Category Archives: Spain

There could be up to 38 dolmens in Jaraíz de la Vera (Extremadura, Spain)

One of the dolmens
The mayor of the Spanish municipality of Jaraíz de la Vera[es] (Northern Extremadura) has announced that some 35 to 38 dolmens (megalithic tombs) exist in the dehesa (ranch) Boyal. This was announced as it was known that one of them will be available to visitors soon. 
The high concentration of dolmens in that location suggest, always according to Mayor Bonifacio Sánchez Cruz, that the area hosted an important Neolithic population and that Jaraíz de la Vera was its center.
The town is negotiating a protection agreement with the Extremaduran cultural authorities in order to protect the complex and make it available to researchers. They also hope to get funding for the excavation of the Neolithic sites in the municipality. 

Timeline of the conquest of Navarre by Castile 1512-21

About these days some 500 years ago, the Kingdom of Castile decided to put to use the silver robbed to the Native Americans into a new military campaign. This time it was Navarre, the state of the Basques.
Navarre and associated states c. 1512
The Castilian-Aragonese conquest
In mid-June, a huge army under the command of the always infamous Duke of Alba, was concentrated at Vitoria, conquered in 1200. Meanwhile the English, then allied with Castile, had posted troops at Bayonne to curtail any French attempt of aid. The Castilian army marched without difficulties through Burunda and Arakil and on July 23rd, camped outside Pamplona, at Arazuri.
Unable to defend the city against such an oversized conquest force, the Navarrese monarchs went to their northern possessions in Gascony (Bearn). The city surrendered and on July 25th the invaders took possession with all the religious paraphernalia they styled.
After conquering Pamplona, a second invading army from Aragon (in dynastic union with Castile already) commanded by the Archbishop of Zaragoza, Alfonso, illegitimate son of King Ferdinand, occupied the Ribera (Erribera) and put siege to Tudela (Tutera) on August 14th. The city resisted for a month and only surrendered, on September 9th,upon oath that the traditional charters (fueros, laws) would be honored by the invaders.
Reconstruction of the historical walls of Tudela on a modern photo
First liberation attempt
John of Albret (King consort) finally mustered a diverse army made up of Navarrese, Gascons and Albanian and German mercenaries, which set up march at Pau (Bearn, part of the lands of the crown back then) on October 15th, commanded by Francis, Dauphin of France and Duke of Angouleme, with King Jean as sub-commander. They expelled the Duke of Alba from Donibane Garazi (St. Jean Pie-de-Port) and arrived to Pamplona on October 26th but could not capture the city.
When the winter set on, the liberation army retreated before the snow would close the passes.
The formal annexation
The Court (Parliament) of Navarre was called by the invader on March 23rd and, under obvious pressure, they swore loyalty to the invader.
Meanwhile the Castilians occupied again the Low Navarre (now under French rule) taking hostages and calling district Court to force the county to also swear loyalty to the occupant.
There was some hope of a peaceful resolution with a generational change among the monarchs: Francis I, who had personally commanded the Navarrese liberation army, became new King of France, while Charles of Burgundy (would-be Emperor Charles V) also showed signs of not being too interested in holding Navarre by force.
This pushed Ferdinand of Aragon (regent of Castile) to take the decision of annexing Navarre to Castile, formally suppressing its distinctiveness as independent kingdom. The formal ratification of this matter was done in the city of Burgos, Castile, before the Court of Castile on June 11th 1515. Navarre as such was not even asked.
However the Navarrese Kingdom retained all formal and legal distinctions, including parliament and tribunals, as had been allowed previously to the provinces formed from Western Navarre in 1200. It is at this point when Navarre is (forcibly) made a semi-autonomous part of Castile (Spain since the 18th century).
Second liberation attempt
Upon the death of Ferdinand of Aragon (January 23rd 1516), there were uprisings in is domains, circumstance that fueled a new attempt of liberation by John of Albret. The invasion attempt crossing the Pyrenees was ambushed at Isaba however and the commander, Marshall Peter of Navarre, made prisoner. He would die in strange circumstancesTM in 1522, still a prisoner.
Castile was then under transitional control of the strongman cardinal-regent Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros, who decided to punish the separatist feelings of the Navarrese people by means of political persecution. The most visible element was the dismantling of all kind of fortifications, leaving towns and villages undefended.
The very walls of Pamplona were reconstructed anew with the Machiavellan detail of making them clearly separate from the homes, so the citizens could not take them again from inside. More than a fortified city, Pamplona was now a prison, with walls conceived more for defense against the citizens than against any possible invader.
Wall of Pamplona
Third liberation attempt
Andrew of Foix, Lord of Asparrot
Meanwhile in Bearn, Henry II Zangotzarra became king of an occupied realm. Spanish historians, always so partial, treat him as “French” and “Prince of Bearn”, even if he was not just the legitimate monarch but also born in Sangüesa (Zangoza), and his campaigns as “French invasions”.
Castile was then (1521) under the popular revolt of the Comuneros, who demanded from Charles V respect to the traditional law and freedoms, making the occasion ideal for an attempt of liberation of Navarre.
Henry mustered an army of mostly Navarrese and Gascons, which was put under the command of Andrew of Foix, Lord of Asparrot (also known as Asparrós). The Comuneros had just been defeated at Villalar (April 23rd) when the campaign began (May 10th).
Upon the arrival of the liberation army, Pamplona surrendered and proclaimed Henry II as true monarch. Only a castle outside the walls resisted and was bombed. Among those inside was Iñigo of Loiola (later known as Ignatius) a Gipuzkoan professional soldier working for Castile… before and after the injury.
The liberation march was welcomed everywhere in Navarre but then Asparrot committed what is considered a key error: licensed much of the infantry and marched against Logroño (which had been Navarrese centuries earlier). The Castilian counter-attack pushed the Navarrese army towards Pamplona, with the final showdown happening at Noain on June 30th. 6000 people lost their lives in that battle.
There was still some resistance, notably in Baztan, where a Navarrese garrison resisted bravely in the castle of Amaiur, now a ruin with a monolith.
Monolith of Amaiur
The Northern tip of Navarre, known as Low Navarre, remained independent. Lacking any cities however, the Court installed itself in Pau, Bearn, where it would be a center of the Huguenot camp, eventually leading Henry III to the throne of Paris (where is known as Henry IV).
It was also a center of Basque and Gascon literature, making of a military defeat the seed of a long ethno-cultural and political resistance with the more than occasional popular and military uprising. Up to this day.
500 years of occupation, 500 years of resistance.
See also: A history of the Basque Wars: chapter I and chapter II (still have to write the 3rd part)

Artistic styles of the rock art of the Cantabrian Strip

Doe of Arenaza
While it is always a pity that scientists allow modern artificial borders such as the one between French and Spanish states, to restrict their research, the information obtained can still be full of interest in spite of this undeniable handicap. This is the case of this delightful paper (only available in Spanish language) on the style and chronology of rock art in the Cantabrian Strip (Northern coast of the Iberian Peninsula):
Aitor Ruiz Redondo, Convenciones gráficas en el arte parietal del Paleolítico cantábrico: la perspectiva de las figuras zoomorfas [Graphic conventions in the rock art from Cantabrian Paleolithic: the perspective of the zoomorphic figures]. Trabajos de Prehistoria 2011. Freely accessible. 
The author reviews previous work on the stylistic differences of the rock art of the area concluding that there are three clearly distinct stylistic groups:

Fig. 4 Multivariant analysis

The three groups have not just stylistic differences but also some geographical and chronological variations:

My visual synthesis (on top of fig. 1: map of sites mentioned)

Animal type indicated only where more than 60% of all figures per tab. 1

In spite of the clear stylistic differences group 1 and 2 overlap in time, specially after considering the wide error margins of dates based mostly on accretion layers (I’m showing above only the most overlapping ones, for reference). They also overlap in the dominant motif, which is the doe (less importantly also horses in group 1, buck deer in group 2 and bison in both). These groups are considered to belong to the Gravettian or even Aurignacian periods.
On the contrary, group 3, which is the most stylistically advanced, post-dates the rest by at least the full span of the Last Glacial Maximum. According to Ruiz, there are at least six millennia between these groups and the Magdalenian rock art, which is the most famed one because of the full perspective and great realism achieved. Contradicting previous work, he suggests that there was no rock art in the region in the Solutrean and Early Magdalenian periods. 

Fig. 7 – comparison of three proposed timelines (right: Ruiz Redondo)

While the author thinks that the difference between groups 1 and 2 is chronological, I fail to see the evidence clear. Instead a geographical difference is rather obvious (see map above), with group 1 concentrated in Asturias and Western Cantabria and group 2 in Eastern Cantabria and Western Biscay.

Group 3, which is much better dated than the others, is clearly dominated by the bison, painted almost obsessively, as in the famed Altamira ceiling. Another important animal is the goat, usually painted in black, as well as the horse.

Santimamiñe rock art

There are more interesting articles (all in Spanish however) in the same magazine: Trabajos de Prehistoria (hat tip to Pileta).

Neanderthals 22,000 years ago?

Just a quick note by the moment: Millán Mozota surprised us all[es] yesterday with a quite curious Neanderthal conceptual bomb: our extinct cousins may have survived in the valley of Liébana (Cantabria, Spain) for much longer than generally assumed.
The paper is:
No bones have been found but the Mousterian sequence and C14 dating is so robust that it is hard to question. Mousterian in this part of the World has only been associated with Neanderthals and never with our species and now there is are repeated C14 dates for the 23,500-19,300 window with Mousterian. From El Neandertal tonto…:


This basically leaves little doubt about people using Mousterian living so late in time, right at the Last Glacial Maximum and contemporary with local Gravettian (c. 20,700 BP, uncalibrated, at Morín) and Solutrean cultures (c. 19,000 BP at Las Caldas), almost shoulder with shoulder geographically. However there seems to be less clear Mousterian presence in Aurignacian times (ref. “first dates” for the Cantabrian Strip: 33-28,000 BP).

The unexpectedly late Mousterian tools
Another issue the authors and Millán arise are an apparent lower knowledge of their resources, exploiting more scattered niches maybe, too complex for me to discuss with it without having read the paper first.
Finally they seem interested in revisiting and reviewing a number of old “out of place” datings of Mousterian (and Acheulean?) sites that had been discarded as errors maybe a bit too hastily. 

Note (update): the calibration curve makes the real dates to be somewhat older than 19-23 Ka, something like 22-27 real Ka ago for the highlighted bracket of solidly dated ultra-late Mousterian.

__________________________ . __________________________
Micro RNA brings some to claim Neanderthals had some mental affinity to chimpanzees
A not too related news I decided to stuck here just because it’s also on Neanderthals.

On first sight it looks a wild claim that reminds me of the microcephalin fiasco some years ago but I can’t really argue against it with my knowledge of this kind of epigenetic material. Luckily it is open access so you can judge yourself:

With that title I probably just skipped over it when reading the email alerts but thankfully, Neanderthalerin, always hyper-alert to any kind of Neanderthal or otherwise hominin news, did notice[cat]

Echoes from the past (Sep 1)

Franchthi cave

Most are very interesting news that may deserve their own entries but I do not feel like writing so much right now:

Neanderthal cave in Jersey used almost continuously for 250,000 years, late extinction ··> BBC.

Mariners already reached the island of Melos in Greece as early as c. 15,000 years ago, providing obsidian to Franchthi cave and other parts of the mainland, new chronometric method finds. At that time some of the Cyclades were joined in a single island but were not part of the mainland in any case ··> PhysOrg.

Intriguing communal structure with water trough, mortar holes, etc. in PPNA of Wadi Faynan, Jordan, indicates some social centralization ··> Neolítico Ibérico[es], Mithen et al 2010 (PDF).

Wadi Faynan 075

Chalcolithic “goddess” idol found in Estepona (Málaga, Andalusia). This kind of “violin” figurines are typical specially of the Almerian culture (coalescing into Los Millares civilization) but are rarer elsewhere ··> Pileta de Prehistoria[es].

Venus of Estepona

Bronze Age Scottish mummy made up of parts ··> BBC.

Argentinean maternal lineages are Native American very often. A new open access study reveals that 41-70% of maternal lineages, depending on region, are Native American. However these may be in many cases from other origins than Argentina itself. This figure is different from the overall Native ancestry which is more in the 20% zone (other research).

··> Laura Catelli et al. The impact of modern migrations on present-day multi-ethnic Argentina as recorded on the mitochondrial DNA genome. BMC Genetics, 2011. Open access.

Above, fig. 1. Legend:

Frequency patterns of the main hgs in Argentina in the admixed groups (A) versus the Native American communities (B). NA: Native American component; Eu: European component; Af: sub-Saharan African component.

Red dots indicate sampled locations as undertaken in other studies from the literature; blue dots indicate the sampled locations in the present study.

Bacterian genome reveals what is essential to life. Only 12 of the genome is essential, at least in C. crescentus. Among these genes, there are 91 segments whose functions are totally unknown so far ··> Science Daily.


Bronze Age Iberian survived broken neck bone

Motilla del Azuer

Archaeological works at the Motilla del Azuer, in the steppary region of La Mancha, SE Spain, made an unexpected discovery: the skeletal remains of a man in his 40s who suffered a broken hyoid bone but survived the normally deadly injury. 

This bone, placed around the base of the tongue, is often broken in case of strangulation (including hangings) but otherwise a rare lesion. However the very fact that the man survived suggests to researchers that in this case the lesion was caused by a direct impact.
Full story at Unreported Heritage News (paper to be published at Journal of Osteoarchaeology). More information on the archaeological work at Motilla del Azuer at Science Daily (2007).
Las Motillas in context
The Motillas are fortifications, rather similar to the more famous Sardinian Nuraghe, erected at La Mancha in the Middle Bronze Age and abandoned a few centuries later. Culturally they are more akin to the Bronze of Levante (Valencian Country) but are surely also related to the regional power of the age: El Argar civilization (Almería, Murcia). This group of cultures is surely at the roots of historical Iberians.
El Argar and its hinterland was the core of the Iberian Bronze Age, beginning c. 1800 BCE. They are probably the ancestors of historical Iberians and were at a later stage (since c. 1500 BCE) influenced to some extent by Mycenaean Greece. It was in this B phase of the Middle Bronze Age, when the inland fortifications known as Las Motillas in Spanish (exactly the same concept as motte-and-bailey in English) were erected to live for about two or three centuries. 

Iberia Bronze
Las Motillas in the context of Middle Bronze Age Iberia

I believe that their construction in this otherwise uninteresting steppe (showing little signs of habitation before and after them) was triggered by the need of El Argar (surely a centralized state) of securing a safe inland route towards NW Iberia, which was like the Persian Gulf of the Bronze Age because of its huge reserves of tin, an otherwise rare metal necessary for the forge of bronze. The rest of the route would go (possibly) through the lands of the cattle-herder peoples of Cogotas I culture in the Iberian Plateau. 
An alternative route was through the sea but there it had to go by the coasts of another (maybe rival) power: Zambujal (Vila Nova de São Pedro culture). Some of the produce would surely remain in Iberia (El Argar and allies) but much, I understand, would be exported to Greece, where it would have fed their militaristic tendencies maybe (culminating in the destruction of Troy and much of the Sea Peoples‘ episode). No Greek outpost is known to have existed  anywhere in Iberia but Greek burial styles were adopted by the Argarians since c. 1500 BCE, strongly suggesting they were trade partners. Otherwise only a few glass beads of Oriental origin attest the trade which must have been mostly about raw products such as tin, copper, gold and silver.
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Posted by on December 18, 2010 in Bronze Age, El Argar, Greece, Iberia, Spain, tin, Zambujal


Interview with E. Aznar: Basque was spoken in La Rioja before the Romans arrived

La Rioja, Errioxa in Basque, is modernly a province and autonomous community of Spain and has been held by Castile since the 12th century, excepting minor parts still belonging to Araba. However it was earlier an important part of the Kingdom of Pamplona (later Navarre), which even moved its capital to Nájera (Basque Naiara), where many Pamplonese monarchs are buried. 
Previously it was maybe part of the Visigothic marche against Basques known as Duchy of Cantabria, which has left the toponym Sierra de Cantabria and the legend of the destroyed City of Cantabria, maybe Iruña-Veleia in nearby Araba and earlier part of the Roman province of Tarraconensis (earlier Hispania Citerior), a region sometimes known as Ager Vasconicum (the fields of the Basques or Vascones). From this period we know that three tribes inhabited it: Vascones at the East, Berones (believed Celtic) at the center and Autrigones at the West. In the Iron Age it was penetrated indeed by late Urnfield culture offshoots and evidence of violent struggles has been found, most notably maybe in the once prosperous town of La Hoya, whose upper layer is full of bodies slain on the spot, probably by Celtic invaders.
Follows direct translation (my work) from original interview in Basque language at Berria newspaper this Saturday (found via Ostraka Euskalduna):
According to some scholars, Basque language arrived to La Rioja in the 10th century, together with the Kingdom of Pamplona. However, there are also researchers who argue that Basque or proto-Basque was spoken there before Romans arrived. One of them is historian Eduardo Aznar (Barcelona 1977).

What have you gathered in the book “El euskara en La Rioja. Primeros testimonios” (Basque language in La Rioja. Earliest evidence)?

This book is the first part of a work explaining that Basque language had a presence in La Rioja. In these books, I research the oldest Basque indications, and later, the second part, which deals with Middle Ages and modern toponimy, will also be published.
Which are the first evidences that Basque language left in La Rioja?

In the first book, I work with some onomastic materials from funerary slabs that were uncovered in the 1980s. These slabs appeared at the district of Tierras Altas, in modern Soria province (Castile-León, Spain) but they fit in the geography of La Rioja. Of these slabs, so far 11 appear to be indigenous proto-Basque. We believe that they were indigenous people who lived under Roman rule: they look Basque by the nicknames. The most clear example is Sesenco[1], the slab with that nickname also carries an image of a bull at the base. In the book, besides funerary slabs, I work with ancient toponymy and data from the period, looking for Basque traces.
Nevertheless, some experts defend that Basque language only arrived to La Rioja with the repopulations organized by the kings of Pamplona.

In my opinion, evidence like these slabs do confirm that Basque language was in La Rioja before the kings of Pamplona and before the Romans arrived. After researching these slabs and the toponymy, to say that Basque language arrived only with repopulations is to play with preconceptions.

Some researchers say that at Roman arrival, Calahorra was the main city of the Vascones. 

Yes, of course. All classic authors say that Calahorra was a Vasco[2] city. Today a lot of experts try to claim that Kalagorri[3] was Celtiberian but there is no evidence to support that. Another thing would be whether the local language was only proto-Basque or more languages were also spoken. For instance, it has shown up that local coins with the legend Kalagorrikos. To Basque-origin Kalagorri, Celtiberian suffix -kos was added. We may think that, maybe, in spite the Vasco origins of Kalagorri it seems that there was a Celtic elite[4].

However, if you go to the Roman Museum of Calahorra the word Vasco(-nes) does not show up anywhere. Why?

In my opinion, it is something within the intent of the authors. Sadly, there are a lot preconceptions in this aspect, and all the evidence is against what some researchers claim about Vascones only holding at the Pyrenees. Seemingly, in all this matter scientists do not combine the ideas that actually exist.

In the past, were you defending the early Basque-ness of La Rioja?

There were other authors. But this research is the deepest and most developed so far. Following the books order, first resarch was done by Fray Mateo de Anguiano a Riojan erudite who published in 1704. Already by the end of the 17th century, Anguiano knew that there were many Basque toponyms in La Rioja. However, the one to get deepest in the matter was Basque academic Juan Bautista Merino Urrutia, who researched in the middle 20th century. He was the one to make know, for example, his native Ojacastro town’s fazaña or sentence. In those documents from between 1234 and 1239 it is shown how the Supreme Judge of Castile jailed the Mayor of Ojacastro for allowing to make declarations before tribunals in Basque language. Luckily for him, he was later freed, as his stand was allowed by the local old law.
Appendix: Fernando Fernández Palacios, Actualización en onomástica Vasco-Aquitana. Acta Paleohispánica 2009 (PDF).  

The introduction is in Spanish but it is essentially an incoplete collection of onomastic and theonymy from the Southern Basque Country and neighbouring areas in Spain, and, curiously enough, a German and a Sardinian site. It includes some of the Riojan slab names. Thanks to Heraus.

Translator’s notes:
[1] Sesenco: must be little bull < zezen (bull) + -(s)ko (diminutive in Aquitanian epigraphy, now –txo or -txu)
[2] Vascones, singular Vasco per Wikipedia (properly sourced). From which modern Spanish and others Vasco (Basque). Typically in Spanish vascon (derived modern Basque baskoi) is used but this does not seem to be correct in Latin, only making sense via Romances, where plural is often made by the addition of -es or -s. However Vascon might have been correct in Vulgar Latin I guess, but still I’m sticking to classical Latin grammar while using English.
[3] See my brief discussion with Heraus on related Aquitanian (Gascon) toponym Calagorris Convenarum at his blog Discover Gascony!
[4] Definitively the advance of Iron Age Urnfields (influenced by Hallstatt) to the Iberian Plateau was through the Upper Ebro: La Rioja mostly and to some extent also Araba and the lowlands of Navarre. This was a crucial step in the eventual Celtization of the Iberian Plateau and Western lands (Lusitania, Gallaecia).