Category Archives: SPAIN

She Was Buried With a Silver Crown. Was She the One Who Held Power?

She Was Buried With a Silver Crown. Was She the One Who Held Power?

According to a New York Times report, a 3,700-year-old tomb holding the remains of a man and a woman has been found in southeastern Spain at the El Argar site of La Almoloya. 

Their tomb was an ovoid jar beneath the floor of a grand hall in an expansive hilltop complex known as La Almoloya, in what is now Murcia, Spain. It’s one of many archaeological sites associated with the El Argar culture of the Early Bronze Age that controlled an area about the size of Belgium from 2200 B.C. to 1500 B.C.

Judging by the 29 high-value objects in the tomb, described Thursday in the journal Antiquity, the couple appear to have been members of the Argaric upper class. And the woman may have been the more important of the two, raising questions for archaeologists about who wielded power among the Argarics and adding more evidence to a debate about the role of women in prehistoric Europe.

She died in her 20s, possibly of tuberculosis, and had been placed on her back with her legs bent toward the man. In life, she had a range of congenital anomalies such as a shortened, fused spine and a stunted left thumb.

On and around her were sublime silver emblems of wealth and power. Her hair had been fastened with silver spirals, and her silver earlobe plugs — one larger than the other — had silver spirals looped through them. A silver bracelet was near her elbow, and a silver ring was still on her finger. Silver embellished the diamond-shaped ceramic pot near her, and triple plates of silver embellished her oak-wood awl — a symbol of womanhood.

Her most fantastic silver artefact is an impeccably crafted diadem — a headband-like crown — that still rested on her head. Only six have been discovered in Argaric graves.

She would have shimmered in life. “Imagine the diadem with a disc going down to the tip of her nose,” said Cristina Rihuete Herrada, an archaeologist and professor of prehistory at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, and one of the discoverers of the burial. “It’s shining. You could actually see yourself in the disc. Framing the eyes of that woman would be a very, very impressive thing to see. And the ability of somebody to be reflected — their face in another face — would have been something shocking.”

The sound of her would have been dramatic too: “Think about the noise — this clink clink clink, because it’s silver against silver in these very large earlobes,” Dr Rihuete Herrada said. “That would make for a remarkable person.”

The man, who was in his 30s when he died, had been interred with his own fineries, including flared gold plugs in his ears. The silver ring that had once been on his finger had fallen off and lay near his lower back. By his side was a copper dagger fitted with four silver rivets.

Like their contemporaries — such as the Minoans of Crete, the Wessex of Britain and the Unetice of Central Europe — the Argarics had the hallmarks of a state society, with a ruling bureaucracy, geopolitical boundaries, complex settlement systems and urban centres with monumental structures. They had divisions of labour and class distinctions that persisted after death, based on the wide disparity of grave goods discovered at archaeological sites.

And while most of these systems have long been considered deeply patriarchal, the double burial at La Almoloya and other Argaric graves are making archaeologists reconsider life in ancient Iberia. Was she the one wielding the power? Was she a symbol of power but held none of her own? Did they share power or wield it in different realms?

They were buried beneath the floor of a great hall, where long benches lined the walls, and a podium stood before a hearth meant for warmth and light, not cooking. The space was big enough to hold about 50 people. “There have been hundreds of El Argar buildings excavated, and this one is unique. It’s quite clearly a building specialized in politics,” Dr Rihuete Herrada said.

La Almoloya in 2015.

The couple had at least one child together — an infant discovered buried beneath a nearby building was a genetic match to both of them.

In the El Argar culture, girls were given grave goods at an earlier age than boys were, indicating they were considered women before boys were considered men. Diadems are exclusively found with women, and their graves hold a richer variety of valuable goods. Some male elite warriors were buried with swords.

As for the power structure the two occupied, Dr Rihuete Herrada suggests that perhaps they held potency in different realms. The swords could suggest “that enforcement of government decisions will be in the hands of men. Maybe women were political rulers, but not alone,” she said.

She suggests that perhaps the Argarics were similar to the matrilineal Haudenosaunee (known also as the Iroquois), with women holding political and decision-making power — including over matters of the chiefdom, war and justice — but men being in control of the military.

These intriguing ideas fit into an emerging body of research from various archaeological studies in Europe that are re-examining female power during the Bronze Age.

“The fact that most of the grave goods, including all of those made of silver, were associated with the female clearly points to an individual that was considered highly important,” said Karin Frei, a research professor in archaeometry at the National Museum of Denmark. “It makes sense to raise the question of whether a class-based state-society could be ruled by women.”

Dr Frei is the director of Tales of Bronze Age People, which uses methods such as biogeochemical and biomolecular analyses to study the remains from both elite and commoner burials in Denmark. “In several parts of Bronze Age Europe, females might have played a much bigger role in political and/or long-distance networks than previously thought,” she said.

Joanna Bruck, an expert in the Bronze Age of Britain and Ireland and head of the School of Archaeology at University College Dublin, says that the assumption that elite women of this era were “bartered brides,” exchanged as objects in networks of male power, is ripe for reconsideration.

The burial at La Almoloya “provides such clear evidence that women could hold special political power in the past,” Dr Bruck said. “I think we’ve got to be open to the possibility that they wielded power and agency. Of course, power is a really complex thing. You can have power in some contexts but not in others. We shouldn’t think of power being something that you have or don’t have.”

Renovations Reveal Twelfth-Century Bath House in Spain

Renovations Reveal Twelfth-Century Bath House in Spain

According to an El País report, renovation of a popular tapas bar on Seville’s Mateos Gago Street revealed the walls and skylights of a twelfth-century hammam, or bathhouse, built during the rule of the Almohad Caliphate

Renovations Reveal Twelfth-Century Bath House in Spain
The 12th-century bathhouse discovered in the popular bar Cervecería Giralda, in Seville.

On Mateos Gago Street, in the southern Spanish city of Seville, the hammam is situated only a few meters from the Roman Catholic cathedral of the city, and for a century it has been one of the most crowded Arab baths in the city.  The thing is, customers were not going there to immerse themselves in water, but rather to pour the liquid down their throats: the baths were concealed under a popular bar named Cervecería Giralda.

In the early 1900s, the architect Vicente Traver converted the building into a hotel, thus concealing (and preserving) a bathhouse dating back to the 12th century, during the days of the Almohad Caliphate that ruled Al-Andalus.

The ancient structure emerged again last summer when the bar underwent some renovation work. The work exposed high-quality murals that are unique to Spain and Portugal.

The find came as a big surprise as everyone had previously thought the structure was nothing more than “a Neo-Mudejar pastiche,” in the words of Fran Díaz, the architect in charge of the refurbishment.

Paintings in one of the vaults of the hammam discovered in Seville.

“The most important thing is that we realized the bath was completely painted, from top to bottom, with high-quality geometric decoration,” says Álvaro Jiménez, an archeologist who has supervised the work. “The drawings were made in red ochre on white, and large fragments were preserved on the walls and vaulted ceilings. This is the only surviving Arab bath with an integral decoration; until now, the only known examples had painted just on the baseboards.”

“It’s been a complete surprise. This is an important discovery that gives us an idea of what other baths might have looked like during the Almohad period, especially in Seville, which was one of the two capitals of the empire together with Marrakech,” adds the archeologist Fernando Amores, who collaborated on the project. “The hammam is very near the site of the main mosque, which was also built in the 12th century, and which also explains its much richer decorative elements.”

The first probes under the false ceilings at Giralda – one of the most popular venues in Seville’s historic center – soon unearthed several different kinds of skylights known as luceras. This discovery triggered a completely different approach to the reform work, which began focusing on the complete recovery of the Arab baths.

“Given the relevance of the finds, architecture took a step back and made way for archeology. The solution we found to preserve the baths while allowing the space to keep functioning as a bar was to use a metal cornice to crown the traditional wall tiles put there by Vicente Traver and which are now a part of the establishment’s personality; the original wooden bar counter has also been preserved,” notes Fran Díaz.

The cold room of the hammam at Cervecería Giralda

The 202-square-meter tapas bar, which opened in 1923, will continue in operation when the work ends next month.

The venue’s main space, where the bar counter is located, was once the warm room of the hammam, a space covering 6.70 square meters with an eight-sided vaulted ceiling resting on four columns. One side opens into a rectangular room with a barrel vault that is 4.10 meters wide and 13 meters long, once serving as the bath’s cold room. The kitchen area is where the hot room must have been, although the only remaining vestige is a portion of an arch.

The baths were accessed from Don Remondo street, where the dry area used to be, notes Álvaro Jiménez, who wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on the remains of the Almohad mosque, now the site of Seville’s Roman Catholic cathedral.

The restoration work unveiled 88 skylights in different shapes and sizes, such as stars, lobulated designs, and octagons, that together are much more elaborate than decorations found in other Arab baths from the same period.

Amores also highlights the paintings in the arches of the warm room, made in a zigzagging style meant to represent water. “Nearly all the representations in the Islamic world allude to paradise,” he notes.

The uniqueness of this bath does not rest solely on its latticed paintings, but also on the five rows of skylights in the cold room – other baths have three, and sometimes just one. The cold room, which for the last century has served as the bar’s eating area, lost two meters in 1928 when Mateos Gago street was widened.

A geometric design above the door leading to the cold room of the baths.

In order to understand the structure of the baths, which were typically built by the state and handed over to third parties for management, an expert named Margarita de Alba used photogrammetry techniques to recreate what these spaces must have looked like in the 12th century when Seville was known as Isbilia.

“There is documentary evidence in Christian texts from 1281 about the so-called baths of García Jofre, described as adjoining a property given by King Alfonso X to the Church of Seville. The next testimony is from the 17th-century historian Rodrigo Caro, who said that the vault you see when you enter from Borceguinería [the earlier name for Mateos Gago street] is not a bath, writing: ‘I’d sooner believe these are relics from some circus or amphitheater.’

Even the art historian José Gestoso said the vault is ‘of Mauritanian tradition, a construction that is frequently seen in Seville monuments from the 15th and 16th centuries,” says Jiménez, illustrating how popular belief held that the García Jofre bath had disappeared due to the passage of time.

But it was there the whole time. In the 17th century, there was a major reform that took down the vault in the warm room and rebuilt a much lower one to make room for an extra floor above it. “The building was ‘Italianized’ and the original columns, probably made from reused Roman columns, were replaced with others made with Genoese marble. All the skylights were shut. Our theory is that it became the premises for a merchant who built his home over the shop,” adds Jiménez.

The 20th-century architect Vicente Traver could have torn down the remains of the bathhouse, but he chose to protect and preserve them. And now, customers of Cervecería Giralda know that they are having their beers inside an Almohad hammam.

50,000-Year-old Neanderthal Microbiome Analyzed

50,000-Year-old Neanderthal Microbiome Analyzed

Neanderthals’ gut microbiota already included some beneficial micro-organisms that are also found in our own intestine. An international research group led by the University of Bologna achieved this result by extracting and analyzing ancient DNA from 50,000-year-old fecal sediments sampled at the archaeological site of El Salt, near Alicante (Spain).

The 50,000 years old sedimentary faeces (the oldest sample of faecal material available to date) were collected in El Salt, Spain.

Published in Communication Biology, their paper puts forward the hypothesis of the existence of ancestral components of human microbiota that have been living in the human gastrointestinal tract since before the separation between the Homo Sapiens and Neanderthals that occurred more than 700,000 years ago.

“These results allow us to understand which components of the human gut microbiota are essential for our health, as they are integral elements of our biology also from an evolutionary point of view” explains Marco Candela, the professor of the Department of Pharmacy and Biotechnology of the University of Bologna, who coordinated the study.

“Nowadays there is a progressive reduction of our microbiota diversity due to the context of our modern life: this research group’s findings could guide us in devising diet- and lifestyle-tailored solutions to counteract this phenomenon.”

The Issues of the “Modern” Microbiota

The gut microbiota is the collection of trillions of symbiont micro-organisms that populate our gastrointestinal tract. It represents an essential component of our biology and carries out important functions in our bodies, such as regulating our metabolism and immune system and protecting us from pathogenic micro-organisms.

Recent studies have shown how some features of modernity — such as the consumption of processed food, drug use, life in hyper-sanitized environments — lead to a critical reduction of biodiversity in the gut microbiota. This depletion is mainly due to the loss of a set of microorganisms referred to as “old friends.”

“The process of depletion of the gut microbiota in modern western urban populations could represent a significant wake-up call,” says Simone Rampelli, who is a researcher at the University of Bologna and first author of the study. “This depletion process would become particularly alarming if it involved the loss of those microbiota components that are crucial to our physiology.”

Indeed, there are some alarming signs. For example, in the West, we are witnessing a dramatic increase in cases of chronic inflammatory diseases, such as inflammatory bowel disease, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and colorectal cancer.

How the “Ancient” Microbiota Can Help

How can we identify the components of the gut microbiota that are more important for our health? And how can we protect them with targeted solutions? This was the starting point behind the idea of identifying the ancestral traits of our microbiota — i.e. the core of the human gut microbiota, which has remained consistent throughout our evolutionary history.

Technology nowadays allows to successfully rise to this challenge thanks to a new scientific field, paleomicrobiology, which studies ancient microorganisms from archaeological remains through DNA sequencing.

The research group analyzed ancient DNA samples collected in El Salt (Spain), a site where many Neanderthals lived. To be more precise, they analyzed the ancient DNA extracted from 50,000 years old sedimentary feces (the oldest sample of fecal material available to date). In this way, they managed to piece together the composition of the micro-organisms populating the intestine of Neanderthals. By comparing the composition of the Neanderthals’ microbiota to ours, many similarities aroused.

“Through the analysis of ancient DNA, we were able to isolate a core of microorganisms shared with modern Homo sapiens,” explains Silvia Turroni, a researcher at the University of Bologna and first author of the study.

“This finding allows us to state that these ancient micro-organisms populated the intestine of our species before the separation between Sapiens and Neanderthals, which occurred about 700,000 years ago.”

Safeguarding the Microbiota

These ancestral components of the human gut microbiota include many well-known bacteria (among which Blautia, Dorea, Roseburia, Ruminococcus and Faecalibacterium) that are fundamental to our health. Indeed, by producing short-chain fatty acids from dietary fiber, these bacteria regulate our metabolic and immune balance.

There is also the Bifidobacterium: a microorganism playing a key role in regulating our immune defences, especially in early childhood. Finally, in the Neanderthal gut microbiota, researchers identified some of those “old friends.” This confirms the researchers’ hypotheses about the ancestral nature of these components and their recent depletion in the human gut microbiota due to our modern life context.

“In the current modernization scenario, in which there is a progressive reduction of microbiota diversity, this information could guide integrated diet- and lifestyle-tailored strategies to safeguard the micro-organisms that are fundamental to our health,” concludes Candela. “To this end, promoting lifestyles that are sustainable for our gut microbiota is of the utmost importance, as it will help maintain the configurations that are compatible with our biology.”

Reference: “Components of a Neanderthal gut microbiome recovered from fecal sediments from El Salt” by Simone Rampelli, Silvia Turroni, Carolina Mallol, Cristo Hernandez, Bertila Galván, Ainara Sistiaga, Elena Biagi, Annalisa Astolfi, Patrizia Brigidi, Stefano Benazzi, Cecil M. Lewis Jr., Christina Warinner, Courtney A. Hofman, Stephanie L. Schnorr and Marco Candela, 5 February 2021,

66 Roman Army Campsites Identified in Spain

66 Roman Army Campsites Identified in Spain

According to a statement released by the University of Exeter, more than 60 Roman Army camps have been identified on the Iberian Peninsula, where Roman soldiers battled local peoples in the first century B.C.

While seeking to expand their empire and procure natural resources such as tin and gold. Researchers based in Spain and the United Kingdom spotted the sites through the use of airborne laser scanning, aerial photography, and satellite images. 

Analysis of the 66 camps shows the Roman army had a larger presence in the region than previously thought during the 200-year battle to conquer the Iberian Peninsula.

66 Roman Army Campsites Identified in Spain
Roman military presence in Castile.

The discovery of camps of different sizes – used for training and shelter – has allowed experts to map how soldiers attacked indigenous groups from different directions and to learn more about the footprint of the Roman military presence in the northern fringe of the River Duero basin – the León, Palencia, Burgos and Cantabria provinces.

Experts analysed aerial photography and satellite images, created three-dimensional models of the terrain from LiDAR data and used drones to create detailed maps of the sites. This included resources from the Spanish National Geographic Institute (IGN) and geoportals such as Google Earth or Bing Maps. Pinpointing locations allowed fieldwork to then take place.

Aerial photographs of the canteen of Tintolondro (black) (A), Roman Road (white) and Canti (black) are in Quintanilla di Riofresno

These temporary occupations usually left fragile and subtle traces on the surface. The ditches or the earth and stone ramparts protecting these fortifications have been filled in and flattened. Combining different remote sensing images and fieldwork shows the perimeter shape of the temporary Roman military camps, often a rectangle like a playing card.

These new sites are located at the foothills of the Cantabrian Mountains, where the conflict between Romans and natives was focused at the end of the 1st century BC. This suggests soldiers crossed between lowlands and uplands, using ridges in the mountains to stay out of site and give themselves more protection.

The fact there were so many army camps in the region shows the immense logistical support which allowed soldiers to conquer the area. Sites were used to aid movement to remote locations and to help soldiers stay in the area over the cold winter months. Some of the camps may have housed soldiers for weeks or months, and overs overnight.

The aim of the occupation was to expand the empire and to be able to exploit natural resources such as tin and gold.

The research, published in the journal Geosciences, was carried out by Andrés Menéndez Blanco, Jesús García Sánchez from the Archaeology Institute of Mérida, José Manuel Costa-García and Víctor Vicente García from the University of Santiago de Compostela, João Fonte from the University of Exeter and David González-Álvarez from the Institute of Heritage Sciences, Spanish National Research Council.

Dr Fonte said: “We have identified so many sites because we used different types of remote sensing. Airborne laser scanning gave good results for some sites in more remote places because it showed earthworks really well. Aerial photography worked better in lowland areas for the detection of cropmarks.”

“The remains are of the temporary camps that the Roman army set up when moving through hostile territory or when carrying out manoeuveres around their permanent bases. They reveal the intense Roman activity at the entrance to the Cantabrian Mountains during the last phase of the Roman conquest of Hispania.”

There is an important concentration of 25 sites along the valleys of northern Palencia and Burgos, as well as southern Cantabria. In the province of León, as many as 41 sites have been documented in different valleys. These range from small forts of a few hundred square meters to large fortified enclosures of 15 hectares.

Most of these Roman military sites were located in close proximity of later important Roman towns. Sasamón, a village in Burgos that was probably where nearby Emperor Augusto established his camp during his presence in the front.

The research will continue so experts can examine the relationships the Romans established with indigenous communities, named Vaccaei, Turmogi, Cantabri, Astures and Callaeci, according to the Greek and Latin sources.

The team is currently developing a project to catalogue and document all the Roman camps in the province of León by means of drones, in order to gain a better understanding of their structures or the evolution of their state of conservation. Work is also continuing in Burgos and in Sasamón, including a study of the Cerro de Castarreño settlement and its conquest in the 1st century BC.

Women’s mass grave sheds light on female victims of the Spanish Civil War

Women’s mass grave sheds light on female victims of the Spanish Civil War

According to a Reuters report, a mass grave holding the remains of ten women from the village of Uncastillo has been uncovered in northeastern Spain. The women were taken from their homes and executed by a fascist firing squad on August 31, 1936, during the first year of the Spanish Civil War.

The mass grave of ten women executed by a fascist firing squad in the early days of the Spanish Civil War has been unearthed by archaeologists in northeastern Spain, bringing attention to the often ignored plight of women in the conflict.

Well, some of their spines are traced by preserved white buttons, the only traces of the clothes they wear the day they were executed on Aug. 31, 1936, after being abducted from their homes the night before in the village of Uncastillo.

The remains of a body with a bullet hole on it is seen during the exhumation of a mass grave with ten women from the town of Uncastillo that were shot in 1936 by the forces of former dictator Francisco Franco, in the cemetery of Farasdues, Spain, December 9, 2020.

Their bodies were dumped in a narrow pit in the local cemetery in neighbouring Farasdues, in the region of Aragon.

Mari Carmen Rios’ grandmother Inocencia Aznares was among them.

A tent covers the exhumation of two mass graves, including one with ten women from the town of Uncastillo that were shot in 1936 by the forces of former dictator Francisco Franco, in the cemetery of Farasdues, Spain, December 9, 2020.

“Why did they kill her?” Because they couldn’t find my uncle? Because she could read and write? Because she voted for the republic? … I don’t know … Nothing they did makes sense,” Rios said.

More than 500,000 people were killed during the 1936-1939 war. Historical foundations estimate over 100,000 bodies remain missing, many in unmarked mass graves.

The leftist coalition government approved a bill in September to finance exhumations from mass graves as part of efforts to “restore democratic memory”.

Academic research on the conflict, though extensive, has been overwhelmingly focused on the experience of men, said Cristina Sanchez, who investigates civil-war violence against women at Zaragoza University.

“Where are all the women? … Now we are finding that they were present as victims of violence and as perpetrators.”

Some were persecuted for their political leanings or activism but many more were killed as substitute victims for their male relatives, she said. Methods of execution were equally savage for both sexes.

“We have deaths by drowning, deaths by hanging, and the majority were killed by firing squad.”

Excavations in Farasdues began in November but the massacre had remained lodged in the area’s collective memory for decades, said archaeologist Javier Ruiz.

The remains of bodies are seen during the exhumation of a mass grave with ten women from the town of Uncastillo that were shot in 1936 by the forces of former dictator Francisco Franco, in the cemetery of Farasdues, Spain, December 9, 2020.

“Carrying off 10 women in one go didn’t happen in many places, at least not in Aragon … In Uncastillo these 10 women have never been forgotten.”

Next to their grave, archaeologists uncovered another site with the bodies of at least seven men, who are yet to be identified.

For Rios, the excavation triggered powerful feelings of outrage, which later gave way to a sense of closure: “When you say ‘We’ve found her, she’s there, we’re going to bury her with grandpa,’ honestly it makes me very happy.”

More than 4,500 skeletons discovered in Islamic Necropolos in Spain

More than 4,500 Skeletons Discovered in Islamic Necropolos in Spain

CNN reports that more than 4,500 graves have been identified at a cemetery in northeastern Spain, in an area thought to have been largely untouched by the Arab invasion of the Iberian peninsula in the early eighth century A.D. 

More than 4,500 Skeletons Discovered in Islamic Necropolos in Spain
An ancient Islamic necropolis containing over 4,500 bodies has been uncovered in northeastern Spain, with archaeologists excavating more than 400 tombs in the five-acre site.

In an 8th-century burial ground in the town of Tauste, near Zaragoza in Aragon, the tombs were uncovered, Eva Gimenez, an archaeologist currently excavating the region with the archaeology firm Paleoymás, told CNN.

By 711, Arab forces had invaded and begun to conquer the Iberian peninsula. They remained for the next seven centuries until 1492, when the area was totally reconquered by the Christian kingdoms.

Muslim occupation of Tauste had been considered “incidental and even non-existent” by traditional and written sources, researchers from the University of the Basque Country have said — but the region’s cultural association had long suspected the area had been home to a large Islamic settlement because of architectural clues and human remains found in the town, Miriam Pina Pardos, director of the Anthropological Observatory of the Islamic Necropolis of Tauste with the El Patiaz cultural association, told CNN.

Earlier excavations revealed several skeletons at the site.

From 711 to 1492, the boundaries between the Christian north and the Islamic south shifted constantly with the changing sovereign authority, according to researchers from the University of the Basque Country.

A first dig of the site in 2010 revealed a five-acre necropolis, spread over at least two levels, Pina Pardos said.

DNA studies and carbon dating place remains in the necropolis between the 8th and 11th centuries, according to El Patiaz.

Archaeologists unearth ‘huge number’ of sealed Egyptian sarcophagi
Some 44 skeletons were uncovered during smaller excavations in the years following the initial dig, Pina Pardos said, and this year, more than 400 bodies have been found after local authorities ordered an extensive excavation of the area.

“It’s rare to do an excavation and to find 400 tombs. It’s amazing,” she said.

All of the skeletons had been buried according to Islamic customs, positioned to the right and facing southeast toward Mecca, Pina Pardos added.

Experts believe the discovery will challenge previous assumptions about Muslim settlements in the area.

“We can see that the Muslim culture and Islamic presence in this area is more important than we thought,” Gimenez said.

“We can see there was a big Muslim population here in Tauste from the beginning of the presence of Muslims in Spain,” she added.

“It is very important — the 400 Muslim tombs shows the people lived here for centuries,” she said.

The remains will be cataloged, stored for research and studied, Pina Pardos said.

Spanish Farmer Finds 3,000 Years Old Lion Sculpture While Ploughing His Olive Grove

Spanish Farmer Finds 3,000 Years Old Lion Sculpture While Ploughing His Olive Grove

On a farm in Cañablanquilla, near San Sebastián de Los Ballesteros (Córdoba, Spain), farmer Gonzalo Crespo was working in the family olive grove when his tractor hit what he thought was a large stone.

Spanish Farmer Finds 3,000 Years Old Lion Sculpture While Ploughing His Olive Grove

When he stopped to inspect what it was he had hit, he was amazed to see a large statue of a lioness capturing her prey.

“I was doing a job and I noticed that the tractor had caught something harder than normal. I thought it was a stone, but when I got closer, I was surprised”, the farmer told Europa Press

What was found is an archaeological piece of “great value” and around 2,400 years, according to a spokesperson for the Culture and Historical Heritage of the Junta de Andalucía, Cristina Casanueva.

The statue, carved in limestone, resembles a lioness or wolf attacking another animal.

It is thought to be from the year 4BC and remains in perfect condition.

The artefact was transferred to the Archaeological Museum of Cordoba where it will be examined by experts for Culture and Historical Heritage.

“It is necessary to evaluate its state, apparently well preserved, in order to establish future restoration procedures and an in-depth study that allows its enhancement”, said Casanueva.

A selfie set in stone: hidden portrait by cheeky mason found in Spain 900 years on

A selfie set in stone: hidden portrait by cheeky mason found in Spain 900 years on

The Guardian reports that art historian Jennifer Alexander of the University of Warwick found a male figure at the top of a pillar in Santiago de Compostela, a twelfth-century cathedral located in northwest Spain while conducting a stone-by-stone survey of the structure. 

Millions of devotees who made the long pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, northwest of Spain, over the years have been unaware of the figure.  He has looked down on them from the top of one of the many pillars that soar upwards, each decorated with carved foliage, among which he is concealed.

The figure was discovered today by a British art scholar who says that he was never supposed to be seen since he is a self-portrait of a stonemason who in the 12th century served in the cathedral.

The 12th-century Santiago de Compostela cathedral in Galicia attracts hundreds of thousands of pilgrims a year.

“You find this in medieval buildings,” Dr Jennifer Alexander told the Observer. “They’re usually in dark corners where only another stonemason would find them.

This one is in a bit of the building where you’d have to be a stonemason to be up there to see it. It’s tucked away in among a whole set of capitals [the top of a column] that are otherwise plain.

A selfie set in stone: hidden portrait by cheeky mason found in Spain 900 years on
Only the masons creating the building could see the figure.

“It’s just such a charming connection between us and the person that carved it. It’s almost as if it was designed just for us to see it by those people working on the building. Of course, this stonemason probably had no idea that he’d have to wait so long to be spotted.”

Despite the supreme talent of such craftsmen, they were completely anonymous, their names lost to history. This is the closest the mason got to signing his work.

Alexander, a reader in art history at the University of Warwick, is a specialist in the architectural history of the great churches and cathedrals of the medieval period. She discovered the figure in conducting an intricate survey of Santiago de Compostela cathedral, a Unesco world heritage site.

Its significance lies in its association with the Camino, the pilgrimage across hundreds of miles to reach the shrine of the apostle St James, which is within the cathedral. Such is its draw that. in 2019 alone, the official number of pilgrims reaching the city was some 350,000.

The current building was begun in the late 11th-century and is a masterpiece of Romanesque architecture, with later additions.

Alexander was conducting a stone-by-stone analysis to work out its construction sequence, in a project funded by the Galician regional government. It was when she was studying the capitals, about 13 metres above the pavement, that “this little figure popped out”, she recalled.

Dr Jennifer Alexander conducted a stone-by-stone analysis in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

“A lovely image of a chap hanging on to the middle of the capital as if his life depended on it. It’s in a row of identical off-the-peg capitals where they’ve been knocking them out in granite – ‘we need another 15 of that design’ – and suddenly there’s one that’s different. So we think it’s the man himself.

“He emerges out of the capital and is clinging to it. It’s almost as if it’s swallowing him up.”

The carved figure, which is about 30cm high, is depicted down to his waist. Alexander said: “He’s got a nice little smile. He’s pleased with himself. He’s splendidly carved, with a strongly characterised face.”

Medieval stonemasons learned their craft through apprenticeships that trained them in the back-breaking trade of cutting stone or using templates to create complex mouldings around doorways and other openings. The most promising masons would learn geometry so that they could design plans and manage construction sites.

Alexander said: “These masters had to have many skills since they were also responsible for engineering, the supply of materials, hiring the workforce and dealing with the patron, who might be a senior member of the clergy or the nobility.”

She added that such craftsmen have remained anonymous throughout the centuries even into more recent times: “When they were building Liverpool cathedral in the 20th century, they published lists of the craftsmen that worked on the building and they never mentioned stonemasons. So these are the unsung geniuses.”