further excavations will improve our understanding of the fall of the Roman empire and the rise of the medieval kingdoms of northern Spain.

“We think it’s an ideal site to learn more about the people that we’re living through this transition,” he said.

Spanish researchers claim to have found lost ancient building dedicated to Hercules

Spanish researchers claim to have found lost ancient building dedicated to Hercules

The legendary temple of Hercules Gaditanus, who was known as Melqart in Phoenician times, was a key pilgrimage site in ancient times.

According to classical records, the temple witnessed the passage of historical figures such as Julius Caesar and the Carthaginian conqueror Hannibal, and dated at least as far back as the ninth century BC.

But thousands of years later, its location remains a mystery, and finding the temple has become something of a holy grail for historians and archeologists, who have been searching for it for centuries.

Aerial view of the temple’s possible location.

Now there is a possible answer to this great mystery. Ricardo Belizón, a Ph.D. student at Seville University in southern Spain, has come up with a new hypothesis, which is backed by scientists from his university and the Andalusian Institute of Historical Heritage (IAPH).

Thanks to free software and digital terrain modeling, Belizón has identified traces of a monumental building in the Caño de Sancti Petri, a shallow channel in the Bay of Cádiz, between the towns of Chiclana de Frontera and San Fernando, in the southern region of Andalusia.

The hypothetical view that the archaeologist García y Bellido made of the Hercules temple, in 1968, based on the one in Jerusalem.

The temple of Hercules Gaditanus is mentioned in classical Greek and Latin literature as the place where Julius Caesar wept bitterly before a representation of Alexander the Great and where the Carthaginian conqueror Hannibal went to offer thanks for the success of his military campaign a century and a half earlier.

All these references mention “a changing environment, in contact with the sea, subject to the changing tides, in a temple where there must have been port structures and a seafaring environment,” says Milagros Alzaga, head of the Center for Underwater Archaeology (CAS), who also participated in the research.

A 3D model showing the Boqueron point in San Fernando (Cádiz) and the rectangular structure of the possible temple of Hercules Gaditanus now submerged under the Caño of Sancti Petri

Following decades of academic controversy and different proposals for the temple’s location, the one put forward now by Seville University and the IAPH falls within a radius earmarked as the most obvious.

The site is a huge marshy channel dominated by an islet and the castle of Sancti Petri, which rises above it.

For more than two centuries, the area has been yielding important archaeological finds, now on show in the Museum of Cádiz, such as large marble and bronze sculptures of Roman emperors and various statuettes from the Phoenician period.

All these discoveries helped to delineate the location of the temple of Hercules Gaditanus as lying somewhere between the slopes of the islet itself and a slither of fine sand and a rocky intertidal zone, known as Boquerón point.

Egypt retrieves 36 smuggled artefacts from Spain

Egypt retrieves 36 smuggled artifacts from Spain

Pharaonic artefacts that were smuggled out of Egypt in 2014 were returned to the country on Monday. The 36 pieces were seized on arrival at Valencia, Spain, that year.

“This handover came as a result of effective judicial co-operation, and the result of concerted efforts between the Public Prosecution, the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Embassy of the Arab Republic of Egypt in Spain,” read a prosecution statement posted on Facebook on Monday.

The repatriated items include busts made from limestone, marble and granite; bowls, vases, figurines and an ornate wooden box.

A collection of 36 ancient Egyptian artefacts that were just returned to Egypt 7 years after they were smuggled out of a port in Alexandria.

Prosecutors celebrated the return of the smuggled artefacts as a win for Egyptian-Spanish bilateral relations.

In their statement, they thanked Spain’s security officials for their commitment to preserving Egypt’s cultural heritage.

The artefacts were received by an Egyptian delegation including the country’s ambassador at a ceremony held at the National Archaeological Museum in Madrid on Monday.

They had been taken there to be assessed before the Egyptian delegation was contacted to come and retrieve them.

Spanish and Egyptian officials attend a ceremony at Madrid’s National Archaeological Museum. The ceremony was held to mark the return of a group of smuggled artefacts from Spain to Egypt.

Investigations into the smuggling of these artefacts began in June 2014, the public prosecutor’s statement read.

It said that security officials had proved at the time that the smuggled items left the coastal Egyptian city of Alexandria before they were seized by Spanish officials at the port of Valencia in the same year.

Egypt repatriates 114 smuggled artefacts from France

The items had been hidden onboard a container ship and forged documents were submitted to Spanish authorities to facilitate the smuggling.

Since 2014, Egyptian prosecutors have been following up on the case with Spanish authorities, the statement, released on Monday, said.

This year, Spain’s judiciary ruled that the items should be returned to Egypt. Word was sent to Egyptian officials, who formed a delegation to retrieve them.

A collection of ancient Egyptian relics was seized by Spanish authorities at a port in Valencia in 2014. The items were smuggled out of Egypt in 2014 and returned in 2021.

Egyptian artefacts have long been smuggled overseas.

The practice increased markedly in the period that followed a popular uprising in 2011 that caused a wave of political instability and lapses in security. The country’s tourism ministry announced this year that in the past decade, Egyptian authorities had repatriated 30,000 artefacts.

They had reached France, Denmark, Belgium and the US, among many countries.

Several prominent Egyptologists have launched awareness campaigns to help Egypt to retrieve smuggled artefacts, many of which are sold at discreet auctions at some of the world’s foremost auction houses.

A haul of more than 5,000 artefacts housed at the Museum of the Bible, in Washington, DC, was returned to Egypt in January.

Researchers Uncovered a 5,000-Year-Old Crystal Dagger Buried in Spain

Researchers Uncovered a 5,000-Year-Old Crystal Dagger Buried in Spain

Inside an ancient tomb near Seville, researchers found the remains of several individuals buried in a ritualistic fashion, as well as a most striking artefact: a quite beautiful dagger made from rock crystal.

The intricately carved crystal dagger has been dated to at least 3000 BCE, making it the “most technically sophisticated and esthetically impressive collection of rock crystal material culture ever found in Prehistoric Iberia,” according to Spanish researchers who investigated the site.

Prehistoric humans in Europe made most of their tools from chert and flint. Tools made by knapping ‘rock crystals’ (macro-crystalline quartz) were far less prevalent, but nevertheless, people developed a technique for their manufacturing that appeared during late prehistory in certain European regions, such as the southwest Iberian Peninsula in the third millennium BCE.

Although rock crystal tools were more difficult to fashion and the raw materials weren’t as abundant as sedimentary rock, prehistoric people likely cherished them due to their social value.

Just as we stand in awe today at their sight, one would imagine that people were even more impressed by the thousands of years ago.

This particularly exquisite rock crystal tool, an 8.5-inch long dagger, was found in one of eight megalithic tombs from Valencina de la Concepción, a site near Seville in Spain that is considered one of the most significant for the study of Copper Age Iberia.

The tomb, known as the Montelirio tholos, was excavated between 2007 and 2010.

It is a great megalithic construction with a 39-meter (128-foot) corridor leading to the main chamber with a 4.75-meter (15.5-foot) diameter from which, through a narrow corridor, a secondary chamber is accessible.

Researchers Uncovered a 5,000-Year-Old Crystal Dagger Buried in Spain

Researchers found the remains of at least 25 individuals, alongside numerous sumptuous grave goods, including shrouds and clothes made of tens of thousands of perforated beads and decorated with amber beads, as well as many flint arrowheads, found fragments of gold blades, ivory objects, and of course the dazzling crystal core.

The arrowheads, blade, and rock crystal dagger were found at the back of the main chamber. No other objects were found in the rest of the chamber, which is suspicious.

The accumulation of artefacts right next to the main chamber’s access corridor “suggest an offering similar to those discovered in the main corridor, where the arrowheads, although made of lower quality materials, were found in large groups associated with an altar and other offerings (plants),” said researchers at the University of Granada and the University of Seville in a study published in Quaternary International.

At least several females and one male-identified within Montelirio tholos are believed to have died due to poisoning.

The remains of the women were arranged in a circular fashion in a chamber next to the bones of the male, who may have been a person of high status. The dagger itself was found in a different chamber “in association with an ivory hilt and sheath.”

There are no sources of quartz of the kind used in the dagger near the site, which suggests the materials were sourced from far afield.

The researchers say this is another reason why these crystal daggers and arrowheads may have been reserved to a few elite individuals who could afford them, having a dual significance.

“On the one hand, it had a social significance due to the exoticism of the material and the fact that its transformation required very specific skills and probably some degree of technical specialisation. They probably represent funerary paraphernalia only accessible to the elite of this time period. The association of the dagger blade to a handle made of ivory, also a non-local raw material that must have been of great value, strongly suggests the high-ranking status of the people making use of such objects.”

“On the other hand, rock crystal must have had a symbolic significance as a raw material invested with special meanings and connotations. The literature provides examples of societies in which rock crystal and quartz as raw materials symbolise vitality, magical powers and a connection with ancestors.”

Archaeologists identify the oldest Muslim graves ever found in Europe

Archaeologists identify oldest Muslim graves ever found in Europe

An archaeological site in northeast Spain holds one of the oldest-known Muslim cemeteries in the country, with the discovery of 433 graves, some dating back to the first 100 years of the Islamic conquest of the Iberian Peninsula. 

Archaeologists think up to 4,500 bodies may have been buried in the ancient necropolis at Tauste over 400 years of Muslim rule.

The finds confirm that the region, along the frontier between the warring Islamic and Christian worlds in the turbulent early Middle Ages, was once dominated by Muslim rulers, who were later replaced by Christian rulers and their history forgotten.

The archaeologists unearthed the ancient graves from a maqbara or Muslim necropolis, dating from between the eighth and the 12th centuries, this summer in the town of Tauste, in the Ebro Valley about 25 miles (40 kilometres) northwest of Zaragoza.

The remains show that the dead were buried according to Muslim funeral rituals and suggest the town was largely Islamic for hundreds of years, despite there being no mention of this phase in local histories.

“The number of people buried in the necropolis and the time it was occupied indicates that Tauste was an important town in the Ebro Valley in Islamic times,” lead archaeologist Eva Giménez of the heritage company Paleoymás told Live Science.

Giménez and the company Paleoymás were contracted for the latest excavations by El Patiaz Cultural Association, which was founded by local people in 1999 to investigate the history of the town.

Their initial excavations in 2010 suggested that a 5-acre (2 hectares) Islamic necropolis at Tauste might hold the remains of up to 4,500 people. But the association’s limited funds meant only 46 graves could be unearthed in the first four years of work.

Giménez said the latest discoveries hint that even more Muslim graves could still be found. “We now have information that indicates that the size of the necropolis is greater than what was known,” she said.

Archaeologists think up to 4,500 bodies may have been buried in the ancient necropolis at Tauste over 400 years of Muslim rule.
The Islamic phase of Tauste’s history had been forgotten – perhaps deliberately – and ancient graves sometimes found in the town were dismissed as those of victims of the 19th-century cholera pandemic.
The latest excavations at Tauste focused on a single road known to pass through the ancient Islamic necropolis. The remains of 433 people were unearthed there who had been buried according to Muslim funeral rituals.

Muslim conquest

The graves date all the way back to the time when Muslim armies from North Africa that were allied with Islam’s Umayyad caliphate in Damascus invaded what is now Spain in A.D. 711. By 718, they had conquered most of the Iberian Peninsula — today’s Spain and Portugal — except for some mountainous regions of the northwest that remained independent Christian kingdoms.

The Muslim invaders, called “Moors” by the Christians, then attempted to conquer Gaul — now France — but were turned back, first at the Battle of Toulouse in 721 and then at the Battle of Tours in 732, where they were defeated by a smaller Frankish army led by the nobleman Charles Martel. It’s said the Frankish use of heavy cavalry played a decisive part in the battle, Live Science previously reported.

After that, Muslim leaders established their rule south of Barcelona and the Pyrenees, the mountain range that divides Spain and France. The Ebro Valley around Zaragoza, however, stayed in Muslim hands.

The Muslim-ruled region became known as al-Andalus — with the “Andal” part possibly from the name of the Vandals the Muslims had conquered — and reached its cultural peak in about the 10th century with advances in mathematics, astronomy and medicine. By some accounts, the regime was relatively benign. Jews and Christians were allowed to practice their religions if they chose not to convert to Islam, but they paid extra tax, called jizya, and were treated as a lower social class than Muslims.

Muslim rule in Spain began to fragment after the 11th century, and the Christian kingdoms in the north grew more powerful. The last Muslim emirate, at Granada, was defeated in 1492 by the armies of Castile in the final battle of the Christian Reconquista led by Isabela and Ferdinand, the first queen and king of Spain. Islam was outlawed, and violent anti-Muslim persecutions continued until the early 17th century.

The influence of Islamic rule has been recognized in nearby parts of the region, but history was silent about the Islamic phase at Tauste.

Ancient graves were sometimes unearthed in the town, but they were dismissed as those of victims of a cholera pandemic that killed almost a quarter-million people in Spain in 1854 and 1855, said Miriam Pina Pardos, the director of the Anthropological Observatory of the Islamic Necropolis of Tauste for El Patiaz.

Unearthing Islam

Some members of El Patiaz suspected an 11th-century church tower in the town had Islamic origins — a suspicion confirmed when examinations showed it was once a minaret in the distinctive Zagri architecture.. 

So in 2010, the group began excavations led by archaeologist Francisco Javier Gutierrez. They learned the ancient graves at Tauste contained individuals buried with Muslim rituals, and not in the style of a mass burial that might have been expected for victims of the cholera pandemic, Pina Pardos said.

For instance, each grave held the remains of a single person, typically placed lying on their right side so that their gaze was oriented toward Mecca, and each was covered with a mound of earth, Gutierrez said. Some may also have had a wooden cover, now missing.

The graves also showed other distinctive Muslim features: They were just large enough to accommodate the body, and the dead were buried in a white shroud, regardless of their social status, she said. To this day, Muslim rituals do not allow the dead to be buried with grave goods, but fragments of ceramics found nearby in the excavations since 2010 showed they dated to between the eighth and 12th centuries, Giménez said.

While the existence of the Islamic graveyard was known from the earlier excavations, “what was not known where the dimensions and density of the tombs,” she said. “It has been expected and unexpected at the same time.”

The latest discoveries, in a single street known to be part of the ancient necropolis, show the extent of Muslim influence in the town over several centuries., 

The cemetery was in use continuously for more than 400 years, they found. “This tells us about a constant and deeply rooted [Islamic] population in Tauste since the beginning of the eighth century,” Giménez said.

Spanish court throws out lawsuit against US treasure hunters

Spanish court throws out lawsuit against US treasure hunters

A Spanish court has shelved a lawsuit against American treasure hunters that accused them of having destroyed an underwater archaeological site when they looted a sunken galleon for tons of precious coins over a decade ago.

In 2007, the Florida-based Odyssey Marine Exploration scooped up over half a million silver and gold coins from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean when it discovered a sunken Spanish galleon.

Spain disputed the company’s claim to the treasure, which was worth an estimated US$500 million ($667.95 million).

Spanish court throws out lawsuit against US treasure hunters
A block of encrusted silver coins from the shipwreck of an 1804 galleon, on its first display to the media at a Ministry building, in Madrid, after a U.S. salvage company gave up following a five-year international ownership dispute. A Spanish court has definitely shelved a lawsuit against American treasure hunters that accused them of having destroyed an underwater archaeological site when they looted a sunken galleon for tons of precious coins over a decade ago.

Following a five-year legal battle in US courts, Odyssey had to return the treasure to Spain in 2012.

A separate case investigating whether the Odyssey had committed a crime by allegedly destroying the underwater site where it found the Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes ship was tossed out in 2016.

Now, another court has said that an appeal by Spanish archaeologists against that decision has been thrown out as well. This decision is not open to appeal.

In court documents seen by The Associated Press, the panel of three judges presiding over the court in the southern city of Cádiz said the five-year statute of limitations for the alleged crime had already passed.


But they also complained that a 2013 request made to the US for the owners of Odyssey to be questioned in the case was never heeded.
“Even though we share our surprise, puzzlement, and even anger, for what we can only call the unprecedented course of this case, it would be senseless to let it go on if we consider the statute of limitation,” the judges wrote.

The Mercedes galleon was sunk by British ships near the Strait of Gibraltar in 1804. It was transporting 574,553 silver coins and 212 gold coins from metals that were mined and minted in the Andes.

Upon its return from the US, the treasure was given a home at Spain’s National Museum of Underwater Archaeology in the Mediterranean city of Cartagena.

Possible Neanderthal Hunting Tactic Explored

Possible Neanderthal Hunting Tactic Explored

Juan Negro crouched in the shadows just outside a cave, wearing his headlamp. For a brief moment, he wasn’t an ornithologist at the Spanish National Research Council’s Doñana Biological Station in Seville. He was a Neandertal, intent on catching dinner. As he waited in the cold, dark hours of the night, crowlike birds called choughs entered the cave.

Possible Neanderthal Hunting Tactic Explored
A red-billed chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax) is an elusive species to hunt during the day. But its nighttime roosting habits could have made it easy prey for Neandertals to catch with their bare hands, a new study suggests.

The “Neandertal” then stealthily snuck in and began the hunt.

This idea to role-play started with butchered bird bones. Piles of ancient tool- and tooth-nicked choughs bones have been found in the same caves that Neandertals frequented, evidence suggesting that the ancient hominids chowed down on the birds. But catching choughs is tricky.

During the day, they fly far to feed on invertebrates, seeds and fruits. At night though, their behaviour practically turns them into sitting ducks. The birds roost in groups and often return to the same spot, even if they’ve been disturbed or preyed on there before.

So the question was, how might Neandertals have managed to catch these avian prey?

To find out, Negro and his colleagues decided to act like, well, Neandertals. Wielding bare hands along with butterfly nets and lamps — a proxy for nets and fire that Neandertals may have had at hand— teams of two to 10 researchers silently snuck into caves and other spots across Spain, where the birds roost to see how many choughs they could catch.

Researchers in Spain attempt to capture choughs with their bare hands in roosting sites such as this building. The effort was part of a study to see if Neandertals could have successfully hunted the birds.

Using flashes of light from flashlights to resemble fire, the “Neandertals” dazzled and confused the choughs. The birds typically fled into dead-end areas of the caves, where they could be easily caught, often bare-handed. Hunting expeditions at 70 sites snared more than 5,500 birds in all, the researchers report September 9 in Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution.

The birds were then released unharmed. It was “the most exciting piece of research” Negro says he’s ever done.

The results demonstrate that through teamwork, choughs can be captured without fancy tools at night and offer a likely way that Neandertals could have captured choughs. But actual Neandertal bird-catching behaviour remains unknown. If this is in fact how Neandertals hunted, it adds to claims that their behaviour and ability to think strategically is more sophisticated than they are often given credit for.

Red-billed choughs, captured as part of an experiment to see if Neandertals could have caught the birds, sit in a sack. The birds were released unharmed.

“The regular catchment of choughs by Neandertals implies a deep knowledge of the ecology of this species, a previous planning for its obtaining, including procurement techniques, and the ability to plan and anticipate dietary needs for the future,” says Ruth Blasco.

A taphonomist at the Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution in Tarragona, Spain, Blasco is an expert in the Neandertal diet.

Such role-playing, she notes, is “commonly used by scholars as valid analogies to infer processes that happened in the past.” For instance, reenactments with replicas of wooden spears have suggested that Neandertals could have hurled the weapons to hunt prey at a distance.

The researchers re-creating chough hunts used butterfly nets to catch birds fleeing sites with narrow entrances, as well as bigger nets partially covering larger openings. But “the easiest thing was to grab the birds by hand,” Negro says.

“You have to be intelligent to capture these animals, to process them, to roast and eat them,” he notes. Previous studies have shown that Neandertals may have been similarly adept at foraging for seafood. “We tend to think that [Neandertals] were brutes with no intelligence,” Negro says, “but in fact, the evidence is accumulating that they were very close to Homo sapiens.”