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Spanish archaeologists discover largest Iberian-era building known to date


In the middle of the Bronze Age, sometime between 2100 and 1500 BC, a group of settlers took up residence on a craggy hill outside what is now the village of Garcinarro, in Spain’s Cuenca province. Around 400 BC, they were sent packing by the Iberians, who in turn were swept aside by the Romans; and they, by the Visigoths. But instead of destroying the evidence of the culture that preceded them, each of these distinct peoples simply built on top of it.

Spanish archaeologists discover largest Iberian-era building known to date
The building sits atop a hill with a sheer cliff protecting it on one side
[Credit: Victor Saina/El Pais]
As a result, as experts point out, this eight-hectare archaeological site known as La Cava is “a series of time capsules.” When archaeologists opened it, they found the largest Iberian building known to date, complete with three rooms more than three meters high.


“There’s nothing like it that we know of, but we’re still investigating,” says Miguel Ángel Valero, professor of ancient history at the University of Castilla-La Mancha. “What we usually find in these kinds of digs are the remains of walls made of stone or adobe, which every now and again rise above a meter high.”

Mar Juzgado, an archaeologist on Valero’s team, adds, “We don’t know what we are going to find at this site, because there is nothing similar to compare it with.”

Spanish archaeologists discover largest Iberian-era building known to date
View of the room divided and leading directly to a cliff with more than 60 metres drop
[Credit: Victor Saina/El Pais]
Spanish archaeologists discover largest Iberian-era building known to date
The so-called room C of the building had a dividing wall on which the roof of the building was anchored
[Credit: Victor Saina/El Pais]
Spanish archaeologists discover largest Iberian-era building known to date
In the foreground the hearth of the central room of the Iberian building
[Credit: Victor Saina/El Pais]
Spanish archaeologists discover largest Iberian-era building known to date
The remains of walls made with stones or adobes rarely exceed the height metre
[Credit: Victor Saina/El Pais]
At the start of this decade, the mayor of Garcinarro at the time, Antonio Fernández Odene, was convinced there was an archaeological treasure to be found on the outskirts of town, and he badgered the authorities about it. His words fell on deaf ears, however, until Valero noticed something odd on the archaeological map – a secret document signaling possible digs in an area. Archaeologists started working here in 2014, and Valero was rewarded with evidence of a mishmash of cultures that had settled strategically at a central spot for north-south communications in the peninsula, up on a cliff more than 60 meters high.


Besides a “unique building” that measures 70 square meters, the complex includes the remains of a Bronze Age settlement, a rampart from that period whose height is yet to be established, and an area covered with hundreds of small holes on a rocky surface, which could have been made for decorative or spiritual purposes. There is also a 70-meter long gallery, which is seven meters deep, dug out of the rock by the pre-Roman settlers, and dozens of coves, which would have been occupied by hermits during the Visigoth era.

Spanish archaeologists discover largest Iberian-era building known to date
Archaeologist Mar Jurado inspects the niches that surround the interior of one of the three rooms
of the "singular building" [Credit: Victor Saina/El Pais]
Spanish archaeologists discover largest Iberian-era building known to date
Miguel Ángel Valero shows the traces of dwellings from the Iron Age settlement that
was built over the hillock [Credit: Victor Saina/El Pais]
Spanish archaeologists discover largest Iberian-era building known to date
Hundreds of cup marks cover a stone area of the La Cava deposit. They were drilled for magical
or decorative purposes [Credit: Victor Saina/El Pais]
Spanish archaeologists discover largest Iberian-era building known to date
Valero approaches the end of the 70-metre-long ravine that the Iberians dug into the rock of the hill
[Credit: Victor Saina/El Pais]
Spanish archaeologists discover largest Iberian-era building known to date
The professor shows one of the rock-carved basins found inside the ravine
[Credit: Victor Saina/El Pais]
While the archaeologists are still unable to establish the use of the unique building itself, there are a number of theories, one of which is that it served as a temple; another, that it was a space for storage and product handling.


One of the building’s three rooms is itself divided into two areas. The middle room is accessed by a door made from rock that would have had a lintel, while its southern wall had a large recess more than a meter high. It is possible that the lintel was punctuated by holes to allow the sun rays to shine on the alcove, where the Iberians may have placed a divinity figure.

Spanish archaeologists discover largest Iberian-era building known to date
Archaeologists have already managed to remove more than one metre of earth from the ravine open on the rock,
the purpose of which is still unknown [Credit: Victor Saina/El Pais]
Spanish archaeologists discover largest Iberian-era building known to date
The director of the excavations, Miguel Ángel Valero, inside one of the Visigothic hermitages
surrounding the La Cava site [Credit: Victor Saina/El Pais]
Spanish archaeologists discover largest Iberian-era building known to date
Interior of a Roman cistern located next to the Vega river and the La Cava deposit
[Credit: Victor Saina/El Pais]
Spanish archaeologists discover largest Iberian-era building known to date
Interior of one of the caves where the hermits prayed during the Visigothic period
[Credit: Victor Saina/El Pais]
Spanish archaeologists discover largest Iberian-era building known to date
Visigothic cross carved next to one of the caves inhabited by the hermits in the current
municipality of Garcinarro [Credit: Victor Saina/El Pais]
What is surprising is that the sun would only touch this point at the end of the month of August – some time away from the summer and winter solstices, which would set it apart from all other known sundials. “It’s a mystery because the end of August does not coincide with any agricultural season,” says Valero. “Why would they want to mark this date?”


It is possible that some kind of earthquake led to the lintel falling over the cliff that protects the building on the north side, but the archaeologists are confident they will find it. The rooms are lined with wall recesses and basins, and on the floors it is still possible to detect evidence of hearths and even the imprints of tables. Archaeologists have also come across ceramics, brooches and tools such as hammers and picks from the Iberian era, fragments of terra sigillata tableware from the Roman era, and metal pieces from the Visigoths.


The archaeological treasures from all these periods have survived thanks to the use that shepherds made of the site for their sheep. The mysterious 70-meter gallery, for example, was a decent place to keep dozens of animals. And these animals, with their waste, helped to conserve the remains that the Iberians, Romans and Visigoths had left over a period of 25 centuries.

Author: Vicente G. Olaya; trsl. Heather Galloway | Source: El Pais [August 01, 2019]

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