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Spain’s Bronze Age matriarchs?

Updated: Apr 2, 2021

The role of women in Early Bronze Age Spain has been highlighted by the discovery of two skeletons of a man and a woman together in a huge ceramic jar dating from the mid 17th century BC at the site of La Almoloya in Murcia.

The El Argar culture controlled an area the size of Belgium in the south-eastern part of the Iberian peninsula between 2200 and 1500 BC – broadly contemporary with Minoan Crete. La Almoloya is a key site for investigation of this little-known culture.

The new burial confirms the highly-stratified social order at the time. The couple, buried around the same time, were accompanied by 29 prestige objects, most assumed to belong to the women, aged between 25 and 30 years of age. These included bracelets, rings, ear-plugs, and a diadem, mainly silverware, with some gold.

Similar diadems have been found in other female burials of the El Argar culture. Also notable is the reuse of some high-status female burials for later male warrior burials.

The elite man and women found buried together with rich grave-goods in a ceramic jar at La Almoloya. Image: Arqueoecologia Social Mediterrània Research Group, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona.

Archaeologists from the Autonomous University of Barcelona have been working at the site since 2013, keen to learn more of the first civilisation in Spain to use bronze, build urban centres, and create an advanced class society and state structure.

The impression is of a militaristic society of male warriors. ‘Clearly they control the means of violence and they are probably behind the expansion of El Argar,’ says university archaeologist Roberto Risch. This was unlike anything else in Western Europe at the time, or anything else in Spain until the time of the Greeks and the Phoenicians.

But a predominant role for women, early on at least, seems confirmed by the burial archaeology. And there are striking parallels here with other parts of the Early Bronze Age world – like Minoan Crete – where women seem to have been among the makers and shakers of their world.

Neil Faulkner reporting.

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