Researchers in La Almoloya, Spain, have unearthed the grave of a woman who was likely a monarch or influential part of society, along with numerous valuable artefacts. Around 1700 B.C., the woman and man were buried together in a huge pot beneath the floor of what may be the earliest palace in western Europe.
The woman was discovered among the majority of the grave’s valuable artefacts, including a unique silver diadem that was still on her head.
Researchers believe this object was used as a status symbol by the El Argar people who lived in southeast Spain between 2200 and 1500 B.C. A pair of silver earlobe tunnel-plugs, a pair of silver bracelets, a necklace, and a silver ring were also found in the woman’s grave.
As much as 230 grammes of silver were buried with the person. To contrast, the man’s possessions were not as noteworthy.
Similar silver diadems to the one unearthed at La Almoloya have been found in the tombs of four other women at a different site.
According to Roberto Risch, a professor of prehistory at the Autonomous University of Barcelona and co-author of the study published in the journal Antiquity, “the value and function of the emblematic goods surrounding this woman, as well as the four other women found with a silver diadem, suggest that they were political and economic leaders in their own right, and not just the partners of ruling men.”
The tomb was discovered under the floor of the main room at La Almoloya, which was part of a vast edifice that may have been a palace. About 50 people could fit in here comfortably on the benches that lined the chamber.
According to Risch, the lack of food and drink containers, remnants, and ceremonial objects in the hall suggest that its previous occupants used it mostly for talking or caring for someone. Among the richest tombs from the European Bronze Age was found in this one-of-a-kind chamber, providing a clue as to who may have been in charge of such communicative rituals.
University of Seville prehistory professor Leonardo Garca Sanjuán states, “this new research links well with earlier understanding of Bronze Age ‘Argaric’ society, while at the same time gives fresh evidence and vital new interpretations.” However, he also points out that the political and social structure of Iberian Bronze Age culture remains a contentious issue in Spanish archaeology.
To label this woman a “ruler” or “aristocrat,” Sanjuán writes, “would be premature,” because such labels “convey significant preconceptions regarding the character of the community she was a member of.” The fact that she was a strong woman during her era, he says, is unquestionable.
Recent archaeological findings about the Argaric civilization “uncover how primitive our perceptions and knowledge of prehistoric societies truly are,” Risch argues.
No one had any idea of the magnitude of the El Argar buildings or the richness hidden in these genuine urban settlements until our study began just a few years ago.
According to him, this hitherto unrecognised culture “probably constitutes the last ‘lost civilisation’ in Europe.”