In the middle of the Bronze Age, sometime between 2100 and 1500 BC, a group of settlers took up residence on a craggy hill outside what is now the village of Garcinarro, in Spain’s Cuenca province. Around 400 BC, they were sent packing by the Iberians, who in turn were swept aside by the Romans; and they, by the Visigoths. But instead of destroying the evidence of the culture that preceded them, each of these distinct peoples simply built on top of it.
The gallery became a popular place to keep sheep in recent times
As a result, as experts point out, this eight-hectare archeological site known as La Cava is “a series of time capsules.” When archeologists opened it, they found the largest Iberian building known to date, complete with three rooms more than three meters high.
“There’s nothing like it that we know of, but we’re still investigating,” says Miguel Ángel Valero, professor of ancient history at the University of Castilla-La Mancha. “What we usually find in these kinds of digs are the remains of walls made of stone or adobe, which every now and again rise above a meter high.”
Mar Juzgado, an archeologist on Valero’s team, adds, “We don’t know what we are going to find at this site, because there is nothing similar to compare it with.”
At the start of this decade, the mayor of Garcinarro at the time, Antonio Fernández Odene, was convinced there was an archeological treasure to be found on the outskirts of town, and he badgered the authorities about it. His words fell on deaf ears, however, until Valero noticed something odd on the archeological map – a secret document signaling possible digs in an area. Archeologists started working here in 2014, and Valero was rewarded with evidence of a mishmash of cultures that had settled strategically at a central spot for north-south communications in the peninsula, up on a cliff more than 60 meters high.
Besides a “unique building” that measures 70 square meters, the complex includes the remains of a Bronze Age settlement, a rampart from that period whose height is yet to be established, and an area covered with hundreds of small holes on a rocky surface, which could have been made for decorative or spiritual purposes. There is also a 70-meter long gallery, which is seven meters deep, dug out of the rock by the pre-Roman settlers, and dozens of coves, which would have been occupied by hermits during the Visigoth era.
While the archeologists are still unable to establish the use of the unique building itself, there are a number of theories, one of which is that it served as a temple; another, that it was a space for storage and product handling.
One of the building’s three rooms is itself divided into two areas. The middle room is accessed by a door made from rock that would have had a lintel, while its southern wall had a large recess more than a meter high. It is possible that the lintel was punctuated by holes to allow the sun rays to shine on the alcove, where the Iberians may have placed a divinity figure.
What is surprising is that the sun would only touch this point at the end of the month of August – some time away from the summer and winter solstices, which would set it apart from all other known sundials. “It’s a mystery because the end of August does not coincide with any agricultural season,” says Valero. “Why would they want to mark this date?”
It is possible that some kind of earthquake led to the lintel falling over the cliff that protects the building on the north side, but the archeologists are confident they will find it. The rooms are lined with wall recesses and basins, and on the floors it is still possible to detect evidence of hearths and even the imprints of tables. Archeologists have also come across ceramics, brooches and tools such as hammers and picks from the Iberian era, fragments of terra sigillata tableware from the Roman era, and metal pieces from the Visigoths.
The archeological treasures from all these periods have survived thanks to the use that shepherds made of the site for their sheep. The mysterious 70-meter gallery, for example, was a decent place to keep dozens of animals. And these animals, with their waste, helped to conserve the remains that the Iberians, Romans and Visigoths had left over a period of 25 centuries.
English version by Heather Galloway.