A research team, led by archaeologists Susana de Luis Mariño and Alfonso Fanjul, has located human remains belonging to the Iron Age in a cave in Suarías, within the Asturian council Peñamellera Baja. It is about a femur and two skulls, presumably of women, found next to the panoply – a collection of weapons and armor – of a warrior made up of four iron spears, a dagger sheath and bronze plates from a belt. Also horse bridle beds, a knife, a razor and a brass clasp.
The find could mean an important advance in the knowledge of the funeral rites of the Iron Age in our country. “There are very few human remains from the Iron Age in the entire Cantabrian Sea”, explains Susana de Luis, director of this research and curator of the National Archaeological Museum. “So far we have little information about what the Cantabrians did with the dead because, just as in the rest of the Peninsula we know the cremation necropolises, in the Atlantic area we do not have them,” he adds.
According to her, finding unburned human remains such as these “evidences ritual practices that are almost unknown today”, in addition to the fact that “the analysis of the bones will allow us to obtain very valuable information such as where they came from or what their diet was.”
Fragments of at least six ceramic vessels and a large number of animal bones have also been discovered at the same site, including those belonging to four horses. The weapons and armor coincide with the type of pieces that are usually found in the necropolises of the plateau, “which is why we consider that it may be a burial of an important member of society, although we do not rule out the case of murder and concealment of the body or that of human sacrifice, “he argues.
Less urban development
De Luis is a specialist in the use of caves in the Iron Age in this territory. That is why the archaeologist Alfonso Fanjul and the specialist in archaeological drawing Mariano Luis Serna contacted her when they discovered the site while practicing caving in 2016.
“The deposit is on one of the estates of my in-laws,” explains Mariano Luis Serna, who made the discovery. “I have always heard legends about the cave, the children were scared by telling them that voices came out and the elders believed that souls lived there. I have spent many years dedicating myself to spelunking. I decided to go down and saw a large deposit of bones with ancient appearance I saw pieces of pots that I realized were from the Iron Age. ” Mariano Luis Serna, Alfonso Fanjul and Susana de Luis requested the pertinent permits and presented the project to be able to carry out the archaeological intervention in the cave known as La Cerrosa-Lagaña.
The distribution of the pre-Roman peoples has nothing to do with the present-day regions. “Asturia [en singular] It was almost all of León and part of Zamora, and ancient Cantabria reached from the Sella river to at least the Agüera river, and to the south, the mountains of León, Palencia and a large part of the Burgos mountain “, says Luis Serna This means that the current Asturian territory of the Peñamellera Baja Council was part of Cantabria and, according to Greco-Latin geographers, the people who lived there in the Iron Age were the Orgenomescos.
Serna explains that the main source of information about these peoples is the Greek geographer and historian (Roman nationalized) named Strabo (63 BC – 23 AD). “He says that the northern peoples have a rougher way of life than those of the plateau. With a less developed economy, more subsistence, without generating surpluses and few cereal farmers. Livestock would be their main work. He also wrote that they had no both urban development and other towns “.
Regarding their customs and rituals, Strabo wrote that “they worshiped a God of war, that they celebrated the feasts of the full moon by dancing and drinking, and that they made sacrifices to offer it to God,” in the words of Luis Serna. Estrabón also documented that the northern peoples took the sick out to the roads, to the crossroads, and that “they performed a postpartum rite that he called the covada: it consisted in that when a Cantabrian gave birth, immediately afterwards she joined their tasks, and the man took his place in the bed with the newborn so that in some symbolic way the father would recognize the child “. They spoke the Celtic languages and had a lot of connection and trade with the peoples of Great Britain.
“We are seeing that the use that is given to the Cantabrian caves at this time is, fundamentally, for ritual use. For example, the Cofresnedo cave, in Matienzo (Cantabria), has elements similar to ours”, says Susana from Luis. The two caves are comparable because “the deposits of weapons, ornaments and other prestigious items from the Second Iron Age are linked to human remains from earlier times.” This makes the archaeologist deduce that “the people of the change of Era, in the context of the Cantabrian Wars, therefore in a complex social moment, were able to perform rituals, offerings and ceremonies in the place where their ancestors already did” . The caves, therefore, were considered sacred places.
Between 26 BC and 16 BC the Roman conquest of Cantabria took place. “Archeology is telling us a lot about this war. They were a series of campaigns in which many soldiers intervened and the Empire had to make great efforts to finish conquering the Peninsula,” says Serna, who also indicates that the war was very bloody and that the Romans were defeating castro by castro, the Cantabrian and Asturian fortified towns.
“At the Suarías site we have done what is called a survey, a small excavation. We have documented the site and everything we found. The cave is narrow and dangerous because it has quite a slope, with a drop of about forty meters, so it is spectacular to move around and that is why we were a small team “, says Susana de Luis. “This site offers us the possibility of searching nearby and finding a town. Very, very few castros are known. It may be that through the cemetery, which could be a sacred cave, we can find where those people lived,” says Mariano Luis Serna.