2,600-year-old stone busts of 'lost' ancient Tartessos people discovered in sealed pit in Spain

Recent discoveries by archaeologists in Spain include five life-size busts of people from the long-extinct Tartessos civilisation.

Five life-size human busts that were discovered by archaeologists in Spain may be the earliest known representations of the Tartessos people, whose ancient civilisation vanished more than 2,500 years ago.

The stone carvings, which date to the fifth century B.C., were discovered concealed within a sealed hole in an adobe temple at Casas del Turuuelo, a historic Tartessian site in southern Spain. According to a translated statement issued on April 18, the fragments were dispersed amid animal bones, especially from horses, that most likely resulted from a mass sacrifice.

According to Erika López, a representative for the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), "the novel thing about the new finding is that the representations correspond to human faces."

This ancient civilization, which existed from roughly the eighth to the fourth centuries B.C., was long thought to be an aniconic culture in which divinity was represented through animal or plant motifs, rather than idolized humans, so archaeologists from the CSIC called this discovery "a profound paradigm shift in the interpretation of [Tartessos]," according to the statement.

Two of the figurative reliefs are almost finished, and they appear to show female divinities wearing earrings, which may be a reference to the Bronze Age peoples' mastery in goldsmithing. According to the statement, archaeologists only discovered parts of the other three reliefs, although one was identified as a warrior wearing a helmet.

Although the Tartessos left little in the way of archeological evidence, goldsmithing evidence has been found at two neighboring Tartessian sites, Cancho Roano and La Mata, which indicates that they were accomplished goldsmiths. According to a Vice story from April 21, these places were burned to the ground in a way comparable to the recently found pit site, but the reasons and methods behind these conflagrations are still unknown.

Aristotle, a Greek philosopher, and other historians originally connected the Tartessos people with the fabled Atlantean sunken city. However, a 2022 BBC article states that this notion "has been widely rejected in the scientific community."

In the statement that was translated, López added that the discovery "only further influences both the importance of the site and the importance of the Tartessian culture in the Guadiana valley during its last moments."