Around 2,500 years ago, close to what is known today as the municipality of Guareña in Spain’s Badajoz province, locals gathered in an enormous two-story building for a banquet and a ritual ceremony in which they sacrificed dozens of valuable animals. Afterwards, they burned the building and buried the remains before abandoning the site.

The Guadiana River that flows through Guareña close to the Turuñuelo dig. 

The Guadiana River that flows through Guareña close to the Turuñuelo dig.  CARLOS CARCAS

Frozen in time thanks to the mix of ashes and clay that has protected it down the ages, this building and what happened in it before it was destroyed could provide the key to understanding the late Tartessos period. It may also help to explode some of the myths concerning Hercules and King Arganthonios and this great civilization that flourished in the southwest of the Iberian Peninsula by trading with the Phoenicians from the 9th to the 5th centuries BCE. The people of Tartessos are known to have been both rich and clever, so much so that they impressed Greek historians. Their civilization lasted approximately five centuries but its decadent end has long been shrouded in mystery.

The Tartessos mystery slowly comes to light

“There is still a lot of analysis to be done and a lot of buildings to unearth,” say Sebastián Celestino and Esther Rodríguez, archaeologists from the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) in charge of the Turuñuelo dig that began in 2015. “We’ve scarcely excavated 10 percent.” The remains of 22 sacrificed horses, three cows, two pigs, two sheep and one donkey not only amount to an extraordinary discovery– the biggest example of animal carnage in the entire Mediterranean to date– they also offer new insight into what happened there.

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