“It is possible that the spinners and weavers were working on the site specifically for the occasion of the ritual banquet, and that the precious textiles they made, along with their tools, were later included in the sacrifice,” Spanish archaeologist Beatriz Marin-Aguilera, lead author of the study that has just been published in Antiquity, explains.
To sacrifice the 50 domestic animals and valuable materials, the building where the celebration was held was burned to the ground.
“The destruction of Casas del Turunuelo represents a significant and costly act that involved large quantities of valuable objects, materials and animals that were not consumed during the banquet,” says the team of researchers from the University of Cambridge and CSIC.
Marin-Aguilera said “the incredible diversity of the textile collection, with fabrics of linen, wool, and spelt mats, had inestimable value for that time, because the quality of the fabrics is very fine”.
The unique combination of the materials found has led experts to conclude that the setting evokes a Phoenician-Punic sacrifice.
“Casas del Turunuelo, located in Guarena (Badajoz, south-west Spain) is the only site in the western Mediterranean that has so far provided proof of the existence of the ritual known as zb?, which means ‘offering’ and ‘sacrifice’”, adds the expert.
During this ceremony the sacrifice of animals, the consumption of food and drinks and the consecration of textiles and precious objects were combined.
The Phoenician people, which spread throughout the Eastern Mediterranean from the Near East, had commercial links with Iberia from the 9th century BC.
“The preservation of textiles is generally very poor, and before this discovery, there were no textile remains dating back to this time in Iberia,” says the Spanish archaeologist.
“The discovery, therefore, provides us with very valuable information about the textiles in the Iberian Peninsula 2,500 years ago and also evidences the existence of ritual sacrifices outside the Graeco-Roman world, which have been excavated to date,” adds Beatriz Marin-Aguilera.
This large two-storey building with adobe walls on stone foundations had a large staircase that led to a room that fulfilled a ritual function and had in its interior an altar in the shape of an ox hide situated in the centre of the room, as well as a long bench along its northern wall.
The sacrifice,” the authors of the study write, “represented an ostentatious relinquishment of the social power that these objects might otherwise have transmitted, and bears witness to the power and control over the resources that this elite had.
After the ritual of the late 5th century BC the site was covered with a mound.