Mass sacrifice of horses and other animals at a Tartessian site

There are hardly any known archaeological sites Iron Age in the Mediterranean with evidence of great Animal sacrifice, and there is a gap between the information provided by written sources and that of the archaeological record. This makes it difficult to clearly understand the guidelines and protocols of this ritual practice, but a new study reveals some keys.

The building’s residents lived around 2,500 years ago Turuñuelo houses (Guareña, Badajoz) performed a unique ritual in the courtyard of this enclave. This archaeological gem of 5th century BC Chr C. was found in 2017 and since then its investigation has led to new discoveries that are changing our knowledge of it Tartessian cultureconsidered by the Greeks to be the first civilization of the West.

Research results have now been published in the journal PLUS ONEled by the Institute of Archeology of Mérida (IAM-CSIC) and the Institut Valencià de Conservació, Restauració i Investigació (IVCR+i), notes that the largest animal sacrifice discovered in the western Mediterranean during the first Iron Age, with 6,770 skeletal remains from 52 animalsis the result of the ritual practices of the last communities of Tartessos.

The bones of 52 animals, especially horses, found at the site of Casas de Turuñuelo (Badajoz) are the result of ritual practices of the last communities of Tarteso

“The results of the zooarchaeological study of the bone remains of these 52 animals and the microstratigraphic analysis show that this mass sacrifice was part of a series of rituals carried out in the last years of the building until its abandonment, when it was deliberately sealed.” End of 5th century BC BC under a hill 90 meters in diameter and six meters high,” they explain. Sebastian Celestino And Esther RodríguezDirectors of excavations and researchers of the IAM, a joint center of the Supreme Council for Scientific Research (CSIC) and the Government of Extremadura.

Horses, bulls, pigs and a dog

Researchers have identified the remains of six Bovinefour PigsA Dog And 41 equids (horses, donkeys and their hybrids), by far the most represented group.

Horses sacrificed on the terrace of the Casas del Turuñuelo (Badajoz). / Construction of Tartessus

Deposited in three phases

The taphonomic (evolution of remains), microstratigraphic and radiocarbon dating tests show that the animals were deposited along the courtyard of the Tartessian enclave three phases.

In the first case, there is evidence that the animals were partially exposed to the elements, as bones altered by the action of scavengers were found. In the In the second and third phases, the skeletons are finished and in anatomical context, suggesting rapid burial.

This terrace was used over several years for various types of sacrificial rituals.

These data suggest that this space was repeatedly used for sacrificial rituals over several years, the practices and purposes of which varied, although not all details are yet known.

“In the final phase, together with the Sacrifice of two horsesThe Remains of a banquet This also included the consumption of beef and pork,” they comment Maria Pilar Iborra And Silvia AlbizuriResearchers from IVCR+i and the Institute of Archeology of the University of Barcelona (IAUB), who co-led the study.

“Although we cannot know for sure whether these are sacrifices made as offerings to the deities or whether they are sacrifices associated with certain festivals or certain rituals – propitiatory rituals – it is true that “The excavations and research we have carried out “provide us with a lot of data to get closer to the functionality of these victims,” Iborra explains to SINC.

We don’t know if these are sacrifices made to the deities or are associated with specific festivals or rituals, but this research provides a lot of data to get us closer to how they work.

Maria Pilar Iborra (IVCR+i)

Importance of the horse in the Iron Age

He comments on the large number of equids found and their significance during the Iron Age: “The Horse It was a symbol of power and social status. Its use was for riding but also for shooting or transport, which is why its consumption was very punctual during the Iron Age. According to classical sources, its symbology is related to the fertility, prosperity, but also with the transition to death. Next to the horse, that Donkeys and mules “They are very valuable animals to Iron Age societies.”

The arrangement of the animal corpses suggests an intention in the exhibition and staging of the victims, according to the researchers.

Burnt plants and sheep wool

In addition to animal remains, this work also includes the discovery of cremated vegetables that may have been part of offerings and items associated with symbolic activities, such as: Sheep tabs.

This type of information provides details about the Ritual protocols at this site, including the deliberate selection of adults rather than juveniles, and the importance of fires as evidenced by the presence of burned plants and animals.

Overall, Casas del Turuñuelo presents Unique features compared to other sites, such as the great abundance of sacrificed horses, and this study represents a step forward in efforts to contextualize ritual animal sacrifices across Europe during the Iron Age.

Build Tartessus

Building Tarteso is a project of the State Research Agency within the State R&D&I Plan of the Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities. Its main objective is to characterize Tartessa’s material culture through the architectural analysis of the large adobe buildings excavated in recent decades.

The Construyendo Tarteso team, which began its first excavation campaign at the Casas del Turuñuelo site in Las Vegas Altas del Guadiana in 2015, completed the V excavation campaign last June. In this campaign, the work was concentrated on the eastern part of the site, where the existence of a large room was discovered where, among other things, it was possible to recover a batch of ivory of Etruscan origin and the remains of the first reliefs .figurative figures of Tartessus. The good state of preservation of this building makes it the best preserved in the Western Mediterranean, which makes it possible to characterize construction techniques and architectural solutions that have not yet been documented in any Tartessian site.


Mª Pilar Iborra Eres, Sebastián Celestino Pérez et al. “Mass animal sacrifice at Casas del Turuñuelo (Guareña, Spain): a unique Tartessian (Iron Age) site in the southwest of the Iberian Peninsula.” PLUS ONE2023

This work was carried out within the framework of two research projects: on the one hand, the “Building Tarteso 2.0” project developed within the framework of the National Research and Development Plan and, on the other hand, the “Study on the animal disaster of the Casas del Turuñuelo site (Guareña, Badajoz) within the framework of the regional research plan of the Government of Extremadura. It was also supported by the Palarq Foundation.

The results are the result of the interdisciplinary work of Spanish and foreign researchers from the IAM, the IVCR+i, the IAUB, the University of Jaén, the Center d’Anthropobiologie et de Génomique de Toulouse, the Université Paul Sabatier and the Mixed Center (under the Complutense -University of Madrid and the Carlos III Health Institute) of Human Evolution and Behavior, the University of Córdoba, the University of Lleida, the Institució Milà i Fontanals (IMF-CSIC) and the University of Extremadura.

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