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Site of Ancient Mass Animal Sacrifices Discovered in Spain

Archaeological excavation at Casas del Turuñuelo revealing mass animal sacrifices
Archaeological excavation at Casas del Turuñuelo reveals ancient mass animal sacrifices. Credit: Construyendo Tarteso / CC BY 4.0

Large-scale animal feasts and ceremonies were held during mass animal sacrifices at the ancient site known as Casas del Turuñuelo, according to an investigation published in the PLOS ONE journal.

Casas del Turuñuelo is an ancient site linked to the Tartessos culture. This culture developed from local groups that evolved during the Bronze Age in the southwestern part of the Iberian Peninsula.

Details of the sacrifice

The research analyzed and dated 6,770 bones from fifty-two animals used in sacrifices. These included many more mature horses, as well as cattle, pigs, and a single dog.

The sacrifices took place in three stages. In the beginning, most of the skeletons were whole and unaltered. As things progressed, especially in the third phase, the skeletons—all but the horses—were processed. This hints at the possibility of a meal during this later phase.

The sacrifices were discovered in a structure dating back to the late fifth century BC. At that time, the building was deliberately destroyed, and both the building and the sacrificed animals were buried under a tumulus that stood six meters tall.

This study helps us comprehend the order in which the animal sacrifices occurred and the rules followed in ceremonies that included festive banquets. The unique features associated with the sealing off of this structure under a burial mound offer clues as to the decline of the Tartessian culture.

Repeated use of the area for sacrificial rituals

The researchers suggest that these discoveries reveal the repeated use of this area for various sacrificial rituals over the years. They also point out the intentional choice of more mature animals.

What makes Casas del Turuñuelo stand out is its remarkably large number of sacrificed horses. This adds valuable insights to our comprehension of animal sacrifices in rituals during the Iron Age in Europe.

The researchers highlighted the importance of their study, maintaining that “this investigation emphasizes the role of mass animal sacrifices within Iron Age European societies. Through zooarchaeological, taphonomic, and microstratigraphic analyses, it illuminates the practices of animal sacrifice and Tartessian ritual behavior at Casas del Turuñuelo (Badajoz, Spain).”

Different types of rituals performed

The various episodes were definitively connected to a range of ritual activities, including the ongoing display of sacrifices, which were distinctive with few comparisons. Additionally, the abundant presence of burned barley ears and specific animals suggests that fire played a significant role in the rituals.

Despite certain types of animals being sacrificed during this phase, others evidently display signs of consumption by humans. This suggests the possibility of a meal or banquet associated with the event prior to placing the animals in the courtyard as symbols of the occasion.

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