Is this the political centre of one of Europe’s first urban societies?

UAB-LAALMOLOYA-1Archaeologists have uncovered a densely populated urban settlement centred around a meeting hall capable of seating up to 64 people and believe this 4,000 year old complex could be one of Europe’s first purpose-built political precincts.

The excavations also uncovered tombs containing a wealth of grave goods, including a silver diadem and four gold and silver ear dilators.

High up on a steep plateau, the site of La Almolaya seems strategically positioned to dominate the surrounding landscape, and it’s right within the Argaric territory – an early Bronze Age civilisation that flourished from the settlement of El Argar near Almeria and dominated much south-eastern Spain.

TUAB-LAALMOLOYA-3he Argaric culture spread throughout what is now the province of Almeria and was characterised by its comparatively early adoption of bronze, as well as its sophisticated pottery and advanced mining and metallurgy.

The findings at La Almoloya suggest that this was a primary centre of politics and wealth within the Argaric territory. At over 4,000 years old, La Almolaya was occupied for six centuries from 2,200-1,500 BC, which could make it one of the earliest such sites in continental Europe.

Densely populated site

Excavations have revealed an urban fabric stretching over 3,800 metres, comprising buildings, tombs and graves. The site seems to have been densely populated, with residential complexes up to 300 square metres, each with eight to twelve rooms.

The buildings’ walls were constructed with stones covered with layers of mortar. Some parts contain stucco decorated with geometric and naturalistic motifs, thought to be the discovery of a new and unique Argaric artistic style. According to archaeologists, the solidity and mastery of the construction techniques are unique examples of prehistoric constructions in continental Europe.

UAB-LAALMOLOYA-7Among the buildings is a wide hall measuring some 70 square metres, with a capacity for 64 people seated on the benches lining the walls. The hall includes a ceremonial fireplace and a podium. The archaeologists believe this unique structure was built for political purposes and was used to celebrate hearings or government meetings.

The Argaric culture is also known for having shifted from the collective burials typical of the time, to individual burials inside small cists, and later in large jars, usually under homes. The team excavated 50 graves from under the La Almoloya buildings but, they say, one stands out in particular.

Next to the main wall of the hall, this tomb contained the remains of a man and woman buried with their bodies in a flexed position and accompanied by some thirty objects containing precious metals and semi-precious stones.

Double burial and grave goods

One of the most outstanding pieces is a silver diadem which encircled the woman’s skull – an incredibly rare discovery. Only four other similar diadems are known to have existed and all were discovered 130 years ago at the site of El Algar in Almeria, but none of them remain in Spain today.

Four ear dilators, which are unusual objects for the Bronze Age, were also discovered; two are made of solid gold and two of silver. The abundance of silver is especially notable, since archaeologists also found nine other objects made of silver, including rings, earrings and bracelets.

UAB-LAALMOLOYA-5They also discovered that the nails used to hold the handle of an elaborate bronze dagger were made of silver.

Another admirable item is a small ceramic cup with the rim and outer part covered in fine layers of silver and which constitutes a pioneering example of silverwork on vessels.

The researchers believe the palatial construction and its audience hall could be the oldest known purpose-built political precincts in continental Europe and will help to shed new light on the politics and gender relations in what they are calling one of the first urban societies of the West.


Source: The above story is based on materials provided by Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. The team in charge of the archaeological dig at La Almoloya is led by Vicente Lull, Rafael Micó, Cristina Rihuete and Roberto Risch, professors of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona.

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Written by Maiya Pina-Dacier

Head of Community at DigVentures, Maiya digs with a trowel in one hand, and a Twitter feed in the other. She reports on all our discoveries live from the trenches, and keeps our Site Hut full of the latest archaeology news. Got a story? Just drop her a line...

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