Eastern Mediterranean influence and possible Colonization of Prehistoric Iberia

The main problem to evaluate the real knowledge of the Mycenaean contacts with Iberian Peninsula is the few excavations with levels of the Late Bronze Age IC and II, 1425-1150 BC. However, Atlantic Iberia was the tin producing region closest to the Mediterranean by sea routes. Still the only sure Mycenaean pottery imports came from Llanete de los Moros (Montoro, Córdoba), LH IIIA1, 1390-1360 BC, contemporary to LBA IC, 1425-1325 BC, but other settlements also present storage wheel made pithoi. The main source to evaluate these contacts is the iconography of the SW stelae during the LBA II, which show two wheeled chariots, mirrors or lyres. The rapid acceptance and extreme abundance of the Mycenaean and Sardinian bronze mirrors in South Iberia is an important step to evaluate these Mycenaean contacts.


The chronological sequence of the Iberian Final Bronze Age

The Late Bronze Age IA-IC, 1625-1325 BC, on the contrary to the Early and Middle Bronze Age,2275-1625 BC, which corresponds to the Culture of El Argar in the Southeast of the Iberian Peninsula, is characterized by the disappearance of funerary rituals within the settlements, with burials within cists, urns, or pits. Secondly, there is a drastic change in domestic ceramic ware, with the presence of decorated Cogotas I type ceramics, which originate from the Central Plateau, breaking the tradition of non-decorated ceramics with a metallic polish, characteristic of the Early and Middle Bronze Age. Finally, there is a reintroduction of a preference for open vessels, carinated bowls, more appropriate for communal meals, different to a majority of closed vessels with a central or low carination that characterized the Earlyand Middle Bronze Age.

This period presents a transitional phase, the Late Bronze Age IA, 1625-1525 BC, where it seems that some funerary rituals within the settlements seem to continue, which has lead different specialists ofthe Argar Culture to prolong its final phases until 1550 BC, postulating the existence of an Argar III between 1750 and 1550 BC, reaching the end of this culture ca. 1550/1500 BC. Other authors prolong its existence up to 1300 BC, with the Argar 3 beginning in 1550 BC.

Nonetheless, regarding the settlements of Cuesta del Negro (Granada) or Cerro de la Virgen (Granada) are occupied until 1410/1400 BC. In any case, towards 1550/1525 BC there is an abandonment of these settlements, being considered an abrupt ending to this culture.

It will not be until the Late Bronze IC, 1425-1325 BC, that the first Atlantic elements are introduced into the Iberian Peninsula, such as the Rosnoën type swords, intended for the Iberian elites of the Mediterranean area of the Peninsula.

The Late Bronze Age II is characterized by the rise of the Atlantic region of the Iberian Peninsula, linked to a larger exploitation of fluvial tin, in other words, cassiterite. This period is divided into a LateBronze Age IIA, 1325-1225 BC, with the presence of Monza, Rosnoën and Rixheim type swords, and the Late Bronze Age IIB, 1225-1150 BC, characterized by the production of the first pistiliform swords. The last phase, Late Bronze Age IIC, 1150-150 BC, or Baiões phase, entailed the start of a period characterized by an increase in the production of metallic objects, especially throughout the Portuguese coast line, as well as the consolidation of certain settlements such as Baiões, Santa Luzia or Monte do Trigo.


The arrival of adult pithoi type burials to the Iberian Peninsula ca. 1950 BC

During the last quarter of the third millennium BC, there is going to be a transition from large collective burials in the outskirts of the settlements, to burials within the settlements, inside the households, in individual containers, such as pits, cists, or pithoi, and in occasions associated to very rich grave goods. This change in funerary rituals is indicative of a larger social inequality within and among large families, reinforcing property rights of the living based on the link to past relatives of the same linage, buried within the domestic household.This new funerary ritual expanded almost simultaneously throughout different regions of the Eastern Mediterranean basin such as Lebanon, Syria, Anatolia, Greece or Crete, and exceptionally in the Western Mediterranean in the Southeast of the Iberian Peninsula during the beginning to the second millennium BC, restricted to certain groups of the population with the right to be buried within the settlement.

Pithoi or urn burials reached the Iberian Peninsula by means of either contacts with the Levant, or by contacts with the Aegean region, towards 1940 BC, according to tomb 1 of Ifre (Murcia), where an adult between 18 and 25 years of age was buried, OxA-5049 ca. 1939 BC, confirmed by OxA-4475, and tomb 28 of Gatas, with a 6 to 9 year old boy, ca. 1910 BC.

The arrival of this new funerary trend to the Iberian Southeast suggests the existence of regular contacts with the Eastern Mediterranean, whose emulation granted prestige to the social groups that practiced them.

Another clear sign of the existence of contacts with the Eastern Mediterranean is the presence of ivory belonging to Asian elephants, presumably having arrived from Levant, in Argaric settlements suchas El Argar or Gatas (Almeria).

Contacts with the East Mediterranean in a more advanced phase suggests the introduction and use of ceramic chalices in the burials. According to the data recovered from the tombs of Gatas and El Oficio, the dates that have been indicated are ca. 1750, 1660, 1648 and 1530 BC, though the beginning is retracted to 1800 BC, though it could be set even further back if we took into account the stratigraphy of Fuente Álamo. This implied the consumption of wine in high-foot chalices and possibly a larger importance of fraternization and hospitality banquets.

Another relevant aspect is the recent discovery of decorated whitewashed walls with geometric motifs in domestic spaces in the settlement of La Almoloya (Murcia), practice that was also existed during the Middle Minoan Period in Crete.


The Middle and Late Bronze Age I in the Southwest, 1825-1425 BC

Towards 1825 BC, with all certainty, a new period is being developed in the Southwest of the Iberian Peninsula, from Alentejo and Algarve in Portugal to Huelva and Seville in Western Andalusia, a period characterized by necropolis with cist burials outside of the settlements, different form the Argaric group of the Iberian Southeast, where cists are located within the settlements. This period continues throughout the Late Bronze Age IA-IB, between 1625-1425 BC.

Within this group, the best example of external contacts is the burial of Belmeque (Serpa, Portugal), an artificial cave excavated within the rock, and the richest among the whole Southwest Bronze of the Iberian Peninsula, ICEN-142 3230±60 BP, 1680 (1516) 1397 AC. The burial presents ceramic gravegoods with vertical grooves, 2 daggers with silver rivets, a bronze knife with 13.8% tin, 4 gold rivets, its back being covered with a thin sheet of gold and, finally, 9 silver rivets, possibly belonging to 2 belts.

The knife corresponds to an Aegean model, for sacrificial rituals, though it may not have been necessarily imported. The best parallel is a knife from tomb 52 of the necropolis of Prosymna, located on the slope of the sanctuary dedicated to Hera in Argos, the Heraeum, belonging to the LH I, 1625-1500 BC. The rivets of the knife have a composition of between 70-75% gold and 25-30% “white” gold or electro, present in Hartmann’s groups A3 and A3C, who’s best representations are found in the ditch burials of Mycenae during the Middle Helladic III-LH I.

Another aspect worth highlighting is that the back of the knife was possibly decorated with gold plating, an exceptional case within copper/bronze weapons and tools of the Iberian Peninsula, and who has its best parallels in the Shaft Graves of circles A and B of Mycenae, on the lateral side of a handle of a 30 cm long dagger belonging to the Middle Helladic III-LH I, and at the Tholos of Vapheio in Laconia, belonging to the Middle Helladic III-LH IIA, 1675-1450 BC.


Alentejo Stelae of the Late Bronze Age I, 1625-1325 BC

The high relief stelae of the Late Bronze Age I, technique also used in the 3 stone stelae for the burial of Shaft Grave V in Mycenae, are mainly located in the region of Alentejo (Portugal). Nevertheless, there are some examples from the Algarve, such as the stelae of Alfarrobeira and Marmelete(Faro), Defensa in the Portuguese Extremadura, Corgas (Castelo Branco) in the inner Beira, Valencia de Alcantara (Cáceres) in Extemadura, or El Toscal (Córdoba) in Central Andalusia.

The chronology of these stelae has only been studied in detail by Díaz-Guardamino, who proposes their appearance to be ca. 2000 BC, during the Early Bronze Age, with the existence of only one motif of a sword or anchor-shaped frontal guard.

We think that the appearance of the stelae around the year 2000 BC is too old due to the fact that the swords respond to certain types that are characteristic of the Middle Bronze Age, since certain longswords are documented within the Argaric group since 1750 BC, and continue throughout the Late Bronze Age I.

The paradigmatic example is the sword from Guadalajara that preserves its gold knob, the same as the burial form ditch V of the funerary circle A of Mycenae, dated to the Final Helladic I, and that appears form 1800 BC in Mallia (Crete) during the Middle Minoan period. The shoulder belt that holds the sword is also represented, as can also be seen in the burials of Shaft Graves IV and V of funerary circle A in Mycenae.


The first Mycenaean ceramics from the Late Helladic III

The presence of Mycenaean ceramics in the Iberian Peninsula began to appear towards the beginning of the XIVth century BC, contemporary to the LH IIIA1 in Greece, ca. 1390-1270/60, or the Late Bronze Age IC, 1425-1325 C, in the Iberian Peninsula, moment to which the ceramic sherds from Llanete de los Moros (Montoro, Cordoba) belong to, and identified by Mountjoy as belonging to the LHIIIA1.

These Mycenaean ceramics were discovered in 1985 at the settlement of Llanete de los Moros (Montoro, Cordoba), and identified in 1987 during the IX International Conference of the International Union of Prehistoric Sciences by Podzuweit and Mommsen in Mainz.

An analysis by means of Atomic Absorption Spectroscopy (AAS) of both ceramic fragments indicated that they belonged to the workshop of Mycenae-Berbati, in the Argolid (Greece).

The scarce evidence of ceramics in the Western Mediterranean has been interpreted as the result of a marginal exploratory trading system in search of new resources, or as a result of indirect trade of the Iberian Peninsula with the Central Mediterranean, specially Sardinia, and not directly with continental Greece.

From our point of view, the safest option would be the LH IIIA2-IIIB1, a moment of expansion of the Mycenaean trading network that would have reached the Atlantic, and would have presumably entered the Guadalquivir River with small ships.

On the other hand, we have emphasized that since the LH IIIB, 1325-1185 BC, Cypriots were very important in the trading routs with Sicily and Sardinia, who could have also accessed the Iberian Peninsula, coinciding with the peak of Cypriot imports in the Aegean, which would allow them to redistribute Mycenaean ceramics not only in the Eastern Mediterranean, but also in the Central Mediterranean, with the possible participation of ships and crewmen from Ugarit, whom intensified their contacts with the Iberian Peninsula during the Late Bronze Age IIB, 1225-1150 BC.

In 1997, a new painted ceramic fragment was located within structure 6529 from the Late Bronze Age at the site of La Indiana-Cacera del Valle (Pinto, Madrid), some 20 km South of Madrid, associated to a large set of Cogotas I type ceramics. It belongs to a closed vessel, who’s only preserved decorated motif corresponds to a wavy line, motif Furumark FM53. This ceramic fragment seems to correspond with certain features of the Initial LH IIIC1, ca. 1190-1150 BC, or the Late Bronze Age IIB, ca. 1225-1150BC in the Iberian Peninsula.


Wheel made Pithoi

Another sign of Mediterranean contacts is the relatively frequent discovery of large storage vessels in levels belonging to the Late Bronze Age in the South of the Iberian Peninsula. The first discovery, corresponding to the Final Bronze age IC, 1425.1325, is located in Cuesta del Negro (Purullena,Granada). It is a complete, wheel made vessel with no decoration, accompanied by other fragments, from phase II, level VI/south. It was dated to GrN-7285 3160±35 BP 1517 (1429) 1321 BC, with wheat seeds located within the pithos, located in a room of a burnt down household. Ruiz-Gálvez believes that these pithoi would have a larger existence and could also be dated to the XIIIth century BC.

The continuity of theses contacts throughout the Late Bronze Age is evident thanks to the wheel made ceramics from Llanete de los Moros (Montoro, Cordoba), since fragments have been documented throughout its whole sequence.

Based on the data that has been published we can partially rebuild the distribution of different imports. They appear since the end of the Middle Bronze Age, though the dated samples belong to the XIVth century BC, 1371-1317 BC, to the XIIIth century, 1289-1262 BC, to theXIIth century, 1256-1134 BC, and to the XIth century, 1106-1050 BC. The distribution of these elements throughout four centuries suggests the need for an individualized study and analysis of each element, and not a generic global one.


Mediterranean iconography of the Stelae of the Southwest, 1325-1150 BC

In the Southwest of the Iberian Peninsula, during the Late Bronze Age IIA, 1225-1225 BC, there was an abandonment of the Alentejo type stelae with high relief motifs that ended up being substituted by stelae with engraved motives or cut away in intaglio, with the exception of the stelae of Baraçal (Guarda,Portugal), that still uses the high relief technique. This phenomenon extends from the Beira Alta in Portugal to Cordoba in Central Andalusia. These new productions present a new iconographic model, composed of three elements: a spear, a V-notched shield and a Rosnoën or pistiliform sword.

The most significant aspect of these stelae is that the shield is resented in the center, acting as the main symbol of the warrior, replacing the sword as the main central element that had characterized the stelae of the Late Bronze Age I. The circular shields, in occasions with a V-notch, appear in Greece during the LH IIIB1, 1325-1225 BC. The best example is a fresco from the Palace of Pylos, depicting a hunting scene, in which one of the hunters is holding a circular shield and a small spear. Another example is a krater from Tirinte, belonging to the LH IIIB2, where a series of anthropomorphic birds are carrying a small circular shield with rivets and a spear.

Advanced the Late Bronze Age IIA, the first mirrors must have been introduced, being added to the tripartite iconography of the stelae, as appear on the stelae of San Martín de Trevejo (Caceres) or Robleda (Salamanca), and are already present during phase II of the stelae of the Southwest, 1225-1150BC, when the two wheel light chariots, the asymmetric arch fibulae and ivory or bone combs are introduced as new elements.

Of all these elements, the two-wheeled light chariots are the most interesting due to the presence of two horses, two wheels with 4 four radiuses, the axis in a central position under the box and, finally, due to the shape of the box itself, semi-circular with a curved front and rear handles, all of which are characteristics of Mycenaean chariots, in particular those belonging to the LH IIIA2-IIIB, ca. 1365-1185 BC, since rear handles almost completely disappeared during the LH IIIC.

Its popularization in the interior of the Iberian Peninsula must have been produced by means of the distribution of Mycenaean painted wine kraters throughout the South of the Peninsula, where the chariot is one of the most predominant elements.


The painted wine kraters for banquets were produced in Greece for exportation during the LHIIIA-IIIB, mainly for Cyprus and the Levant coast, especially for large ports such as Ugarit (50%), Alalakh(9%), Byblos (5%) and Tell Abu Hawan (8%). The most represented motif on these large kraters, where wine and water were mixed, are chariots, amounting to 40% of the representations.

Furthermore, the high amount of painted Mycenaean kraters with chariot scenes in tombs from Cyprus is also worth highlighting, since this does not happen in Ugarit, Crete or Greece, seemingly indicating a high social value during funerary rituals. This suggests that the fashion for representing chariots was brought to the Iberian Peninsula by Cypriot merchants and crewmen.

Regarding the bronze mirrors, though they clearly originate in the Eastern Mediterranean, they are also produced in the Central Mediterranean area, such as in Sardinia.

On the other hand, it is possible that they were imitated in the Iberian Peninsula, if we accept the identification of a possible mirror handle with three circular thickenings for a better grip located in Azenha de Misericordia (Beja, Portugal).


Regarding lyres, we have already stated that the best parallel for the Iberian lyres, which is best represented in the Luna stela (Zaragoza), is the lyre represented on the pyxis of tomb 1 from Kalami with 7 strings, which Tzedakis dates to the LM IIIB, 1340-1185 BC, but could also correspond to an advanced phase of the LM IIIB.

Due to the strong contrast between the small percentages of Mycenaean ceramics in comparison to the large amount of Aegean and Central Mediterranean imports, as suggested by the iconography of the stelae, there has been an increasing amount of Spanish researchers for whom chariots, as well as the mirrors, the lyres, etc, would have never physically existed in the Iberian Peninsula until the appearance of first Orientalizing tombs during the VIIth century BC, an idea we do not share, since we think that there was a higher demand of luxury items than there was for ceramics. In any case, when more excavations belonging to the Late Bronze Age sites of the Iberian Peninsula are carried out, new Mycenaean ceramics will continue appearing.

[Source: “The Mycenaean contacts with the Iberian Peninsula during the Late Bronze Age (1625-1150 BC)”, by Alfredo Mederos Martin]


The Chronology Controversy

Through examining the iconographies, scholars have proposed different theories regarding the first regular contacts with the eastern Mediterranean world. Lyres in particular continue to be a subject for debate, as scholars interpret their origin depending on their particular view of the Spanish precolonial and colonial world, making iconographical comparisons with other Mediterranean lyres in order to support their previous conceptions of the precolonization and colonization of the far West. These procrustean approaches, though very tempting, have neglected the fact that musical instruments, as reflections of musical practices, need to be analysed through a specific prism. The main theories of the origin of the lyres are:

Precolonization of Aegean Origin: 14 th Century B.C.

This hypothesis is based on the round bases and the large number of strings on Minoan and Mycenean depictions. Nevertheless, the possibility of Mycenaean contacts in the Iberian Peninsula is a very controversial subject, based on very few findings that are hard to identify and cannot provide enough information to completely clarify the question.

The Iberian Peninsula lyres were compared to Minoan and Mycenean chordophones (a few examples relating to Crete: the Hagia Triada sarcophagus and fresco, Thera, Pylos palace, the lyre of Chania etc.). However, even if these depictions are the first to show round base lyres, it does not necessarily mean that they arrived in the Iberia Peninsula in such early times. This theory also points out how 8th century B.C. Greek lyres had fewer strings, as an argument to reinforce the higher chronology of the lyre depictions of Iberian stelae. However, the assumption of a decrease in the number of strings of 8th century B.C. lyres is based on schematic depictions of lyres on Greek geometric pottery, which are not definitive evidence of an actual reduction in the number of strings. Besides, the use of the Chania lyre as a determining parallel due to the appearance of a bridge holding the strings to the box (as in the Luna example) can be confronted with a fragment of a geometric skyphos from Eretria that displays a lyre. This chordophone also greatly resembles the Luna example, not only in shape, but also in the presence of a bridge.

Precolonization by Independent West Semitic or Cypriot Merchants: 12 th–10 th Centuries B.C.

These eastern merchants could have opened up a route that could explain why Phoenician colonization was so fast and effective. They would have also introduced Mediterranean goods such as the lyres. The main problem with this theory is that evidence of round base lyres of Aegean origin appears in Cyprus and Syro-Anatolia in later chronologies. Nevertheless, the lyres on the Kaloriziki amphora and on the kalathos of Palaepaphos could be a proof of the existence of Aegean round base lyres in Cyprus during the Cypro-Geometric I period.


Central-European Lyres Arriving with the Urnfield Culture

This is the result of rough analogies with Hall-statt lyres of the 7th century B.C. and early medieval examples. This is the most unlikely of the theories considering Iberian Prehistory: the UrnField Culture arrived in Catalonia during the 11th to 10th centuries B.C., but the examples offered to support this theory are from the 7th century B.C. Besides, there is no connection between these urnfield peoples and the panoply shown on the stelae. Álvarez also erroneously suggests that Mediterranean lyres appear only in festivity contexts and not in funerary ones, in comparison with central-European lyres.

Greek Colonization

These lyres are related to the late geometric pottery depictions of phorminx of the 8th century B.C. That could prove the arrival of Rhodian people on the peninsula before the 7th century B.C. This theory disregards the fact that Greek pottery found before that time appears very scantily in Ibero-Phoenician settlements, and it is mainly based on the assumption that the lyre player group of seals is of Rhodian origin.

Phoenician Colonization from the 9th Century B.C., the Lyres Belonging to Phoenician Funerary Practices

Besides, the most recent literature supports the idea that the stelae showing a greater number of Mediterranean objects are from the 9th and 8th centuriesB.C.

Indigenous rituals would coexist with Phoenician ones during this century and then disappear together with the stelae, as these people adopted Semitic ritual practices. This last chronological proposal is better sustained; not only by analogies, but also by the only two primary contexts we have for the stelae. Phoenician merchants would have introduced the lyre, which was adopted by the indigenous populations. Nevertheless, the idea of Phoenicians bringing with them round base lyres instead of Oriental flat base ones is still problematic.

(Source: “The Lyres of the Far West: Chordophones on the Bronze Age Warrior Stelae of the Southwest of the Iberian Peninsula”, by Raquel Jiménez Pasalodos)


At least from the end of the 2nd millennium BC onwards, the Iberian Peninsula was the setting for a wide range of intercultural contacts largely arising from its geographical position. In fact, the complex network of cultural relations and interchanges established between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic regions during the Late Bronze Age has been very well documented by a significant group of archaeological finds in the territories bordered by the two seas. This contact necessarily took place in the geographical area studied in this paper, enabling us to highlight the role played by both the Mediterranean and the Atlantic communities (the latter being responsible for the so-called Atlantic market). In this concrete case, as in many others, everything depends on the view that each researcher has of the world. It is in such a context, therefore, that many of the materials belonging to the inventories of Peninsular Bronze Age sites – both the materials that originated in this region, and those that had an exogenous inspiration – should be viewed, especially those dating from the 12th to the 9th century BC.

Older remains, from the 15th to the 12th century BC, can be explained by another set of circumstances, belonging to what Marazzi refers to as »the movement to the Far West« of Mycenaean contacts.

From the 9th century BC onwards, the establishment of groups of eastern people in the Iberian Peninsula, particularly in Eastern Andalusia, but also in the southwest and along the Atlantic coast, resulted in the foundation of colonies, transforming these territories into areas of colonial encounters, and leading to the formation of continuing relations between geographically and historically separate communities. As we shall see, this is a phenomenon that, without any preconceptions, can be referred to as a colonization, since it was only the supposed superiority of the Greek over the Phoenician world that determined that the former should be afforded the exclusive prerogative of having exercised effective colonial control. In this case, we understand colonization to be »the presence of one or more groups of foreign people [the colonizers] in a region at some distance from their own place of origin and asymmetrical socio-economic relationships between the colonizing and colonized groups – inequality, in a single word,« regardless of the fact that we know that since the 1990s, there has been a »gradual recognition of indigenous involvement in colonialism, which is a development that was obviously closely related to the fact that scholars were increasingly becoming aware of the colonialist nature of academic (and other) representations of ancient Greek colonialism in the Mediterranean«.

The first contact

The Mycenaean pottery from Cordoba, more precisely from Llanete de los Moros, is evidence of a movement westwards, relatively well documented in Sardinia, that Mycenae achieved after establishing successful contacts in Italy, both in the Italian Peninsula and in Sicily, during the Recent Helladic. Associated with decorated pottery of the Cogotas I type, the two ceramic fragments are difficult to classify in formal terms (a krater? a bowl?), even though laboratory analyses have established that they originated from the workshops of Mycenae – Berbati in the Argolid.

A chronology between the 14th and 13th century BC allows us to place them in late LH IIIA / early LH IIIB. Other sherds of wheel-made pottery were also found at the site, albeit at slightly later levels, which radiocarbon analysis has made possible to place in a time period between the late 13th century and the early 10th century.

They belong to tripods, and possibly to pithoi, but their Mycenaean origin has been discarded as a possibility, although it has been proven that they were made at the same production center, possibly in Cyprus, as the pots that were found at Cuesta del Negro (Purullena, Granada). At this last site, a Pythian krater and fragments of tripods were unearthed in strata whose C14 dating made it possible to attribute them with a chronology of around the 14th century. These layers also provided us with pottery displaying a decoration of the Cogotas I type.

At the formal level, the krater is finely matched by discoveries at Komos, where an identical piece was placed in LM IIIA2 and identified as being Cypriot, as well as at Uluburun, a shipwreck dated as having taken place in the 14th-13th century, and therefore placed in LH IIIA2. Identical fragments were also found at Gatas, Almería, and X-ray fluorescence analysis performed on pieces from the three sites (Llanete de los Moros, Cuesta del Negro, and Gatas) confirmed that they all have the same origin.

Under the same umbrella, we can place some personal adornments and decorative artefacts, namely vitreous paste necklace beads, especially the segmented ones, both those found in the northeast, and those found in the southeast.

A number of other artefacts are, however, much more difficult to classify, since most of them lack a specific context. Nonetheless, these have also tended to be considered as part of the same process. The cylinder seal from Velez Málaga was attributed at first to a Syrian workshop and then later to another workshop located in Cyprus or Ugarit.

Its chronology, calculated through the iconographic parallels technique, has been situated between the 15th and 12th century, but the possibility has not been discarded that it may be related to the Phoenician colonial movement of the 1st millennium. The same can be said about the poppy-shaped pendants and the cornaline necklace beads from various Andalusian sites (among others: Cerro de Córdoba, Los Castilejos, Pocito Chico), for which attempts have been made to attribute a chronology within the limits of this ancient phase and an eastern origin, taking into consideration the parallels from Egypt, Cyprus and Mycenaean Greece, from the 16th to the 12th century.

However, the absence of a specific context may justify their being ascribed to later phases, including the possibility that they already date from the Iron Age, as has been convincingly argued by Torres Ortiz.

An eastern, and similarly Mycenaean origin, has also been proposed for the small curved blade bronze knives, which would bring the present-day Portuguese territory into the equation, since one of these knives (in this case with electrum rivets) appeared in the small hypogeum of Belmeque, for which a chronology of the 15th century BC has been obtained through radiocarbon dating.

This movement would also extend to the northwest, more precisely to Galicia, in view of the example found at Castro da Lanzada, in Pontevedra.

The size of the sample that allows us to interpret the relationship between the Mediterranean and the Iberian Peninsula during the Late Helladic is, as we have seen, very small, so that it does not seem possible to admit the possibility that eastern populations (Mycenaean or Cypriot) established themselves here locally, as may have happened in Sardinia and in the south of the Italian Peninsula.

In any case, the existence of both Atlantic tin and gold may have justified the westward spread of Mediterranean trading circuits, although it seems certain that the impact of this process on the local population was very limited, not only as far as the adoption of new technologies is concerned, but also in terms of the actual social and economic structure of the indigenous groups. Everything points to the collapse of the Mycenaean palatial world as being the explanation for the decline in Mediterranean remains in the Iberian Peninsula from the end of the 12th century onwards, just as was the case in the central Mediterranean area, where imports of Mycenaean pottery began to be a rarity after LH IIIC, coming to a complete halt in the 11th century. Even so, axes with lateral loops, found in great abundance in Sicily, Niscemi, and Nota Antica, might also be linked to the last Mycenaean voyages to the Far West, taking place, as Torres Ortiz maintains, during LH IIIC, but there is little documentary evidence of these in Cyprus, even though they have been found in abundance in Greece and the Aegean.

(Source: “Intercultural Contacts in the Far West at the Beginning of the 1st millennium BC: through the Looking-Glass”, by Ana Margarida Arruda)


In the last three decades the intensification of Iberian Bronze Age research projects showed definitely how Bronze Age cultures in Iberia emerged independently. Moreover, a considerable part of the scholars gradually admitted the existence of real influences and interactive contacts with the Eastern and Central Mediterranean and worked towards interpreting them, especially the stage of the contacts during the Iberian late prehistory, between the end of the 2nd and the beginning of the 1st millennium BC, known as precolonization.

On the Iberian mainland, Renfrew himself, although he had discarded the supposed Early Bronze Age colonization from the Aegean, he did accept the possibility of a kind of “stimulus diffusion” and “… a minimum of outside influence” from the East. Indeed, an early network of exchange of knowledge and information has been proposed lately on the basis of typological and functional similarities, not connecting specifically Iberia with the Aegean and its cultures, but within an Early Bronze Age Mediterranean koine.

In this koine should be included two examples of so-called “horns of consecration” found in central and SE Iberia.

Real imported material from the Aegean supporting Early Bronze Age contacts, provides a case, worth for further investigation, of a few sherds of red, burnished, monochrome cups found at the settlement of Les Moreres, (Alicante, SE Spain). According to the excavators, exact parallels come only from the eastern Aegean and more specifically from Troy II strata and from Tigani, on the island of Samos, but also from the interior of Anatolia.

Not meaningless at all is also a ship graffiti, from the Early Bronze Age Dolmen de las Antelas, in Northern Portugal, whose almost identical incised parallels maybe seen on a plaquette from Malia, Crete, and an on another ivory plaquette from Egypt (Abydos).

This limited evidence of Iberian connections with the Aegean at such an early stage, show that there could exist a kind of contacts, but they would be exceptional, possibly indirect and certainly non continuous.

The main features of the imported LBA wheel made pottery in Iberia are: 1) their small quantity, 2) they are dispersed in a more or less limited geographical area, 3) they are 98% coarse, 4) they are of almost homogenous fabric (and thus possibly from the same provenance or workshops) and 5) they are stratigraphically connected to the native culture of Cogotas I type pottery.

There are the two “famous” in Spain Mycenaean sherds, one possible piece of a goblet, difficult to be identified with certainty, and a ring base identified as part of an amphoroid krater, dated between LH ΙΙΙΑ1 and LH ΙΙΙΒ.

Neutron Activation Analysis indicated the Berbati Area, in the Argolid, as its place of origin and of manufacture. According to Mountjoy – and according to common sense we could add – stands as those shown above from the Aegean served to hold such kraters.

Does this pottery show us a connection with the Aegean? By reviewing the wheel-made pottery from Iberia we saw that the whole material comes from the Eastern Mediterranean, mostly coarse pottery and mainly jars and stands that served storage purposes.

The ultimate use of the big pithoid jar from Cuesta del Negro was the storage of wheat, which dates the moment of its destruction between 1210 ± 35 and 1185 ± 35 BC; but at least one of the Levant parallels, as we have seen, had been used to store or transfer copper slags, and, moreover, this was found in an important harbor of the Levant, which was traditionally connected with Cyprus and the copper trade, during a period that lasted at least between 1800 up to 1200 BC.

The Cypriot parallels of the Spanish wheel-made jar also originate from a settlement dedicated exclusively to extract copper, this of Karamallos, near Apliki, while Sinta is also suggested that it would be implicated in copper trade.

Amphoroid kraters, the shape to which the Helladic ring base from Montoro is attributed, more than any other shapes, in particular those of the Pictorial Style, have been found in the Dodecanese, in the Near East and mainly in Cyprus, in much larger numbers than in Mainland Greece. After years of debate it is known today that they are mostly of Peloponnesian origin, particularly from special workshops of Berbati, the major site of their production.

The amphoroid krater, the most common shape found in Cyprus, and pictorial style kraters in general, is accepted that were produced in LH IIIA2-IIIB Mycenaean Greek Mainland mainly for the Cypriot markets, in particular for burial purposes, and secondly for the Levant or Italy, always as luxury items.

Such decorated pottery, which could have started its journey somewhere between Cyprus and the Levant, seems to have accompanied the storage jars and the rest of wheel-made pottery found in S and SE Spain, since the Mycenaean sherds and coarse pottery were closely related in the same strata.

While this is the picture for the wheel-made pottery, a considerable quantity of metal objects and artefacts from Iberia dating to the Late Bronze Age (1150-950 BC), mostly bronze fibulae and bowls, either bear Cypriot characteristics or they are of Cypriot manufacture.

These are traditionally considered as luxury items that circulated in the Mediterranean long distance trade and network of gifts exchange between members of leading elites. The most common in Iberia, a fibula of Cypriot inspiration is the so-called “Huelva type”, which is dispersed in Central and Southern Iberia and dated roughly in the Final Bronze period (ca. between 1100 and 940 BC) or a little later.

For this type few scholars have suggested that it developed on Iberian soil, but there are quite a few of the very same type found also in Cyprus. If the place where the “Huelva type” originated is quite uncertain, another variant, close to the “Huelva type”, with about 14 examples, appears exclusively in S-SE Iberia (Eastern Andalucía) and is dated from the 11th to the early 9th cent. BC.

This variant seems it evolved independently within this geographical area, while metallurgical analysis provides more positive evidence for the hypothesis that these fibulae are local products.

Moreover, although the general shape remains of Cypriot inspiration, it deviates from the triangular “Huelva type” or its Cypriot prototypes, and its closest parallels, outside Iberia, are spotted only in Lefkandi, Euboea, in burial contexts: a bronze fibula, a hybrid one made of bronze and iron and a third one made of a gold sheet, which are dated between 1050 and 900 and between 875 and 850 BC respectively.

There is no doubt that the fibulae of Lefkandi arrived from elsewhere, since there is no tradition of such types in Euboea and in the nearby areas. The provenance and the itinerary of these fibulae has to be discussed more now, in the light of the latest evidence from Iberia. The case of the “Iberia-Lefkandi variant” is the only real, clear and direct connection between the Iberian Peninsula and the Aegean documented via the circulation of bronze artefacts.

Today, the possibility that Cypriot interests reached Iberia seeking metal sources at an early stage is not just a logical suggestion any more, based on the expansion of exchange networks in SW Europe. Furthermore, lead isotope and elemental composition of many metal artefacts found in Cypriot Bronze Age sites showed that much of the raw material used in Cyprus comes from Western Mediterranean, including Iberia.

Relatively near the most important metal ores, not very far from the area of dispersion of the above mentioned fibulae or from the area where the wheel-made pottery was found – and certainly near the route leading to the Straits of Gibraltar – a group of ship representations was found, at the rockshelter of Laja Alta, over the Algeciras Bay.

These vessels bear characteristics that can be seen in Late Bronze Age Aegean ship imagery, on sealstones and from an urn from Hama.

Certain structural details of these rock paintings suggest that either they were seen in an Iberian harbor or the painter had enough knowledge to depict them by memory. Ships with eastern characteristics could have sailed not only near the SE Iberian coast but also in the wild Atlantic Ocean. A ship engraved on an open air petroglyph by the Atlantic coast, in Pedornes, Sta María de Oia (Pontevedra, Galicia), in NW Spain– one of the main areas of copper and tin production – meets its best parallels in LH IIIB-C and LM IIIB ship imagery from Gazi (Crete), Tragana (Messenia), Skyros and Phylakopi, in Melos.

So, ships of more or less LH/LM characteristics could have possibly sailed to Iberia at a quite early date. What was always thought till now by the vast majority of scholars – not without foundation – is that the imported bronze items and pottery found in Iberia should have reached the peninsula via Sardinia. The possibility of a more direct route from the Eastern Mediterranean, which would be more reasonable, taking into consideration of the means of navigation dating in that era, was discarded. Despite the theory of the exclusive role of Sardinia as an obligatory intermediary between the Eastern Mediterranean and Iberia, it has been suggested that the East-West route does not implicate necessarily Sardinia, if a boat follows the winds and less the sea currents.

it is obvious that exchanges, trade and travels connected to the Iberian Peninsula originate in the eastern periphery of the Aegean and further eastwards. Some items and ship representations bear Aegean characteristics in a direct or an indirect way and it is agreed though that much of the exotic or imported material are of eastern provenance, are connected with Cypriot tradition in general and possibly with Cypriot interests in particular, as has been also demonstrated lately by lead isotope analysis of metals.

On the other hand, the apparent autonomous evolution of some Iberian fibulae, though always of Cypriot inspiration, and the stratigraphically documented presence of significant but mainly coarse pottery, that served rather for storage and transportation purposes than to demonstrate prestige and power, may support the following hypothesis: that together with these items, people, possibly of the same origin, were travelling as well to Iberia, and might have stayed enough time to spread the knowledge for typologically new and technologically advanced applications in metallurgy. In the case of the indigenous fibulae of Cypriot inspiration, these may be related to certain eastern dress modes, which may had been adopted at a very early stage in Iberia, due to more direct contacts with people from the East, as has been already suggested.

If we also take into consideration the more or less homogenous character of both the pottery and the metal objects, their independent evolution in some cases on Iberian soil and the connection with Cyprus and Cypriot metallurgy, in relation to the metal sources of Iberia, it is quite reasonable to make the next decisive step: Propose that since the second half of the 2nd millennium BC not only existed a network of contacts and exchange of luxury and prestige items that included Iberia, but could also exist installations of small nuclei of foreign settlers who would have reached the Iberian land seeking valuable metals. Cypriot people interested in raw material could be not only bearers of technological knowledge, which is reflected in various bronze artefacts from Iberia, but they could also be carriers of an indirect image of the Aegean in the Mediterranean far west via the interactive relations between Bronze Age Cyprus and Iberia.

Direct connection of Iberia with the Aegean and Mainland Greece can only be sought in much later periods and certainly after the beginning of the 1st millennium BC.

(Source: “The Aegean itself or its reflection? Absence and presence of Aegean cultural elements in the Bronze Age Balearic Islands and the Iberian Peninsula”, by Vangelis Nikolopoulos)


Research-Selection for NovoScriptorium: Philaretus Homerides


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