A Bronze Age society in what is now Spain may have been ruled by women, at least some of the time. Archaeologists have found the bones of a woman buried with a silver diadem – or crown – and other riches under the remains of a building that seems to have been used for political meetings.
The woman lived in a society that has been dubbed El Argar – the name of the first archaeological site preserving evidence of the culture, which was excavated in the 1880s by engineer-turned-archaeologist Luis Siret and his brother Henri.
The Argaric culture, which dominated what is now south-east Spain between around 2200 and 1550 BC, became famous following the Sirets’s discovery. But the Spanish civil war (1936 – 1939) and ensuing military dictatorship saw research grind to a halt for many decades, says Roberto Risch at the Autonomous University of Barcelona in Spain.
Risch and his colleagues have been excavating an Argaric site called La Almoloya for several years. The ancient building they found there seems to have had some kind of governmental purpose, perhaps serving as a palace or a form of parliament.
“It’s a building with a hall where 50 to 55 people could be sitting listening to each other, or to someone explaining something,” says Risch. There is no evidence of food and no clear-cut religious artefacts, so it doesn’t look like a home or a temple.
Buried in a very large, ovoid jar under the floor of the hall, the team found the bodies of a woman and a man. Both had a multitude of funerary goods, suggesting they were eminent in Argaric society, says co-author Cristina Rihuete Herrada, also at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. DNA analysis shows they weren’t related, but they may have been married: both were immediate relatives of a baby girl buried under a nearby building, who may have been their daughter.
Most of the funerary items, including the most spectacular ones, were found on the woman. She was wearing a silver diadem on her head, two silver earplug piercings and two silver bracelets. As a result, the team believes she was the ruler.
It has long been suspected that women had leadership roles in Argaric culture, says Rihuete Herrada. Four silver diadems have previously been found buried with Argaric women, although it wasn’t clear whether the women were rulers rather than important religious figures. But this is the first time a woman buried with such riches has been found in a building more clearly used for governing.
The man was buried with a dagger and had injuries consistent with a life of horse riding, as well as a long-healed skull injury. This suggests he may have been a warrior.
Journal reference: Antiquity, DOI: 10.15184/aqy.2021.8