Category Archives: SPAIN

Bronze Age eating, social habits in the Balearic Islands documented in study

Bronze Age eating, social habits in the Balearic Islands documented in study

La Cova des Pas, near the town of Ferreries, is a prehistoric mass burial site with the largest collection of complete human skeletons found in Menorca.

Researchers from a variety of Spanish institutions have managed to reconstruct the diet of some 50 individuals buried more than 3,000 years ago in the Cova des Pas’ necropolis in Menorca.

The study, coordinated by the UAB, indicates a diet of plants and meat, with all individuals having the same access to food, implying that they were a socially egalitarian group.

These findings form part of the study on eating habits of Bronze and Iron Age groups living in the Balearic Islands and contribute to the debate on the emergence and development of the first complex societies on the archipelago. This is the most complete study conducted to date of the paleodiet of ancient populations inhabiting the Balearic Islands.

The individuals buried at the Cova des Pas site in Menorca between 3,600 and 2,800 years ago ate what the land had to offer, mainly plants, and also had a significant intake of animal protein.

This has been confirmed by a Spanish research team that has reconstructed the dietary pattern of 49 individuals buried in this collective tomb of the Talayotic culture, considered one of the largest and most exceptional prehistoric collections of human remains in the Balearic Islands.

The results also indicate that children were breastfed until they were about four years old and that all population groups had equal access to food, without distinctions by sex or age. The study was recently published in Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences.

The research was coordinated by UAB researchers Assumpció Malgosa and Carlos Tornero, who is also linked to the Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution (IPHES-CERCA).

Pau Sureda, researcher at the Institute of Heritage Sciences (INCIPIT-CSIC), and Xavier Jordana, lecturer at the UAB and researcher at the Tissue Repair and Regeneration Laboratory of the University of Vic—Central University of Catalonia (UVic-UCC), as well as Filiana Sotiriadou, student of the UAB master’s degree in Biological Anthropology, also participated.

The study expands knowledge about the diet of the first Balearic population groups, a controversial subject of study. It confirms a mixed diet based on plants, with cereals such as wheat, and meat from goat and sheep herds, with little consumption of marine resources, and reinforces previous studies carried out at other Menorcan sites.

“Contrary to what has been seen in other settlements of the same period in Formentera or Mallorca, the consumption of marine food resources would have been occasional in these individuals,” says Carlos Tornero, Ramón y Cajal researcher in the UAB Department of Prehistory.

The research also contributes to the debate on the emergence and development of the first complex societies in the archipelago.

“These societies emerged and developed on the Balearic Islands during the late Bronze Age and early Iron Age, between 3,600 and 2,600 years ago, including the Naviform (present in all the islands) and Talayotic (only in Mallorca and Menorca) cultures,” explains Pau Sureda, researcher at INCIPIT-CSIC.

But the fact that all the population groups had the same access to food would indicate that these Menorcan groups were socially egalitarian, without the hierarchical organizations or population units differentiated by their social function or economic resources typical of more complex societies.

“Our results are consistent with previous studies of different Menorcan settlements and with paleodemographic and taphonomic studies carried out on individuals from the Cova des Pas, which found no differences in life expectancy or treatment of burials,” says Assumpció Malgosa, lecturer of Physical Anthropology at the UAB and director of the Biological Anthropology Research Group (GREAB-UAB).

The research was conducted using the combined analysis of stable isotopes of carbon and nitrogen in samples of collagen from the skeletal remains of the individuals, which made it possible to identify the consumption of plant and animal foods from land and water, as well as in samples of faunal remains from the Son Mercer de Baix site, the closest site physically and temporally to the necropolis, to reconstruct the food chain and interpret the human data.

New Thoughts on Prehistoric Owl Plaques

New Thoughts on Prehistoric Owl Plaques

New Thoughts on Prehistoric Owl Plaques

Over the past century, thousands of pieces of slate engraved with images of owls have been unearthed from tombs and pits across the Iberian Peninsula, in what’s now Portugal and Spain.

The artifacts date from around 5,000 years ago, and for more than a century their function has flummoxed archaeologists. Many thought they represented goddesses and primarily served a ritual purpose.

Findings from new research published Thursday, however, suggest a more prosaic function: They were toys made and used by children.

Víctor Díaz Núñez de Arenas, the study coauthor and researcher at the Complutense University of Madrid’s department of art history, said the engravings’ informal appearance made the team doubt they were exclusively ritual objects. Plus, many of them were found in homes and other archaeological sites that did not have a clearly ritual context.

To test the idea that they were instead toys, the research team examined 100 of the slate plaques, documenting which particular owl traits were featured in the engraving — feathery tufts, patterned feathers, a flat facial disk, a beak, and wings.

The researchers then compared them with 100 images of owls drawn earlier this year by children ages 4 to 13 at an elementary school in southwestern Spain. The students were asked by their teacher to sketch an owl in less than 20 minutes, with no further instructions.

The common species called little owl (Athene noctua) may have inspired some engraved slate plaques. Two fledglings are shown.

“The similarity of these plaques with the drawings made by children of our days is very remarkable,” Díaz Núñez de Arenas said via email. “One of the things that they reveal to us about the children of that time is that their vision of what an owl is (is) very similar, if not identical, to what children of today have.”

It’s impossible to know exactly how prehistoric children would have played with the owls, he said, but many of the slates have perforations that could have allowed kids to insert real feathers at the top, Díaz Núñez de Arenas said.

Drawings of owls by present-day children were similar to the owls on the plaques, researchers said.

In addition to play, engraving the owls could have helped children learn a valuable prehistoric skill.

“The engraving of these plaques provided the youngest with an activity with which to learn the handling of the different techniques of carving and engraving of the stone, essential for the realization of other objects, such as knives or points of arrow used for functional tasks of daily life. It could even be a way to detect and select the most skilled members of the community for stone carving,” he said.

Díaz Núñez de Arenas said the slate owls could have also played a ritual role, perhaps allowing children to participate in community ceremonies such as burials, offering their toys or dolls as a tribute to deceased loved ones.

This slate plaque with an engraving of an owl was part of the study.

Archaeologist Dr. Brenna Hassett, a research associate at University College London who was not involved in the study, agreed that many ancient objects described as ritual might have multiple purposes and uses. She said that not enough was known about how children played in prehistory, and that it remains a relatively understudied field.

“We have to remember that many things would have been made of perishable materials — such as string and fur and wood — so that is one of the reasons it is so rare to find something that is unmistakably a ‘toy,'” said Hassett, author of the 2022 book “Growing Up Human: The Evolution of Childhood.”

The plaques aren’t the oldest known potential toys in the archaeological record. Díaz Núñez de Arenas said animal figures found in children’s graves in Siberia dated to around 20,000 years old have been interpreted as toys, while Hassett said spinners or thaumatropes found in French caves dating back to around 36,000 years ago are thought by some to be toys.

The journal Scientific Reports published the research on Thursday.

Early Dog Identified in Spain’s Basque Country

Early Dog Identified in Spain’s Basque Country

A humerus analyzed by the UPV/EHU’s Human Evolutionary Biology group belonged to a specimen that lived in the Paleolithic period, 17,000 years ago.

Early Dog Identified in Spain’s Basque Country
Erralla humerus. a) Anterior view. b) Posterior view. c) Medial view. d) Lateral view.

The dog is the first species domesticated by humans, although the geographical and temporal origin of wolf domestication remains a matter of debate. In an excavation led by Jesus Altuna in the Erralla cave (Zestoa, Gipuzkoa) in 1985 an almost complete humerus was recovered from a canid, a family of carnivores that includes wolves, dogs, foxes and coyotes, among others.

At that time it was difficult to identify which species of canid it belonged to.

Now the Human Evolutionary Biology team at the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU), led by Professor Conchi de la Rúa, has carried out an in-depth study of the bone remains.

A morphological, radiometric and genetic analysis has enabled the species to be identified genetically as Canis lupus familiaris (domestic dog).

The direct dating of the humerus by means of carbon-14 using particle accelerator mass spectrometry gives it an age of 17,410–17,096 cal. BP, (calibrated years Before the Present, i.e. the results obtained are adjusted to take into account changes in the global concentration of radiocarbon over time). That means that the Erralla dog lived in the Magdalenian period of the Upper Paleolithic, which makes it one of the most ancient domestic dogs to have existed so far in Europe.

The Erralla dog shares the mitochondrial lineage with the few Magdalenian dogs analyzed so far.

The origin of this lineage is linked to a period of cold climate coinciding with the Last Glacial Maximum, which occurred in Europe around 22,000 years ago.

“These results raise the possibility that wolf domestication occurred earlier than proposed until now, at least in western Europe, where the interaction of Paleolithic hunter-gatherers with wild species, such as the wolf, may have been boosted in areas of glacial refuge (such as the Franco-Cantabrian) during this period of the climate crisis,” explained Conchi de la Rúa, head of the Human Evolutionary Biology group.

Iron Age Artifact May Shed Light on Origins of Basque Language

Iron Age Artifact May Shed Light on Origins of Basque Language

More than 2,000 years after it was probably hung from the door of a mud-brick house in northern Spain to bring luck, a flat, lifesize bronze hand engraved with dozens of strange symbols could help scholars trace the development of one of the world’s most mysterious languages.

Iron Age Artifact May Shed Light on Origins of Basque Language
The Hand of Irulegi was discovered last year near Pamplona.

Although the piece – known as the Hand of Irulegi – was discovered last year by archaeologists from the Aranzadi Science Society who have been digging near the city of Pamplona since 2017, its importance has only recently become clear.

Experts studying the hand and its inscriptions now believe it to be both the oldest written example of Proto-Basque and a find that “upends” much of what was previously known about the Vascones, a late iron age tribe who inhabited parts of northern Spain before the arrival of the Romans, and whose language is thought to have been an ancestor of modern-day Basque, or euskera.

Until now, scholars had supposed the Vascones had no proper written language – save for words found on coins – and only began writing after the Romans introduced the Latin alphabet. But the five words written in 40 characters identified as Vasconic, suggest otherwise.

The first – and only word – to be identified so far is sorioneku, a forerunner of the modern Basque word zorioneko, meaning good luck or good omen.

Javier Velaza, a professor of Latin philology at the University of Barcelona and one of the experts who deciphered the hand, said the discovery had finally confirmed the existence of a written Vasconic language.

“People spoke the language of the Vascones in the area where the inscriptions were found,” he said.

“We had imagined that to be the case but until now, we had hardly any texts to bear that out. Now we do – and we also know that the Vascones used writing to set down their language … This inscription is incontrovertible; the first word of the text is patently a word that’s found in modern Basque.”

Velaza’s colleague Joaquín Gorrochategui, a professor of Indo-European linguistics at the University of the Basque country, said the hand’s secrets would change the way scholars looked at the Vascones.

“This piece upends how we’d thought about the Vascones and writing until now,” he said. “We were almost convinced that the ancient Vascones were illiterate and didn’t use writing except when it came to minting coins.”

According to Mattin Aiestaran, the director of the Irulegi dig, the site owes its survival to the fact that the original village was burned and then abandoned during the Sertorian war between two rival Roman factions in the first century BC. The objects they left behind were buried in the ruins of their mud-brick houses.

“That’s a bit of luck for archaeologists and it means we have a snapshot of the moment of the attack,” said Aiestaran. “That means we’ve been able to recover a lot of day-to-day material from people’s everyday lives. It’s an exceptional situation and one that has allowed us to find an exceptional piece.”

Despite the excitement surrounding the deciphering of the inscription, Velaza counselled calm study rather than giddy conjecture. After all, he added, the hand hails from one particular moment in time and tells us only that the people in the area then spoke and wrote the Vasconic language.

“That doesn’t mean we know how long they’d been there, nor what their future was after that moment,” he said.

“It’s true that this is an extraordinarily important text but I’d urge a bit of caution about using it to extrapolate too many conclusions about what happened afterwards. But linguistically speaking, it’s going to provide linguists who specialise in the Vasconic language and Proto-Basque with something they haven’t had until now.”

He added: “I think we should be excited – but we should still be very rigorous scientifically speaking.”

Not every recent Basque language discovery has lived up to its billing. Two years ago, a Spanish archaeologist was found guilty of faking finds that included pieces of third-century pottery engraved with one of the first depictions of the crucified Christ, Egyptian hieroglyphics, and Basque words that predated the earliest known written examples of the language by 600 years.

Although the archaeologist, Eliseo Gil, claimed the pieces would “rewrite the history books”, an expert committee examined them and found traces of modern glue as well as references to the 17th-century French philosopher René Descartes.

“Unprecedented” Phoenician necropolis found in southern Spain

“Unprecedented” Phoenician necropolis found in southern Spain

“Unprecedented” Phoenician necropolis found in southern Spain

A 4th or 5th-century B.C Phoenician necropolis has been found at Osuna in Southern Spain. A well-preserved underground limestone vault necropolis, where the Phoenicians living in the Iberian peninsula buried their dead, was discovered during water utility upgrades.

Council workers have found a well-preserved necropolis from the Phoenician era with at least eight subterranean limestone burial vaults and a staircase.

Archaeologists said the “unprecedented” Phoenician-Carthaginian cemetery. Such sites are normally found in coastal areas rather than so far inland, they say.

It is a unique find because the only comparable necropolises that have been unearthed so far are coastal, dotting the area around the ancient Phoenician colony of Cádiz. Osuna is inland, about 55 miles east of Seville.

Preliminary surveys have so far turned up eight burial vaults as well as staircases and areas that are thought to have served as atriums. These were elite graves, and unprecedented in what would have been practically the hinterlands of Phoenician Spain.

The phoenician-Punic necropolis was discovered in Osuna, Spain.

The lead archaeologist, Mario Delgado, described the discovery as very significant and very unexpected. “To find a necropolis from the Phoenician and Carthaginian era with these characteristics – with eight well tombs, atriums, and staircase access – you’d have to look to Sardinia or even Carthage itself,” he said.

“We thought we might find remains from the imperial Roman age, which would be more in keeping with the surroundings, so we were surprised when we found these structures carved from the rock – hypogea [subterranean vaults] – perfectly preserved beneath the Roman levels.”

Rosario Andújar, the mayor of Osuna, said the find had already prompted a re-examination of the area’s history.

The mayor said that while more research needed to be done, the luxurious nature of the necropolis suggested it had been built for those at “the highest level” of the social hierarchy.

Excavation work is currently underway in order to reach the ground levels of a possible atrium, officials said.

The Phoenicians were amongst the greatest Mediterranean traders from approximately 1,500 to 600 BC. Based on archaeological remains, the consensus now is that colonisation began around 800, when settlements were founded along the south coast of the peninsula.

They settled in southern Spain, not long after the founding of Phoenicia’s greatest colony, Carthage.

They set to work exploiting the region’s rich and untapped deposits of tin, gold, and silver and expanding their trade networks.

The trade of metals and consumer goods (fish, textiles) made the Phoenician settlements of what is now Andalusia enormously prosperous.

Archaeologists believe that the rich tombs found on the coast were built for the shipping dynasties that ran Phoenician commerce.

The Spanish town of Osuna came to the spotlight when it became the location for parts of the fifth season of the HBO series, Game of Thrones.

Neanderthals and humans co-existed in Europe for over 2,000 years: Study

Neanderthals, and humans co-existed in Europe for over 2,000 years: Study

Neanderthals, and humans co-existed in Europe for over 2,000 years: Study
Distinctive stone knives are thought to have been produced by the last Neanderthals in France and northern Spain. This specific and standardized technology is unknown in the preceding Neanderthal record and may indicate a diffusion of technological behaviours between Homo sapiens and Neanderthals immediately prior to their disappearance from the region.

Neanderthals and humans lived alongside each other in France and northern Spain for up to 2,900 years, modelling research suggested Thursday, giving them plenty of time to potentially learn from or even breed with each other.

While the study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, did not provide evidence that humans directly interacted with Neanderthals around 42,000 years ago, previous genetic research has shown that they must have at some point.

Research by Swedish paleogeneticist Svante Paabo, who won the medicine Nobel prize last week, helped reveal that people of European descent—and almost everyone worldwide—have a small percentage of Neanderthal DNA.

Igor Djakovic, a Ph.D. student at Leiden University in the Netherlands and lead author of the new study, said we know that humans and Neanderthals “met and integrated into Europe, but we have no idea in which specific regions this actually happened.”

Exactly when this happened has also proved elusive, though previous fossil evidence has suggested that modern humans and Neanderthals walked the Earth at the same time for thousands of years.

To find out more, the Leiden-led team looked at radiocarbon dating for 56 artifacts—28 each for Neanderthals and humans—from 17 sites across France and northern Spain.

The artifacts included bones as well as distinctive stone knives thought to have been made by some of the last Neanderthals in the region.

The researchers then used Bayesian modeling to narrow down the potential date ranges.

‘Never really went extinct’

Then they used optimal linear estimation, a new modeling technique they adapted from biological conservation sciences, to get the best estimate for when the region’s last Neanderthals lived.

Humans, neanderthals, Denisovan and mystery hominins.

Djakovic said the “underlying assumption” of this technique is that we are unlikely to ever discover the first or last members of an extinct species.

“For example, we’ll never find the last woolly rhino,” he told AFP, adding that “our understanding is always broken up into fragments.”

The modeling found that Neanderthals in the region went extinct between 40,870 and 40,457 years ago, while modern humans first appeared around 42,500 years ago.

This means the two species lived alongside each other in the region for between 1,400 and 2,900 years, the study said.

During this time there are indications of a great “diffusion of ideas” by both humans and Neanderthals, Djakovic said.

The period is “associated with substantial transformations in the way that people are producing material culture,” such as tools and ornaments, he said.

There was also a “quite severe” change in the artifacts produced by Neanderthals, which started to look much more like those made by humans, he added.

Given the changes in culture and the evidence in our own genes, the new timeline could further bolster a leading theory for the end of the Neanderthals: mating with humans.

Breeding with the larger human population could have meant that, over time, Neanderthals were “effectively swallowed into our gene pool,” Djakovic said.

“When you combine that with what we know now—that most people living on Earth have Neanderthal DNA—you could make the argument that they never really went extinct, in a certain sense.”

Neanderthals seem to have been carnivores

Neanderthals seem to have been carnivores

A new study published on October 17, 2022, in the journal PNAS, led by a CNRS researcher, uses zinc isotope analysis for the first time to determine the place of Neanderthals in the food chain. The results obtained suggest that they would indeed have been carnivores.

Were Neanderthals carnivores? Scientists have not yet decided on the question. If certain studies of dental calculus of individuals coming from the Iberian peninsula could suggest that they were large consumers of plants, other research carried out on non-Iberian sites seemed rather indicate an almost exclusive consumption of meat.

Thanks to new analytical techniques applied to a molar from an individual of this species, researchers 1  have demonstrated that the Neanderthals at the Gabasa site in Spain seemed to be carnivores.

Until then, to try to define an individual’s place in the food chain, scientists generally had to extract proteins and analyze the isotopes of nitrogen present in the collagen of bones. 

However, this method is often only applicable in temperate environments, and rarely on samples over 50,000 years old. When these conditions are not met, the analysis of nitrogen isotopes is very complex, if not impossible. This was particularly the case for the molar from the Gabasa site, studied here.

Faced with these constraints, Klervia Jaouen, a researcher at the CNRS, and her colleagues have this time analyzed the isotopic ratios of zinc contained in dental enamel, a mineral resistant to all forms of degradation. This is the first time this method has been used to try to identify the diet of a Neanderthal.

The lower the proportions of zinc isotopes in the bones, the more likely they are to belong to a carnivore.

This measurement was also carried out on animal bones from the same period and geographical area, both on carnivores such as the lynx or the wolf, and on herbivores such as the rabbit or the chamois. As a result, the Neanderthal to whom this Gabasa tooth belonged would have been carnivorous and did not consume the blood of its prey.

According to broken bones found at the site and isotopic data, this individual would also have eaten the bone marrow of its prey, without consuming the bones. 

Other chemical tracers show that he was weaned before he was two years old. Analyzes also show that he would probably have died where he had lived as a child.

Compared to previous techniques, this new method, by analyzing zinc isotopes, makes it possible to better distinguish omnivores from carnivores. 

The scientists hope to reproduce the experiment on other individuals, coming from other sites to confirm their conclusions, in particular on the Payre site where new research has begun.

Neanderthals seem to have been carnivores
The First Neanderthal molar analyzed for this study
Excavation work at the Gabasa site, in Spain

Bibliography

A Neandertal dietary conundrum: new insights provided by tooth enamel Zn isotopes from Gabasa, Spain . Klervia Jaouen, Vanessa Villalba Mouco, Geoff M. Smith, Manuel Trost, Jennifer Leichliter, Tina Lüdecke, Pauline Méjean, Stéphanie Mandrou, Jérôme Chmeleff, Danaé Guiserix, Nicolas Bourgon, Fernanda Blasco, Jéssica Mendes Cardoso, Camille Duquenoy, Zineb Moubtahij, Domingo C. Salazar Garcia, Michael Richards, Thomas Tütken, Jean Jacques Hublin, Pilar Utrilla, and Lourdes Montes, PNAS , October 17, 2022. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2109315119

Ancient Glass Plate From Spain Shows a Beardless Jesus

Ancient Glass Plate From Spain Shows a Beardless Jesus

Ancient Glass Plate From Spain Shows a Beardless Jesus
The plate, which is on display in the archaeology museum in Linares in Andalusia, is one of the earliest representations of Christ

Our perception of what certain biblical or historical characters look like is based simply on what has been written and passed down. However, just like religion, history can be very controversial as when hard evidence is missing, it all must come down to cultural beliefs.

Almost 3 billion people worship Jesus Christ around the world, so as this is such an impactful character in the lives of many, we should know what he looks like.

Within the bible or other texts from the biblical era, there isn’t much description based on the appearance of Jesus, which seems quite strange based on his importance.

Churches have been ancient schools for over a thousand years and this is where all historical and world knowledge would be kept. Not only in the form of texts, but through different religious murals and other forms of art.

Scholars say that based on this sort of evidence that has been passed on from generations, society has built the appearance of Jesus and we move it down further with each generation.

Robert Cargill, assistant professor of classics and religious studies at the University of Iowa and editor of Biblical Archaeology Review mentioned that humanity never really knew what Jesus looked like:

“We don’t know what [Jesus] looked like, but if all of the things that we do know about him are true, he was a Palestinian Jewish man living in Galilee in the first century, So he would have looked like a Palestinian Jewish man of the first century. He would have looked like a Jewish Galilean.” (Quote by Robert Cargill)

However, from ruins had risen a piece of evidence that potentially shows information that has been lost throughout history and goes against everything said by scholars in religious studies.

Archaeologists outside the southern Spanish city of Linares had discovered a glass plate believed to have been used to hold Eucharistic bread. An image is represented on the plate with Jesus Christ and two of his apostles believed to be Peter and Paul.

Archaeologists working as part of the FORVM MMX Yacimiento group believe that this is the earliest depiction of Jesus Christ.

Coins and ceramic items found at the site appear to confirm that they coincided with the rule of Constantine, Rome’s first Christian emperor, who ruled from 306 to 337. Interestingly enough, because Christianity was persecuted at the time, the figure of Jesus Christ was presented often in the form of a fish.

Reconstruction of images on the plate

The plate was found in pieces, but archaeologists were able to find 80% of the pieces and assemble them back together.

An interesting aspect of its depiction of Christ is that he is shown without a beard. There haven’t been many pieces of evidence to show that Jesus Christ actually didn’t have a beard. Based on Robert Cargill’s description of Jesus Christ, he looked like a first-century Jewish Galilean who mostly wore beards.

A newspaper report from ABC mentioned the biblical scene that is represented in the plate:

“The scene takes place in the celestial orb, framed between two palm trees, which in Christian iconography represent immortality, the afterlife, and heaven, among other things,” (Quote from ABC News)

This piece of evidence challenges what has been believed and all other depictions of Jesus Christ that have been created since the 4th century. Only time and the future efforts of archaeologists may bring similar evidence to reinforce the belief in this depiction of Jesus Christ.