Spanish Bronze Age bling upends archaeological assumptions

A 3,000-year-old funerary stone slab found in southwest Spain has challenged longstanding interpretations of gender and social roles in ancient societies.

Such funerary stones, called “stelae”, are common in ancient cultures around the world including in Egypt and Central America. They often served as gravestones, with surfaces decorated with engravings, text and paint. They are believed to depict important individuals.

The slab was found in the burial complex of Las Capellanías, in Cañaveral de León. It includes an engraving of a human figure with detailed face, hands and feet. Adorned on the person are a headdress, necklace and two swords.

It was uncovered by a team co-directed by the Durham University archaeologist Dr Marta Diaz-Guardamino.

Previously, stelae depicting a headdress and necklace would be assumed to be representing a female. The inclusion of weaponry such as swords would have been interpreted as depicting a male “warrior” stela.

The human engraved on the surface of the Spanish funerary stone has male genitals.

It suggests that the prehistoric social and gender roles depicted in the carvings are not as black and white as previously thought.

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