Prehistoric Iberia

Prehistoric Iberia

The Prehistory of the Iberian peninsula begins with the arrival of the first hominins c.900,000 Before Present (BP) and ends with the Punic Wars, when the territory enters the domains of written history. In this long period, some of its most significative landmarks were to host the last stand of the Neanderthal people, to develop some of the most impressive Paleolithic art, alongside with southern France, to be the seat of the earliest civilizations of Western Europe and finally to become a most desired colonial objective due to its strategic position and its many mineral riches.

Lower and Middle Paleolithic

Hominin inhabitation of the Iberian Peninsula dates from the Paleolithic. Early hominin remains have been discovered at a number of sites on the peninsula. Significant evidence of an extended occupation of Iberia by Neandertal man has also been discovered. Homo sapiens first entered Iberia towards the end of the Paleolithic. For a time Neanderthals and modern humans coexisted until the former were finally driven to extinction. Modern man continued to inhabit the peninsula through the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods.

Iberia has a wealth of prehistoric sites. Many of the best preserved prehistoric remains are in the Atapuerca region, rich with limestone caves that have preserved a million years of human evolution. Among these sites is the cave of Gran Dolina, where six hominin skeletons, dated between 780,000 and one million years ago, were found in 1994. Experts have debated whether these skeletons belong to the species "Homo erectus", "Homo heidelbergensis", or a new species called "Homo antecessor". In the Gran Dolina, investigators have found evidence of tool use to butcher animals and other hominins, the first evidence of cannibalism in a hominin species. Evidence of fire has also been found at the site, suggesting they cooked their meat.Also in Atapuerca, is the site at Sima de los Huesos, or "Pit of Bones". Excavators have found the remains of 30 hominins dated to about 400,000 years ago. The remains have been tentatively classified as "Homo heidelbergensis" and may be ancestors of the Neanderthals. No evidence of habitation has been found at the site except for one stone hand-ax, and all of the remains at the site are of young adults or teenagers. The age similarity suggests the remains were not the result of accidents. The seemingly deliberate placement of remains and lack of habitation may mean that the bodies were deliberately interred in the pit as a place of burial, which would make the site the first evidence of hominin burial.Around 200,000 BC, during the Lower Paleolithic period, Neanderthals first entered the Iberian Peninsula. Around 70,000 BC, during the Middle Paleolithic period the last ice age began and the Neanderthal Mousterian culture was established. Around 35,000 BC, during the Upper Paleolithic, the Neanderthal Châtelperronian cultural period began. Emanating from Southern France this culture extended into Northern Iberia. This culture continued to exist until around 28,000 BC when Neanderthal man faced extinction, their final refuge being present-day Portugal.

Neanderthal remains have been found at a number of sites on the Iberian Peninsula. A Neanderthal skull was found in Forbes's Quarry in Gibraltar in 1848 making Spain the first country where remains of Neanderthals were found. Neanderthals were not recognized as a separate species until the discovery of remains in Neandertal, Germany in 1856. Subsequent Neanderthal discoveries in Gibraltar have also been made including the skull of a four-year-old child and preserved excrement on top of baked mussel shells.

In Zafarraya a Neanderthal mandible and Mousterian tools, associated with the Neanderthal culture, were found in 1995. The mandible was dated to about 28,000 BC and the tools to about 25,000 BC. These dates make the Zafarraya remains the youngest evidence of Neanderthals and have expanded the timeline of Neanderthal existence. The more recent dating of the remains also provides the first evidence for prolonged co-existence between Neanderthals and modern man. L'Arbreda Cave in Catalonia contains Aurignacian cave paintings, as well as earlier remains from Neanderthals. Some have also suggested that the newer remains in Iberia suggest Neanderthals were driven out of Central Europe by modern man to the Iberian peninsula where they sought refuge.

Upper Paleolithic

Early Upper Paleolithic

The Chatelperronian culture (typically associated with Neanderthal man) is found in the Cantabrian region and in Catalonia.

The Aurignacian culture (work of Homo sapiens) succeeds it and has the following periodization:F. Jordá Cerdá et al, "Historia de España I: Prehistoria", 1986. ISBN 84-249-1015-X]

* Archaic Aurignacian: found in Cantabria (Morín and El Pendo caves), where it alternates with Chatelperronian, and in Catalonia. The carbon-14 (14C) dates for Morín cave are relatively late in the European context: c. 28,500 BP, but the occupation dates for El Pendo (where it's older than Chatelperronian layers) must be of earlier date.
* Typical Aurignacian: it is found in Cantabria (Morín, El Pendo, Castillo), the Basque Country (Santimamiñe) and Catalonia. The radicarbon datations give the following dates: 32,425 and 29,515 BP.
* Evolved Aurignacian: it is found in Cantabria (Morin, El Pendo, El Otero, Hornos de la Peña), Asturias (El Cierro, El Conde) and Catalonia.
* Final Aurignacian: in Cantabria (El Pendo), after the Gravettian interlude.

In the Mediterranean area (south of the Ebro), Aurignacian remains have been found sparsely distributed in the Lands of Valencia (Les Mallaetes) and Murcia (Las Pereneras) and Andalusia (Higuerón), as far west as Gibraltar (Gorham's Cave). The 14C dates available are: 29,100 BP (Les Mallaetes), 28,700 and 27,860 BP (Gorham's Cave).

Middle Upper Paleolihic


The Gravettian culture followed the steps of the Aurignacian expansion but its remains are not very abundant in the Cantabrian area (north), while in the southern region they are more common.

In the Cantabrian area all Gravettian remains belong to late "evolved" phases and are found always mixed with Aurignacian technology. The main sites are found in the Basque Country (Lezetxiki, Bolinkoba), Cantabria (Morín, El Pendo, El Castillo) and Asturias (Cueto de la Mina). It is archeologically divide in two phases characterized by the amount of Gravettian elements: the phase A has a 14C date of c.20,710 BP and the phase B is of later date.

The Cantabrian Gravettian has been paralleled to the Perigordian V-VII of the French sequence. It eventually vanishes from the archaeological sequence and is replaced by an "Aurignacian renaissance", at least in El Pendo cave. It is considered "intrusive", in contrast with the Mediterranean area, where it probably means a real colonization.

In the Mediterranean region, the Gravettian culture also had a late arrival. Nevertheless, the south-east has an important number of sites of this culture, especially in the Land of Valencia (Les Mallaetes, Parpaló, Barranc Blanc, Meravelles, Coba del Sol, Ratlla del Musol, Beneito). It is also found in the Land of Murcia (Palomas, Palomarico, Morote) and Andalusia (Los Borceguillos, Zájara II, Serrón, Gorham's Cave).

The first indications of modern human colonization of the interior and the west of the peninsula are found only in this cultural phase, with a few late Gravettian elements found in the Manzanares valley (Madrid) and Salemas cave (Alemtejo, Portugal).


The Solutrean culture shows its earliest appearances in Laugerie Haute (Dordogne, France) and Les Mallaetes (Land of Valencia), with radiocarbon dates of 21,710 and 20,890 BP respectively. In the Iberian peninsula it shows three different facies:

The Iberian (or Mediterranean) facies is defined by the sites of Parpalló and Les Mallaetes in the province of Valencia. They are found immersed in important Gravettian perdurations that would eventually redefine the facies as "Gravettizing Solutrean." The archetypical sequence, that of Parpalló and Les Mallaetes caves, is:
* Initial Solutrean.
* Full or Middle Solutrean, dated in its lower layers to 20,180 BP.
* An sterile layer with signs of intense cold that is related to the Last Glacial Maximum.
* Upper or Evolved Solutrean, including bone tools and also needles of this material.

These two caves are surrounded by many other sites (Barranc Blanc, Meravelles, Rates Penaes, etc.) that show only a limited impact of Solutrean and instead have many Gravettian perdurations, showing a convergence that has been named as "Gravetto-Solutrean".

Solutrean is also found in the Land of Murcia, Mediterranean Andalusia and the lower Tagus (Portugal). In the Portuguese case there are no signs of Gravettization.

The Cantabrian facies shows two markedly different tendencies in Asturias and the Vasco-Cantabrian area. The oldest findings are all in Asturias and lack of the initial phases, beginning with the full Solutrean in Las Caldas (Asturias) and other nearby sites, followed by evolved Solutrean, with many unique regional elements. Radiocarbon dates oscillate between 20,970 and 19,000 BP.

In the Vasco-Cantabrian area instead the Gravettian influences seem persistent and the typical Solutrean foliaceous elements are minority. Some transitional elements that prelude the Magdalenian, like the monobiselated bone spear point, are already present. Most important sites are Altamira, Morín, Chufín, Salitre, Ermittia, Atxura, Lezetxiki, and Santimamiñe.

In northern Catalonia there is an early local Solutrean, followed by scarce middle elements but with a well developed final Solutrean. It is related to the French Pyrenean sequences. Main sites are Cau le Goges, Reclau Viver and L'Arbreda.

In the region of Madrid there were some findings attributed to Solutrean that are today missing.

Late Upper Paleolithic

This phase is defined by the Magdalenian culture, even if in the Mediterranean area the Gravettian influence is still persistent.

In the Cantabrian area, the early Magdalenian phases show two different facies: the "Castillo facies" evolves locally over final Solutrean layers, while the "Rascaño facies" appears in most cases directly over the natural soil (no earlier occupations of these sites).

In the second phase, the lower evolved Magdalenian, there are also two facies but now with a geographical divide: the "El Juyo facies" is found in Asturias and Cantabria, while the "Basque Country facies" is only found in this region.

The dates for this early Magdalenian period oscillate between 16,433 BP for Rascaño cave (Rascaño facies), 15,988 and 15,179 BP for the same cave (El Juyo facies) and 15,000 BP for Altamira (Castillo facies). For the Basque Country facies the cave of abauntz has given 15,800 BP.

The middle Magdalenian shows less abundance of findings.

The upper Magdalenian is closely related to that of southern France (Magdalenian V and VI), being characterized by the presence of harpoons. Again there are two facies (called A and B) that appear geographically interwined, though the facies A (dates: 15,400–13,870 BP) is absent in the Basque Country and the facies B (dates 12,869–12,282 BP) is rare in Asturias.

In Portugal there have been some findings of the upper Magdalenian north of Lisbon (Casa da Moura, Lapa do Suão). A possible intermediate site is La Dehesa (Salamanca, Spain), that is clearly associated with that of the Cantabrian area.

In the Mediterranean area, Catalonia again is directly connected with the French sequence, at least in the late phases. Instead the rest of the region shows a unique local evolution known as "Parpallense".

The sometimes called Parpalló "Magdalenian" (extended by all the south-east) is actually a continuity of the local Gravetto-Solutrean. Only the late upper Magdlenian actually includes true elements of this culture, like proto-harpoons. Radicarbon dates for this phase are of c. 11,470 BP (Borran Gran). Other sites give later dates that actually approach the Epi-Paleolithic.

Paleolithic art

Together with France, the Iberian peninsula is one of the prime areas of Paleolithic cave paintings. This artistic manifestation is found most importantly in the northern Cantabrian area, where the earliest manifestations (Castillo, El Conde) are as old as Aurignacian times, even if rare.

The practice of this mural art increases in frequency in the Solutrean period, when the first animals are drawn, but it is not until the Magdalenian cultural phase when it becomes truly widespread, being found in almost every cave.

Most of the representations are of animals (bison, horse, deer, bull, reindeer, goat, bear, mammoth, moose) and are painted in ochre and black colors but there are exceptions and human-like forms as well as abstract drawings also appear in some sites.

In the Mediterranean and interior areas, the presence of mural art is not so abundant but exists as well since the Solutrean.

Also, several examples of open-air art exist, such as the monumental Côa Valley (Portugal), Domingo García and Siega Verde (both in Spain).


Around 40,000 BC the first large settlement of Europe by modern humans, nomadic hunter-gathereres came from the steppes of Central Asia, characterized by the M173 mutation in the Y chromosome, defining them as an haplogroup R population. When the last ice age reached its maximum extent, these modern humans took refuge in Southern Europe, namely in Iberia, and on the steppe of southern Ukraine and Russia.

From around 32,000 to 21,000 BC the modern human Aurignacian culture dominated Europe. Around 30,000 BC a new wave of modern humans made their way from Southern France into the Iberian peninsula. Here, this genetically homogenous population (characterized by the M173 mutation in the Y chromosome), developed the M343 mutation, giving rise to the R1b Haplogroup, still dominant in modern Portuguese and Spanish populations. Around 28,000 BC the Gravettian culture began to succeed the Aurignacian.


Around 10,000 BC an interstadial deglaciation called the Allerød Oscillation occurred, weakening the rigorous conditions of the last ice age. This climatic change also represents the end of the Upper Palaeolithic period, beginning the Epipaleolithic.

As the climate became warmer, the late Magdalenian peoples of Iberia modified their technology and culture. The main techno-cultural change is the process of microlithization: the reduction of size of stone and bone tools, also found in other parts of the World. Also the cave sanctuaries seem to be abandoned and art becomes rarer and mostly done on portable objects, such as peebles or tools.

It also implies changes in diet, as the megafauna virtually disappears when the steppe becomes woodlands. In this period, hunted animals are of smaller size, typically deer or wild goats, and seafood becomes an important part of the diet where available.


The first Epipaleolithic culture is the Azilian, also known as "microlaminar microlithism" in the Mediterranean. This culture is the local evolution of Magdalenian, parallel to other regional derivatives found in Central and Northern Europe. Original from the Franco-Cantabrian region, it eventually expands to Mediterranean Iberia as well.

An archetypical Azilian site in the Iberian peninsula is Zatoya (Navarre), where it is difficult to discern the early Azilian elements from those of late Magdalenian (this transition dated to 11,760 BP). Full Azilian in the same site is dated to 8,150 BP, followed by appearance of geometric elements at a later date, that continue until the arrival of pottery (subneolithic stage).

In the Mediterranean area, virtually this same material culture is often named "microlaminar microlithism" because it lacks of the bone industry typical of Franco-Cantabrian Azilian. It is found in parts of Catalonia, Lands of Valencia and Murcia and Mediterranean Andalusia. It has been dated in Les Mallaetes at 10,370 BP.

Geometrical microlithism

In the late phases of the Epipaleolithic a new trend arrives from the north: the geometrical microlithism, directly related to Sauveterrian and Tardenoisian cultures of the Rhin-Danube region.

While in the Franco-Cantabrian region it has a minor impact, not altering the Azilian culture substantially, in Mediterranean Iberia and Portugal its arrival is more noticeable. The Mediterranean geometrical microlithism has two facies:
* The Filador facies is directly related to French Sauveterrian and is found in Catalonia, north of the Ebro river.
* The Cocina facies is more widespread and, in many sites (Málaga, Spain), shows a strong dependence of fishing and seafood gathering. The Portuguese sites (south of the Tagus, "Muge group") have given dates of c.7350 .


An rather mysterious exception to generalized microlithism is the so called "Asturian culture", actually identified by a single fossil: the Asturian pick-axe, and found only in coastal locations, especially in Eastern Asturias and Western Cantabria. It is believed that the Asturian tool was used for seafood gathering.


In the sixth millennium BC Andalusia experiences the arrival of the first agriculturalists. Their origin is uncertain (though North Africa is a serious candidate) but they arrive with already developed crops (cereals and legumes). The presence of domestic animals instead is unlikely, as only pig and rabbit remains have been found and these could belong to wild animals. They also consumed large amounts of olives but it's uncertain too whether this tree was cultivated or merely harvested in its wild form. Their typical fossil is the La Almagra style pottery, quite variegated.

The Andalusian Neolithic also influenced other areas, notably Southern Portugal, where, soon after neolithization, the first dolmen tombs begin to be built c.4800 BC, being possibly the oldest of their kind anywhere.

C.4700 BC Cardium Pottery Neolithic culture (also known as "Mediterranean Neolithic") arrives to Eastern Iberia. While some remains of this culture have been found as far west as Portugal, its distribution is basically Mediterranean (Catalonia, Valencian region, Ebro valley, Balearic islands).

The interior and the northern coastal areas remain largely marginal in this process of spread of agriculture. In most cases it would only arrive in a very late phase or even already in the Chalcolithic age, together with Megalithism.


The Chalcolithic or Copper Age is the earliest phase of metallurgy. Copper, silver and gold started to be worked then, though these soft metals could hardly replace stone tools for most purposes. The Chalcolithic is also a period of increased social complexity and stratification and, in the case of Iberia, that of the rise of the first civilizations and of extense exchange networks that would reach to the Baltic and Africa.

The conventional date for the beginning of Chalcolithic in Iberia is c. 3000 BC. In the following centuries, especially in the south of the peninsula, metal goods, often decorative or ritual, become increasingly common. Additionally there is an increased evidence of exchanges with areas far away: amber from the Baltic and ivory and ostrich-egg products from Northern Africa.

It is also the period of the great expansion of Megalithism, with its associated collective burial practices. In the early Chalcolithic period this cultural phenomenon, maybe of religious undertones, expands along the Atlantic regions and also through the south of the peninsula (additionally it's also found in virtually all European Atlantic regions). In contrast, most of the interior and the Mediterranean regions remain refractary to this phenomenon.

Another phenomenon found in the early chalcolithic is the development of new types of funerary monuments: "tholoi" and "artificial caves". These are only found in the more developed areas: southern Iberia, from the Tagus estuary to Almería, and SE France.

Eventually, c. 2600 BC, urban communities began to appear, again especially in the south. The most important ones are Los Millares in SE Spain and Zambujal (belonging to Vila Nova de São Pedro culture) in Portuguese Estremadura, that can well be called civilizations, even if they lack of the literary component.

It is very unclear if any cultural influence originated in the Eastern Mediterranean (Cyprus?) could have sparked these civilizations. On one side the "tholos" does have a precedent in that area (even if not used yet as tomb) but on the other there is no material evidence of any exchange between the Eastern and Western Mediterranean, in contrast with the abundance of goods imported from Northern Europe and Africa.

Since c. 2150 BC, the Bell Beaker culture intrudes in Chalcolithic Iberia. After the early Corded style beaker, of quite clear Central European origin, the peninsula begins producing its own types of Bell Beaker pottery. Most important is the Maritime or International style that, associated especially with Megalithism, is for some centuries abundant in all the peninsula and southern France.

Since c. 1900, the Bell Beaker phenomenon in Iberia shows a regionalization, with different styles being produced in the various regions: Palmela type in Portugal, Continental type in the plateau and Almerian type in Los Millares, among others.

Like in other parts of Europe, the Bell Beaker phenomenon (speculated to be of trading or maybe religious nature) does not significantly alter the cultures it inserts itself in. Instead the cultural contexts that existed previously continue basically unchanged by its presence.

Bronze Age

Early Bronze

The center of Bronze Age technology is in the southeast since c.1800 BC. There the civilization of Los Millares was followed by that of El Argar, initially with no other discontinuity than the displacement of the main urban center some kilometers to the north, the gradual appearance of true bronze and arsenical bronze tools and some greater geographical extension. The Argarian people lived in rather large fortified towns or cities.

From this center, bronze technology spread to other areas. Most notable are:
* Bronze of Levante: in the Land of Valencia. Their towns were smaller and show intense interation with their neighbours of El Argar.
* South-Western Iberian Bronze: in southern Portugal and SW Spain. These poorly defined archaeological "horizons" show the presence of bronze daggers and an expansive trend in northwards direction.
* Cogotas I culture (Cogotas II is Iron Age Celtic): the pastoralist peoples of the plateau become for the first time culturally unified. Their typical fossil is a rough troncoconic pottery.

Some areas like the civilization of Vila Nova seem to have remained apart from the spread of bronze metallurgy remaining technically in the Chalcolithic period for centuries.

Middle Bronze

This period is basically a continuation of the previous one. The most noticeable change happens in the El Argar civilization, which adopts the Aegean custom of burial in pithoi. This phase is known as El Argar B, beginning c.1500 BC.

The North-West (Galicia and northern Portugal), a region that held some of the largest reserves of tin (needed to make true bronze) in Western Eurasia, became a focus for mining, incorporating then the bronze technology. Their typical artifacts are bronze axes (Group of Montelavar).

The semi-desert region of La Mancha shows its first signs of colonization with the fortified scheme of the Motillas (hill forts). This group is clearly related to the Bronze of Levante, showing the same material culture.

Late Bronze

C. 1300 BC several major changes happen in Iberia, among them:
* The Chalcolithic culture of Vila Nova vanishes, possibly in direct relation to the silting of the canal connecting the main city Zambujal with the sea. [ [ Deutsches Archälogisches Institut: Zambujal, Torres Vedras] (in English)] It is replaced by a non-urban culture, whose main fossil is an externally burnished pottery.
* El Argar also disappears as such, what had been a vey homogeneous culture, a centralized state for some, becomes an array of many post-Argaric fortified cities.
* The Motillas are abandoned.
* The proto-Celtic Urnfield culture appears in the North-East, conquering all Catalonia and some neighbouring areas.
* The Lower Guadalquivir valley shows its first clearly differentiated culture, defined by internally burnished pottery. This group might have some relation with the semi-historical, yet-to-be-found, Tartessos.
* Western Iberian Bronze cultures show some degree of interaction, not just among them but also with other Atlantic cultures in Britain, France and elsewhere. This has been called the Atlantic Bronze complex.

Iron Age

The Iron Age in the Iberian peninsula has two focus: the Hallstatt-related Iron Age Urnfields of the North-East and the Phoenician colonies of the South.

Indo-European (Celtic) expansion

Since the late eighth century BC, the Urnfield culture of North-East Iberia begins to incorporate Iron metallurgy and, eventually, elements of the Hallstatt culture. In this period it experiences a clear expansion mainly oriented upstream along the Ebro river, arriving to La Rioja and (in a hybrid local form) also to Alava, but also southwards into Castelló, with less marked influences arriving further south. Some offshots are also detected along the Iberian mountains, in what can be a prelude of the formation of the Celtiberi.

In this period the social differentiation is more visible and there is also evidence of the existence of local chiefdoms and a horse-riding elite. It is possible that these transformations represent the arrival of new waves from Central Europe.

From these outposts in the Upper Ebro and the Iberian mountains, the Celtic culture expanded into the plateau and the Atlantic coast. Several groups can be described:
* The Bernorio-Miraveche group (northern Burgos and Palencia provinces), that would influence the peoples of the northern fringe.
* The Duero group, probable precursor of the Vaccei.
* The Cogotas II culture, likely precursor of the Vettones, of marked cattle-herder nature, that would gradually expand southwards into Extremadura.
* The Lusitanian Castros group, in Central Portugal, precursor of the Lusitani.
* The North-West Castros culture, in Northern Portugal and Galicia, related to the previous one but with strong peculiarities due to the clear persistence of the Atlantic Bronze substrate.

All these Indo-European groups have some common elements, like combed pottery since the 6th century and uniform weaponry.

Since c.600 BC the Urnifields of the North-East are replaced by the Iberian culture, in a process that won't be completed until the fourth century BC. This physical separation from their continental relatives would mean that the Celts of the Iberian peninsula never received the cultural influences of La Tène culture, including Druidism.

Phoenician colonization and influence

The Phoenicians of Asia, Greeks of Europe, and Carthaginians of Africa all colonized parts of Iberia to facilitate trade. During the tenth century BC the first contacts between Phoenicians and Iberia (along the Mediterranean coast) were made. This century also saw the emergence of towns and cities in the southern littoral areas of eastern Iberia. The Phoenicians founded colony of "Gadir" (modern Cádiz) near Tartessos. The foundation of Cádiz, the oldest continuously-inhabited city in western Europe, is traditionally dated to 1104 BC, although, as of 2004, no archaeological discoveries date back further than the ninth century BC. The Phoenicians continued to use Cádiz as a trading post for several centuries leaving a variety of artifacts, most notably a pair of sarcophaguses from around the fourth or third centuries BC Contrary to myth, there is no record of Phoenician colonies west of the Algarve (namely Tavira), even though there might have been some voyages of discovery. Phoenician influence in what is now Portuguese territory was essentially through cultural and commercial exchange with Tartessos.

During the ninth century BC the Phoenicians (from the city-state of Tyre founded the colony of Carthage (in North Africa). During this century Phoenicians also had great influence on Iberia with the introduction the use of Iron, of the Potter's wheel, the production of Olive oil and Wine. They were also responsible for the first forms of Iberian writing, had great religious influence and accelerated urban development. However, there is little evidence to support the myth of a Phoenician foundation of the city of Lisbon as far back as 1300 BC, under the name "Alis Ubbo" ("Safe Harbour"), even if in this period there are organized settlements in "Olissipona" (modern Lisbon, in Portuguese Estremadura) with clear Mediterranean influences.

There was strong Phoenician influence and settlement in the city of "Balsa" (modern Tavira in the Algarve) in the eighth century BC. Phoenician influenced Tavira was destroyed by violence in the sixth century BC. With the decadence of Phoenician colonization of the Mediterranean coast of Iberia in the sixth century BC many of the colonies are deserted. The sixth century BC also saw the rise of the colonial might of Carthage, which slowly replaced the Phoenicians in their former areas of dominion.

Greek colonization

The Greek colony at what now is Marseilles began trading with the Celtiberians on the eastern coast around the eighth century BC. The Greeks finally founded their own colony at Ampurias, in the eastern Mediterranean shore (modern Catalonia), during the sixth century BC beginning their settlement in the Iberian peninsula. There are no Greek colonies west of the Strait of Gibraltar, only voyages of discovery. There is no evidence to support the myth of an ancient Greek founding of "Olissipo" (modern Lisbon) by Odysseus.

The Tartessian-Orientalizing culture

The name "Tartessian", when applied in archaeology and linguistics does not necessarily correlate with the semi-mythical city of Tartessos but only roughly with the area where it is typically assumed it should have been located.

The Tartessian-Orientalizing culture of southern Iberia actually is the local culture as modified by the increasing influence of Eastern elements, especially Phoenician. Its core area is Western Andalusia, but soon extends to Eastern Andalusia, Extremadura and the Lands of Murcia and Valencia, where a "Proto-Orientalizing Tartessian" complex, rooted in the local Bronze cultures, can already be defined in the last stages of the Bronze Age (ninth-eighth centuries BC), before Phoenician influences can be determined clearly.

The full Tartessian-Orientalizing culture, beginning c.720 BC, also extends to Southern Portugal, where is eventually replaced by Lusitanian culture. One of the most significant elements of this culture is the introduction of the potter's wheel, what, along with other related technical developments, causes a major improvement in the quality of the pottery produced. There are other major advances in craftsmanship, affecting jewelry, weaving and architecture. This latter aspects is especially important, as the traditional circular huts were then gradually replaced by well finished rectangular buildings. It also allowed for the construction of the tower-like burial monuments that are so typical of this culture.

Agriculture also seems to have experienced major advances with the introduction of steel tools and, presumably, of the yoke and animal traction for the plough. In this period it's noticeable the increase of bovine cattle accompanied by some decrease of ovine and caprine types.

Another noticeable element is the major increase in economical specialization and social stratification. This is very noticeable in burials, with some showing off great wealth (chariots, gold, ivory), while the vast majority are much more modest. There is much diversity in burial rituals in this period but the elites seem to converge in one single style: a chambered mound. Some of the most affluent burials are generally attributed to local monarchs.

One of the developments of this period is writing. Nevertheless the many inscriptions in Tartessian script remain so far undeciphered.

The Iberian culture

In the Iberian culture people were organized in chiefdoms and states. Three phases can be identified: the Ancient, the Middle and the Late Iberian period.

With the arrival of Greek influences, not limited to their few colonies, the Tartessian-Orientalizing culture begins to transform itself, especially in the South East. This late period is known as the Iberian culture, that in Western Andalusia and the non-Celtic areas of Extremadura is called Ibero-Turdetanian because of its stronger links with the Tartessian substrate.

The Hellenic influence is visible in the gradual change of the style of monuments that approach more and more the models arrived from the Greek world. Thus the obelisk-like funerary monuments of the previous period now adopt a column like form, totally in line with Greek architecture.

By the middle of the fifth century aristocratic power was increased and resulted in the abandonment and transformation of the orientalizing model. The oppidum appeared and became the socio-economic model of the aristocratic class. The commerce was also one of the principal sources of aristocratic control and power. In the south east, between the end of the fifth and the end of the fourth century BC, appeared a highly hierarchical aristocratic society. There were different forms of political control. The power and control seemed to be in the hand of kings or reguli.

Iberian funerary customs are dominated by cremation necropolis, that are partly due to the persistent influences of Urnfield culture, but they also include burial customs imported from the Greek cultural area (mudbrick rectangular mound).

Urbanism was important in the Iberian cultural area, especially in the south, where Roman accounts mention hundreds of "oppida" (fortified towns). In these towns (some quite large, some mere fortified villages) the houses were typically arranged in contiguous blocks, in what seems to be another Urnfield cultural influx.

The Iberian script evolves from the Tartessian one with Greek influences that are noticeable in the transformation of some characters. In a few cases a variant of Greek alphabet (Ibero-Ionian script) was used to write Iberian as well.

The transformation from Tartessian to Iberian culture was not sudden but gradual and was more marked in the East, where it begins in the 6th century, than in the South-West, where it is only noticeable since the fifth century BC and much more tenuous. A special case is the North-East where the Urnfield culture was Iberized but keeping some elements from the Indo-European substrate.

Portuguese Iron Age

Also during the sixth century BC there was a cultural shift in southern Portuguese territory after the fall of Tartessos, with a strong Mediterranean character that prolonged and modified Tartessian culture. This occurred mainly in Low Alentejo and the Algarve, but had littoral extensions up to the Tagus mouth (namely the important city of "Bevipo", modern Alcácer do Sal). The first form of writing in western Iberia (south of Portugal), the Southwest script (still to be translated), dated to the sixth century BC, denotes strong Tartessian influence in its use of a modified Phoenician alphabet. In this writings the word Conii (similar to Cunetes or Cynetes, the people of the Algarve) appears frequently.

The poem "Ora Maritima", written by Avienus in the fourth century AD and based on the Massaliote Periplus of the sixth century BC, states that all of western Iberia was once called for the name of its people, the Oestriminis, which were replaced by an invasion of the "Saephe" or "Ophis" (meaning Serpent). From then on western Iberia would have been know as Ophiussa (Land of the Serpents). The poem probably translates the impact of the Second wave of Indo-European migrations (Celtic) in the seventh century BC. The poem also describes the various ethnic groups the present at that time:
*The "Saephe or Ophis", today seen as probably Hallstatt culture Celts, in all of western Iberia (modern Portugal) between the Douro and the Sado rivers.
*The "Cempsi", probably Hallstatt culture Celts, in the Tagus mouth and the south up to the Algarve.
*The "Cynetes" in the extreme south and some cities along the Atlantic coast (such as "Olissipo", modern Lisbon), probably not Indo-European, but autochthonous Iberian of Tartessian background (even if strongly or totally celticized over the next centuries).
*The "Dragani", Celt or Proto-Celt of the first Indo-European wave, in the mountainous areas of Galicia, northern Portugal, Asturias and Cantabria.
*The "Lusis", probably a first reference to the Lusitanians, similar to the Dragani (Celt or Proto-Celt of the first Indo-European wave).

The fifth century BC saw the urban bloom of Tartessian influenced Tavira, further development of strong Central European (Celtic) influences and migrations in western Iberia north of the Tagus river and the development of a second Castro Village culture in Galicia and northern Portugal. Minting of coins and use of money in the Iberian peninsula dates back to the fifth century BC. During this century discovery voyages to the Atlantic are made by the Carthaginians. The Greek historian Herodotus of Halicarnassus cites the word "Iberia" to designate what is now the Iberian peninsula, according to ancient Greek costume.

In the fourth century BC the Celtici, a new wave of Celtic migration (of the La Tène culture), enter Iberia going as far as modern-day Portuguese territory and settle in the Alentejo also penetrating in the Algarve. The Turduli and Turdetani, probably descendants of the Tartessians, although celticized, became established in the area of the Guadiana river, in the south of modern Portugal. A series of cities in the Algarve, such as "Balsa" (Tavira), "Baesuris" (Castro Marim), "Ossonoba"(Faro) and "Cilpes" (Silves), became inhabited by the Cynetes progressively mingled with Celtic populations. The Lusitanians (most probably proto-Celt) beagan to inhabit the area between the Douro and the Tagus rivers (and progressively penetrate the High Alentejo). They are neighbored to the east by the Vettones (also probably proto-Celt). The Celtic Calaicians or Gallaeci inhabit all the region above the Douro river (modern Galicia and northern Portugal).

Arrival of Romans and Punic Wars

During the fourth century BC Rome began to rise as a Mediterranean power rival to Africa-based Carthage. After their defeat to Rome in the First Punic War (264241 BC), the Carthaginians began to extend their conquest of Iberia to expand their empire further into Europe. In the Second Punic War (218202 BC), Hannibal marched his armies, which included Iberians, from Africa through Iberia to cross the Alps and attack the Romans in Italy. Carthage was again defeated and lost Iberia. Rome began its conquest and occupation of the peninsula, thus beginning the era of Hispania.



*Alberro, Manuel and Arnold, Bettina (eds.), " [ e-Keltoi: Journal of Interdisciplinary Celtic Studies] , [ Volume 6: The Celts in the Iberian Peninsula] ", University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee, Center for Celtic Studies, 2005.
*Cerdá, F. Jordá "et al.", "History of Spain 1: Prehistory", Gredos, 1986. ISBN 84-249-1015-X
*Mattoso, José (dir.), "História de Portugal. Primeiro Volume: Antes de Portugal", Lisboa, Círculo de Leitores, 1992. (in Portuguese)
* [ The concept of Atlantic Bronze Age in the framework of 20th century archeological thinking - in Portuguese, English and French]

ee also

*Timeline of Portuguese history
**Pre-Roman Western Iberia (Before the third century BC)
*Pre-Roman peoples of the Iberian Peninsula

External links

* [ Detailed map of the Pre-Roman Peoples of Iberia (around 200 BC)]
* [ American Museum of Natural History - Atapuerca]
* [ Country Studies: Spain - Iberia]

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