Study reveals the largest animal sacrifice in the Western Mediterranean of the Early Iron Age

Figure 2. Image taken from the southeast with the animals sacrificed and deposit
Figure 2. Image taken from the southeast with the animals sacrificed and deposited on the floor of the courtyard of the site of Casas del Turuñuelo (Guareña, Badajoz) (©Constructing Tarteso).

A team of researchers, including Jaime Lira Garrido, from the UCM-ISCIII Joint Center for Human Evolution and Behavior, participates in this work on the Tartessian site of Turuñuelo (Badajoz), which since 2015 has not stopped giving surprises to the scientific community.

The research entitled ’Mass Animal Sacrifice at Casas del Turuñuelo (Guareña, Spain): a Unique Tartessian (Iron Age) Site in the Southwest of the Iberian Peninsula’,has been published in the international journal PLOS ONE.

Madrid, November 23, 2023.- About 2,500 years ago, a community of Tartessians settled in the middle basin of the Guadiana River performed a unique ritual in one of their most impressive buildings. At the end, they covered the building with sediments from the river itself, creating an artificial mound about 6 meters high and 90 meters in diameter, and abandoned it. This building is that of the site of Casas del Turuñuelo de Guareña in Badajoz and its discoveries are changing the perception we had of the late Tartessian communities. Today, a multidisciplinary team made up of researchers from Spanish and foreign institutions publishes in the open access journal PLOS ONE the study of the animals sacrificed and deposited in the courtyard of Turuñuelo.

Researcher Jaime Lira Garrido, from the UCM-ISCIII Joint Center for Human Evolution and Behavior, has collaborated in this work on the Tartessian site of Turuñuelo (Badajoz), which since 2015 has not stopped giving surprises to the scientific community.

Specialists from various Spanish and foreign research centers have participated in the interdisciplinary study of the largest animal sacrifice discovered in the western Mediterranean, dated to the end of the 5th century BC and deposited in the courtyard of the Tartessian building of Casas del Turuñuelo in Badajoz (Spain). They belong to the Institut Valencià de Conservació, Restauració i Investigació (IVCR+i); Institut d’Arqueologia (IUAB-SERP) of the University of Barcelona; Instituto Universitario de Investigación en Arqueología Ibérica of the University of Jaén; Instituto de Arqueología de Mérida (IAM) of the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC); Departamento de Medicina Animal de la Facultad de Veterinaria de la Universidad de Extremadura (UEX); Centre d’Anthropobiologie et de Génomique de Toulouse (CAGT), CNRS UMR 5288, Université Paul Sabatier; Centro Mixto UCM-ISCIII de Evolución y Comportamiento Humanos; del Érea de Prehistoria del Departamento de Historia de la Universidad de Córdoba (UCO); Departament de Geografia, Histéria i Histéria de l’Art ARQHISTEC - GIP of the Universitat de Lleida and the Institució Milà i Fontanals (CSIC-IMF) of the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas.

The results of the archaeozoological study of the skeletal remains of 52 animals and the microstratigraphic analysis show that this massive animal sacrifice was part of a series of rituals carried out in the last years of the building until its abandonment, when it was intentionally sealed at the end of the 5th century BC under a tomb 90 m in diameter and 6 m high, according to Sebastián Celestino and Esther Rodríguez, researchers at IAM-CSIC and directors of the excavations at the site.


Among the slaughtered animals, six cattle, four pigs, one dog and 41 equids have been identified. They were deposited in three sequential phases in the courtyard of the building, according to the results obtained through taphonomic and microstratigraphic evaluations and a series of radiocarbon dating. In addition, evidence of burnt plant offerings and objects associated with symbolic activities, such as sheep tabas, have been documented. On the other hand, the arrangement of animal carcasses suggests an intention in the exhibition and staging of sacrifices.

Taken together, the evidence shows that the animals died in the context of ritual sacrifices. The animals from the earliest phase show signs of having been partially uncovered for some time, as scavengers accessed the carcasses and left their marks on the bones. In the second and third phases, the skeletons are complete and anatomically connected, suggesting rapid burial. In the last phase, together with the sacrifice of two equids, the remains of a feast that included the consumption of bovine and porcine meat were deposited, according to Mª Pilar Iborra and Silvia Albizuri, IVCR+i and IA-UB researchers, who have led the research and were linked to IAM-CSIC while part of it was developed.

The multidisciplinary team concludes:"This study highlights the role of mass animal sacrifices in Iron Age European societies, specifically highlighting animal sacrifice practices and Tartessian ritual behavior at the Iron Age site of Casas del Turuñuelo (Badajoz, Spain)". In addition, the authors highlight the prominence of equids in these sacrifices, a fact that evidences the relevance of these species (horses/asses and their hybrids) in the economic systems and in general in the culture of the Iron Age communities".

Building Tarteso and Casas del Turuñuelo


Casas del Turuñuelo is one of the most impressive discoveries of peninsular archaeology in recent years. Its excavations are developed under a project directed from the IAM-CSIC and are being co-directed by Sebastián Celestino Pérez and Esther Rodríguez González, also researchers of the IAM-CSIC. As co-authors of this new study, they indicate the importance of the multidisciplinary work with specialists from Humanities and Biosciences that are generating a constant exchange of information and ideas, offering a transversal approach in the study of this site.

This study has been funded mainly by the Palarq Foundation, by the project Construyendo Tarteso 2.0 "Constructive, spatial and territorial analysis of an architectural model in the Middle Guadiana Valley. PID2019-108180GB-100 (2020-2023)" of the National Plan of the State Research Agency of the Ministry of Science and Innovation and by the projects of the Junta de Extremadura: "Study of the animal hecatomb of the site of ’Casas del Turuñuelo’ (Guareña, Badajoz). The management of livestock and its socio-economic and ritual implications in Tartessian times". PRI I+D+I IB18131 (2019 - 2021)" and for "Iberia through its horses: comprehensive study of genetic diversity, infectious diseases and paleopathologies of Extremaduran horses from the Iron Age. PRI I+D+I IB18060 (2019 - 2021)".".

Reference:

Iborra Eres, MªP., (...), Celestino, S (2023). Mass Animal Sacrifice at Casas del Turuñuelo (Guareña, Spain): a Unique Tartessian (Iron Age) Site in the Southwest of the Iberian Peninsula. PLOS ONE, 22/11/2023.

DOI: https: //doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0293654