Wednesday, May 23, 2018

A Prince and His Twenty Wives (Garcia Sanjuan et al, 2018)

Try and wrap your mind around the size of the gigantic Copper Age site, Valencia de Concepcion.  If even a tenth of it was utilized at a time, that sector would still shadow most any contemporary site in Europe.  One of these sectors contains some very rich and interesting graves.  This large paper by Garcia Sanjuan et al is Open-Access, linked below.   

Crystal & Ivory from Valencina de la Concepción, S.W. Spain Garcia SanJuan et al
(foto: Miguel Ángel Blanco de la Rubia)

The grave above and beyond any other belonged to a man possessing this crystal dagger.  BTW, Be on the lookout for DNA that will follow these radiocarbon dates.  There is a related paper in the same journal by Antonio Blanco-Gonzales concerning demographic 'dynamics' in this region in the Copper and Bronze Age, so you know it's coming.  It'll be surprising if there are no surprises.  I'll start psyching myself out now.

The prince buried with the crystal dagger is identified in PP4-Montelirio Structure 10.049.  See also [link]   He is absolutely, positively the richest, big-man burial in all of Europe at this time with competition only from Goldfinger in Varna.

This Copper Age prince was buried in a vault at the end of a very long, stone-vaulted corridor (39 meters, or 127 feet).  The entire gamut was painted with priceless cinnabar.  Although the archaeologists shy away from any speculation based on the fragmentary evidence, it does appear that the prince of 10.049 was buried with around two dozen or so twenty-to-thirty-year-old women.

The large chamber also included a steppic-like steale and a number of gold, African ivory, ostrich and other objects.  Volker Heyd describes some of these in "Kossinna's Smile".   Using a large number of new radiocarbon dates from this tomb, a fairly secure date of build and burial puts it around 2850-2750 B.C.

In the discussion part of the paper, there is this comment:
Anecdotally, when excavations of this monument began in 2007, the Spanish media reported extensively on comments (intended just as informal remarks) by one of the team members, who claimed that the individuals buried in the main chamber (mostly women) may have formed part of the ‘grave goods’ of an important individual buried there, in a scenario similar to the tomb of Queen Pu-Abi from the Third Dynasty of Ur, in Mesopotamia.
Everything written above, including the title of the post, came from simply looking at the fact that a man buried with a crystal dagger was buried with a large number of young women.  In fact, I almost made a comment like this "similar to the tomb of Queen Pu-Abi from the Third Dynasty of Ur".  All of this without any knowledge of what was reported in the Spanish media.

If crystal daggers equal golden 9mm Brownings or gold AK-47's, and golden guns correspond to harems, then a crystal dagger correlates with roughly twenty women.  Oddly enough though, it would seem that these women wouldn't be the mothers of his children (his wives) for the reason that he would want his children to be raised successfully.

So maybe they're virgin priestesses, or the opposite of that.  Or maybe they were his wives and they were all killed by a political enemy at the same time, or an jealous wife. 

Several things I hope to see in the DNA.  1)  Verification that all the skeletal remains are women 
2)  Are the women genetically similar or are they different...flavors (Qaddafi)  3)  What the heck is this man's profile?  4)  Are the two individuals in the smaller tomb his mother and father  5)  Do any of these people cluster with Bell Beakers or other European groups  6)  Is the man racially distinct from the women, or most of them 7)  Are STD's or lethal toxins present or determinable?

Fig 1 from the paper.  Contemporary copper age sites around Valencia de C.

"Assembling the Dead, Gathering the Living: Radiocarbon Dating and Bayesian Modelling for Copper Age Valencia de la Concepcion (Seville, Spain)"  Journal of World History, 2018
Leonardo Garcia Sanjuan et al...  [link]

Abstract: The great site of Valencina de la Concepcio´n, near Seville in the lower Guadalquivir valley of southwest Spain, is presented in the context of debate about the nature of Copper Age society in southern Iberia as a whole. Many aspects of the layout, use, character and development of Valencina remain unclear, just as there are major unresolved questions about the kind of society represented there and in southern Iberia, from the late fourth to the late third millennium cal BC. This paper discusses 178 radiocarbon dates, from 17 excavated sectors within the c. 450 ha site, making it the best dated in later Iberian prehistory as a whole. Dates are modelled in a Bayesian statistical framework. The resulting formal date estimates provide the basis for both a new epistemological approach to the site and a much more detailed narrative of its development than previously available. Beginning in the 32nd century cal BC, a long-lasting tradition of simple, mainly collective and often successive burial was established at the site. Mud-vaulted tholoi appear to belong to the 29th or 28th centuries cal BC; large stone-vaulted tholoi such as La Pastora appear to date later in the sequence. There is plenty of evidence for a wide range of other activity, but no clear sign of permanent, large-scale residence or public buildings or spaces. Results in general support a model of increasingly competitive but ultimately unstable social relations, through various phases of emergence, social competition, display and hierarchisation, and eventual decline, over a period of c. 900 years.


  1. "the prince of 10.049 was buried with around two dozen or so twenty-to-thirty-year-old women."

    He obviously believed that you CAN take it with you.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.


  3. One reason to kill all of the members of your household as a matter of course when you die is to discourage assassinations by members of the household that may be impossible to prove, even if this has the side effect of mass slaughter of an entirely innocent cohort when you die of natural causes.

    Maybe these are wives, but maybe they are slave concubines and domestic servants. If he's 50 years old, all of his kids who are legitimate heirs may be adults and maybe bastard wives of concubines aren't a priority. Also, do we know that everyone was buried at the same time? Maybe most of these women died in child birth.

    Also, one controversial point about Copper Age/Bronze Age demographics is the extent to which the Bell Beaker era population surge which was very biased towards Y-DNA R1b-M____ and mtDNA H__ and lactose persistence was polygamous, something that anthropologists have often doubted. But, this site provides at least strong circumstantial evidence for polygamy in the community in which the earliest traces of Bell Beaker culture are found, and for what are probably strong class divisions between elites and ordinary folk. Regardless of their exact status, if twenty young women are buried with the Crystal Dagger King, it is pretty safe to assume that those are twenty young women who weren't available to commoners in the community, and if the king got twenty, others a notch or two below him in the pecking order probably had more than one woman allocated to their household and not some commoner's household.

    Given the practices of contemporaneous cultures, it is also likely that a big man that big was probably deified as a literal god or demigod in the legendary history of the proto-state that he ruled. Looking around for the oldest available attestations of orally transmitted mythology specific to Iberia might for someone with some overlapping signature characteristics be a way to plausibly identify this guy as a source for some legendary figure in old Iberian mythology.

    1. I'm not sure he would be called a Bell Beaker at least from the commonly described artifacts. However his grave goods have a strange mix of East European steppic elements, Moroccan elements and Iberian elements.
      That makes DNA such an interesting angle in this case. Let's say, just for laughs, he turns out to be an L51 guy of some sort, non-local, then the story takes another turn

  4. Hi Bell-Beaker Blogger,

    I am trying to understand the modern distribution of my haplogroup in terms of CWC or Bell-Beaker mediated migration, as the formation dates of successive clades start 4600 ybp and modern people extend the entire BB-CWC range. I am not an R. Please check my bio on my website to email me if you would like to discuss. You seem like a good person to learn about Bell Beakers from.

    1. I'd suggest starting a thread at Anthrogenica since there are people there knowledgeable of the distribution of Y-chromosome subclades and related archaeological cultures. I really don't have a whole lot of study in this area.

  5. I wonder if this has anything to do with the "warrior ideology" in the Western Mediterranean and its steppe connection

  6. Andrè

    yes it is a perfect example of jeunesse' paper thesis. Hope we'll know his genetic profile as soon as possible

    1. Western Iberia wasn't building fortified settlements annd reinforcing those periodically because everything was peaceful.

      Fortified settlements were from 3300bc and nothing to do with steppe.

    2. Western Iberia wasn't building fortified settlements annd reinforcing those periodically because everything was peaceful.

      Fortified settlements were from 3300bc and nothing to do with steppe.