Stone Penis Found in Medieval Spanish Ruins Had Violent Purpose
Archaeologists found a six-inch stone penis while excavating the Tower of Meira (Torre de Meira) in the city of Ría de Vigo in the northwest region of Spain.
Phallic symbolism is commonly found in prehistoric artifacts, but it is less common in finds from the medieval era. That’s why archaeologists couldn’t understand why this object was on medieval grounds.
But now the relic stands out, not just for its phallic form, but for its violent purpose – to sharpen weapons in preparation for bloody battles during the Irmandiño War in Spain.
Experts said this kind of symbolism may have been related to the violent uprisings taking place in the region around the time when the tower was demolished.
Torre de Meira was brought down in 1476 during the Irmandiño revolts when peasants rose up against the Spanish nobility. Some 130 castles and forts suffered the same fate.
According to Darío Peña from the Árbore Arqueoloxía team, sharpening stones are commonly discovered at medieval sites, and can have different forms.
The archaeologists determined the function of the stone penis by observing a distinct pattern of wear on one side of the phallic whetstone.
The artifact’s cultural significance is unknown, but its proximity to the fortified tower may provide some insight. It might have had a symbolic significance in relation to the war or served a useful function during that trying time.
“It materializes the symbolic association between violence, weapons, and masculinity,” archaeologist Darío Peña told Hyperallergic. “An association that we know existed in the Middle Ages and that is present in our culture today.”
The phallic stone was found among other artifacts including pottery and stone spindles according to Árbore Arqueoloxía e Restauración S. Coop. Galega, the group leading the excavations.
Excavations at this site began around 3 years ago. In the first phase of excavations, the tower was excavated and restored by Arbore. Just last year, the focus was shifted to the structure’s surrounding wall, and finally, the focus was shifted to the excavation of the main building.
Archaeologists plan to continue excavations at the site, after seeking permission from the landowners in the municipality of Moaña.
Freshwater and marine shells used as ornaments 30,000 years ago were discovered in Spain
In Malaga’s Cueva de Ardales, up to 13 freshwater and marine shells that were carefully transformed by humans between 25,000 and 30,000 years ago have been discovered.
According to a study published in the environmental scientific journal Environmental Archaeology, the first Homo sapiens wore necklaces and earrings made from seashells from the Bay of Malaga.
This incredible discovery was the result of research conducted in collaboration with the Neanderthal Museum of Colonia, the University of Colonia, and the Cueva de Ardales, according to a press release from the University of Cadiz.
This archaeological enclave is now once more among the most significant in the Iberian Peninsula thanks to the discovery. When it comes to the Paleolithic era, body adornments are a subject of great interest to the scientific community.
According to the scientific article, the shells were “carefully transformed” by humans of the genus Homo sapiens into ornaments and pendants to decorate the bodies of these groups that occupied the Ardales Cave.
The symbolic value of these natural supports and the distance that human groups occasionally traveled to gather them and turn them into decorative elements represented a significant advancement in the development of cognition.
The analysis of these shells has been headed by UCA professor Juan Jesús Cantillo Duarte.
“It is unusual to find this type of marine remains in caves located so far inland and with such an ancient chronology. On the Mediterranean, only a little more than a hundred remains were known, and all of them are located on the coast,” Duarte said.
“ The inhabitants of the Ardales cave, however, had to travel a distance of more than 50 km to collect the shells on the coast”, added Professor José Ramos.
Also noteworthy was: “the presence of vermetids, a kind of tube-shaped snail that is uncommon in the archaeological record”, stressed Cantillo Duarte.
The chronological framework and the association of these ornaments with the rock art and lithic remains documented inside the cave confirm their social dimension.
“The results of the excavations in the Ardales Cave suggest that it was used as a place for specialized symbolic activities during various phases of the Upper Palaeolithic,” said Pedro Cantalejo, research director of the Ardales Cave, for whom the cave still has much to tell.
Rising temperatures and drought conditions have caused serious problems for human populations all over the world, according to the World Health Organization.
Those dramatic changes in landscape brought on by lowering water levels, though, have also led to a number of notable discoveries, as Insider notes.
One area particularly affected by drought has been the central Spanish province of Caceres, where water levels in the Valdecanas reservoir have dropped nearly 30%, and as a result, a fascinating site from near pre-history has been recovered, per Reuters.
Though that lack of water has caused a number of serious problems in the country, the archaeological site that reemerged from the water in Spain dates to around 5,000 B.C., as Reuters also notes.
The site, which up until recently was submerged, was discovered first in the 1920s, but it was lost when the area was flooded for a reservoir project under Franco’s leadership.
The chance to study the area once again is a rare opportunity for scientists, according to Madrid’s Complutense University archaeologist Enrique Cedillo (via Reuters).
THE SPANISH STONEHENGE WAS UNCOVERED
The archaeological site uncovered by the receding waters of Valdecanas reservoir near the city of Huelva consists of dolmens, or large neolithic stone structures, as well as a number of standing stones similar to England’s Stonehenge, according to CNN. For this reason, the area is officially called the Dolmen of Guadalperal, but it’s colloquially known as the Spanish Stonehenge. In total there are thousands of stones on the site, spread over some 1,500 acres.
What’s also notable about the Iberian complex is that experts estimate there are some 500 stones still standing at the Spanish Stonehenge. According to experts, they were put there at different points in history, beginning as early as 5000 B.C. up through 1000 B.C., as Live Science notes.
There are also coffin-shaped structures on the site called cists where researchers believe human remains were buried.
Similar sites were also likely used as memorials for the dead, but so far, no human remains have been verified.
THE SPANISH STONEHENGE COULD BE OLDER THAN OTHER SITES
A number of similar sites with similar stone structures are found across Europe, according to Britannica, but otherwise not much is known about those who built them.
It’s believed that such areas served a number of purposes for ancient peoples, both ritualistic and astronomic, among other potential explanations. It’s not possible to date the exact age of the stone, but the age of the sediment on the stone can be estimated with radiocarbon dating techniques (via The New York Times).
The sheer number of different types of stones and stone structures at the Spanish complex is particularly notable, and it’s believed to be possibly older than other similar areas so far studied.
Since the Spanish area was spotted in the 1920s and then flooded in the 1960s, it’s only been above water four times. Now that the “Spanish Stonehenge” is once more accessible, some advocate moving it permanently away from the flood area.
The Iberian Peninsula drought that contributed to the resurfacing of the Spanish Stonehenge is the worst of its kind in some 1,200 years. Scientists expect it will worsen, according to CNN.
Archaeologists discovered a 2,000-year-old rock-carved face at Spain’s Tossal de La Cala castle
Archaeologists have discovered a rock-carved face at Toscal De La Cala, a Roman fort in Benidorm, on the east coast of Spain.
Archaeologists from the University of Alicante discovered a 2,000-year-old rock-carved “inscultura” face with three artistic representations of a human face, a cornucopia, and a phallus during excavations.
The carving was described by University of Alicante professor Jesús Moratalla, head of the excavation, as “a relief of outstanding historical importance”.
The carving measures 57 x 42 centimeters, however, Moratalla and his team believe that this scene is “possibly incomplete” since “the upper right quadrant” being missing.
Historical and Cultural Heritage Councilor Ana Pellicer said that there are no parallel references to engraving and reliefs of similar composition at sites in Rome.
Unknown is the carving’s purpose; it might have been graffiti or served a ritualistic function. Given that the Romans considered the phallus to be the embodiment of masculine generative power and one of the symbols of the safety of the state (sacra Romana), the inclusion of a phallus raises the possibility that it served to offer protection.
Given that many Roman deities connected to the harvest, prosperity, or spiritual abundance are frequently depicted carrying a cornucopia in Roman reliefs and coins, the depiction of a cornucopia or “horn of plenty” raises the possibility that the face could be that of a god or goddess.
In a myth, the cornucopia was created when Heracles (Roman Hercules) wrestled with the river god Achelous and ripped off one of his horns; river gods were sometimes depicted as horned.
Located on a 100-meter-high hill, the Tossal de La Cala site was excavated in the 1940s by Father Belda and in 1965 by Professor M. Tarradell, dating the archaeological remains found between the 2nd and 1st centuries BC.
Archaeological excavations carried out by the University of Alicante (AU) since 2013 reveal that it was a Roman settlement occupied by the armies of Quinto Sertorio during the Sertorian Wars.
The Sertorian Wars was a civil war fought between a group of Roman rebels (Sertorian) and the Roman government. (80 to 72 BC)
A 5,400-year-old tomb discovered in Spain perfectly captures the summer solstice
Archaeologists have discovered a 5,400-year-old megalithic tomb near a prominent lone mountain in southern Spain, suggesting the peak may have been meaningful to prehistoric people there.
The area, in the countryside near the city of Antequera, is renowned for its megaliths — prehistoric monuments made from large stones — and the newly found tomb seems to solve one of the mysteries of their alignment.
The tomb was designed to funnel light from the rising midsummer sun into a chamber deep within — much like the contemporary megalithic tomb built more than 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) away at Newgrange in Ireland, suggesting both places shared similar beliefs about the afterlife more than 5,000 years ago.
“Newgrange is much bigger and more complex than the tomb we have discovered [in Spain], but they have something in common — the interest of the builders to use sunlight at a specific time of the year, to produce a symbolic — possibly magic — effect,” Leonardo García Sanjuán, an archaeologist at the University of Seville, told Live Science.
The bedrock at the site is tilted away from the position of the sunrise on the solstice at midsummer, so the builders deliberately constructed a cavity to admit its light, according to a study by García Sanjuán and his colleagues published April 14 in the journal Antiquity.
“They worked very cleverly to make an arrangement of stones, which were engraved and possibly painted,” he said. “These were sacred things placed so that the sunrise on the [summer] solstice would go straight into the back of the chamber.”
The new study describes excavations by García Sanjuán and his team beside a prominent limestone mountain known as La Peña de los Enamorados — the Rock of the Lovers — named after a legend that says two star-crossed lovers once killed themselves by jumping off it.
The mountain is also famous because it looks like the profile of the head of a sleeping giant, especially at times of low light such as sunrise and sunset.
García Sanjuán and his colleagues excavated the tomb in late 2020 in the “neck” region of the mountain, near the Matacabras rock shelter, which is adorned with pictographs thought to be painted about 5,800 years ago.
They think the tomb was first built a few hundred years after the rock paintings were made, and that it was used for burials for more than 1,000 years.
The archaeologists have found several deposits of human remains in the newfound tomb, dating from three major phases of its use, as well as pieces of pottery.
The Antequera area is famed for its natural rock formations like La Peña and the megalithic monuments in the region, which may have been influenced by the local geography. The most famous is the Dolmen of Menga — one of the largest and oldest megalithic structures in Europe, which was built between 3800 B.C. and 3600 B.C.
But the passage in Menga is not aligned to a solstice sunrise or sunset, as might be expected — instead, Menga points toward La Peña de los Enamorados, about 4 miles (6.5 km) to the northeast. (The other two megaliths in the region were built later and seem to point elsewhere.)
The alignment suggests La Peña was an important focus for local prehistoric people and solves a mystery of where Menga was pointing: to the location of both the rock art and the newly found tomb at La Peña, while the tomb at La Peña itself pointed to the solstice sunrise, García Sanjuán said.
The inner chamber of the newfound tomb is decorated with a distinctive stone with ripple marks on its surface, which was taken from a region that had once been a beach or part of the seabed.
The stone was placed so that the light from the rising midsummer sun fell upon it; the part of the burial chamber in front of it seems to have been kept clear of human remains, García Sanjuán said.
“These people chose this stone precisely because it created these waving, undulating shapes,” he said. “This was very theatrical… they were very clever in producing these special visual effects.”
He noted that megalithic structures have been found from Morocco to Sweden and that the people who built them seem to have had similar beliefs.
“There are differences as well, but one common element is the sun,” García Sanjuán said. “The sun was at the center of the worldview of these people.”
Archaeologists discover a new megalithic monument in the heart of Andalusia in southern Spain – a 5,000-year-old secret
Archaeologists in Spain uncovered a previously overlooked tomb while investigating the formation of La Peña de los Enamorados, also known as the sleeping giant.
The Antequera archaeological site in southern Spain is home to a number of ancient structures dating back to the third and fourth millennia BC, including the Menga, Viera, and El Romeral megaliths.
According to a study that was published on April 15 in the journal Antiquity, the Antequera site contains both man-made and “natural monuments,” but is best known for its prehistoric megaliths.
The “natural monuments” at the site include La Peña de los Enamorados, a stone “sleeping giant” that towers about 2,900 feet above the ground, researchers said.
The Sleeping Giant had a 5000-year-old secret hidden in his chest: Piedras Blancas megalithic grave.
The rectangular stone structure was built at least 5,000 years ago, according to the study. It was used for millennia in three distinct phases before being abandoned between 1950 and 1180 B.C.
Lead author of the new paper, Leonardo García Sanjuán, a Professor in Prehistory at the University of Seville (Spain), said the location of the Piedras Blancas tomb was “carefully chosen.”
The tomb’s stone slabs were carefully arranged to coincide “with the summer solstice sunrise,” researchers said. Some of the “heavily engraved” slabs “appear to have been precisely placed to ‘funnel’ the light from the rising sun towards the back of the chamber at the summer solstice.”
In Antequera, the oldest megaliths date back to 3,000 BC, and this rectangular stone tomb was built at the same time. Researchers believe that bodies were spread out on a sizable flat stone platform at the time ceramic offerings were left in the tomb. Later, the decomposing corpses were pushed off the stone platform and into the surrounding area, where the researchers discovered “40 teeth and 95 bones.”
Furthermore, the archaeologists identified a “triangular, arrow-like stone” lodged into the floor, oriented in the direction of the rising sun.
The Piedras Blancas tomb was renovated around 2500 B.C., and niches for two burials were added, according to the study. Researchers believe these were high-status individuals, most likely a man and a woman. It’s unclear whether they were buried simultaneously or over the course of a century.
The tomb later “underwent another significant transformation,” according to researchers. Stones were placed at the entrance “as if to block or seal” it, and the bones of at least two children and three women were interred.
According to the study, the tomb was abandoned and has remained untouched ever since.
‘Lost’ microbial genes found in dental plaque of ancient humans
About 19,000 years ago, a woman died in northern Spain. Her body was deliberately buried with pieces of the natural pigment ochre and placed behind a block of limestone in a cave known as El Mirón.
When her ochre-dyed bones were unearthed in 2010, archaeologists dubbed her the Red Lady. The careful treatment of her body provided scientists with insights into how people from the time buried their dead.
Now, thanks to the poor oral hygiene of that period, her teeth are helping illuminate a vanished world of bacteria and their chemical creations. From dental calculus, the rock-hard plaque that accumulates on teeth, researchers have successfully recovered and reconstructed the genetic material of bacteria living in the mouth of the Red Lady and dozens of other ancient individuals.
The gene reconstructions, reported today in Science, were accurate enough to replicate the enzymes the bacteria produced to help digest nutrients. “Just the fact that they were able to reconstruct the genome from a puzzle with millions of pieces is a great achievement,” says Gary Toranzos, an environmental microbiologist at the University of Puerto Rico who wasn’t involved in the work. “It’s ‘hold my beer, and watch me do it,’ and boy did they do it.”
Changes in diet and the introduction of antibiotics have dramatically altered the modern human microbiome, says University of Trento computational biologist Nicola Segata, who also wasn’t involved.
Sequencing ancient microbes and re-creating their chemical creations “will help us identify what functions our microbiome might have had in the past that we might have lost,” he says. Resurrecting these “lost” genes may one day help scientists devise new treatments for diseases, adds Mikkel Winther Pedersen, a molecular paleoecologist at the University of Copenhagen.
Within the past few decades, sequencing ancient DNA has illuminated physical and physiological features of long-dead organisms, but researchers have also used the same technique to examine the genes belonging to the teeming bacterial communities, or microbiomes, that once populated the mouths and guts of long-dead people.
That work has given them insights into which microbial species might have coexisted with humans before the advent of antibiotics and processed foods. But such understanding has been limited by the fact that researchers could only use modern microbes as references.
“We were limited to bacteria we know from today,” says Harvard University geneticist Christina Warinner, a co-author of the new study. “We were ignoring vast amounts of DNA from unknown or possibly extinct organisms.”
Breaking that barrier presented a monumental challenge. Reconstructing an oral microbiome—a soup of hundreds of different bacterial species, and millions of individual bacteria—from degraded ancient DNA is “like throwing together pieces of many puzzles and trying to solve them with the pieces mixed up and some pieces missing entirely,” Segata says.
Indeed, it took Warinner’s team nearly 3 years to adapt DNA sequencing tools and computer programs to work with the much shorter fragments of DNA found in ancient samples.
At long last, drawing on dental calculus from 46 ancient skeletons—including a dozen Neanderthals and modern humans who died between 30,000 and 150 years ago—Warinner and colleagues identified DNA from dozens of extinct or previously unknown oral bacteria.
Next, the team equipped modern Pseudomonas protegens bacteria with a pair of ancient genes to make proteins that produce milligrams’ worth of a molecule called a furan.
Modern bacteria are thought to use furans for cellular signaling. The new findings suggest ancient bacteria did, too—something that would have been impossible to predict by simply sequencing their genomes. “It’s wet-lab proof of what ancient genes were capable of,” says Pierre Stallforth of the Leibniz Institute for Natural Product Research and Infection Biology. “You can predict proteins based on DNA, but not necessarily the molecules those proteins are going to make.”
At first glance, the microbe they reconstructed seemed out of place in an oral microbiome. Identified as a type of bacterium called a chlorobium, its modern relatives use photosynthesis to survive on small amounts of light and live in anaerobic conditions, such as stagnant water. They aren’t found in modern mouths and appear to have vanished from ancient humans about 10,000 years ago.
This chlorobium might have entered the mouths of ancient people because they drank water in or near caves. Or, Warinner says, it might once have been a normal part of some people’s ancient oral microbiome, surviving on faint light penetrating the cheek.
Colleagues say dental calculus was an ideal place to start looking for these ancient microbes. Without regular cleaning, teeth trap leftover food and other organic matter in a mineral lattice, essentially encasing it in stone. That both helps preserve any DNA inside and protect it from contamination as the body decays. “Oral calculus is the perfect example of the best place you can find an uncontaminated sample,” Toranzos says. “There’s absolutely no way anything from the outside will get in.”
Although the researchers succeeded in prodding modern bacteria to express their previously undiscovered or extinct cousins’ genes, it’s a far cry from Jurassic Park, Warinner says. “We haven’t brought [the microbes] back to life, but identified key genes for making chemical compounds we’re interested in,” Warinner says.
The recovery of ancient microbial genes has the potential to illuminate our species’ relationship with bacteria over human evolution. Humans coevolved with their microbial partners and parasites for hundreds of thousands of years. The compounds produced by ancient microbes might have played important roles in digestion and immune responses. “Bacteria are not as charismatic as mammoths or woolly rhinos,” she says, “but they are nature’s chemists, and they’re key to understanding the past.”
2,600-year-old stone busts of ‘lost’ ancient Tartessos people were discovered in a sealed pit in Spain
Archaeologists in Spain have unearthed five life-size busts of human figures that could be the first-known human depictions of the Tartessos, a people who formed an ancient civilization that disappeared more than 2,500 years ago.
The carved stone faces, which archaeologists date to the fifth century B.C., were found hidden inside a sealed pit in an adobe temple at Casas del Turuñuelo, an ancient Tartessian site in southern Spain.
The pieces were scattered amongst animal bones, mostly from horses, that likely came from a mass sacrifice, according to a translated statement published on April 18.
“The unusual thing about the new finding is that the representations correspond to human faces,” Erika López, a spokesperson for the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), said in the statement.
Archaeologists from the CSIC called this discovery “a profound paradigm shift in the interpretation of [Tartessos],” since this ancient civilization, which existed from about the eighth to the fourth centuries B.C., was long considered an aniconic culture in which divinity was represented through animal or plant motifs, rather than idolized humans, according to the statement.
Of the figurative reliefs, two are nearly complete and likely portray female divinities wearing earrings, which could be a nod to the Bronze Aged peoples’ adept goldsmithing skills.
Archaeologists found only fragments of the other three reliefs, but identified one as a warrior wearing a helmet, according to the statement.
Although the Tartessos didn’t leave much of an archeological record, archaeologists do know that they were skilled at goldsmithing; for instance, gold pieces similar to the reliefs’ earrings have been unearthed at two nearby Tartessian sites, Cancho Roano, and La Mata.
These locations were torched to the ground in a similar manner to the newly discovered pit site, but why and how these conflagrations occurred remains a mystery, according to an April 21 Vice article.
Some historians, including the Greek philosopher Aristotle, once linked the Tartessos people to the mythical lost city of Atlantis. However this idea “has been widely dismissed in the scientific community,” according to a 2022 BBC article.
“The finding only further influences both the importance of the site and the importance of the Tartessian culture in the Guadiana valley during its last moments,” López said in the translated statement.