3,700-year-old burial leads researchers to believe women held political power in El Argar society

3,700-year-old burial leads researchers to believe women held political power in El Argar society
The silver diadem found on the 3,700 remains of a woman at La Amoyola leading researchers to reconsider the role of women in Argaric society. Courtesy Arqueoecologia Social Mediterrània Research Group, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona
Leading lights  -   Experts

The 3,700-year-old remains of a couple buried together on the Iberian Peninsula in modern day Murcia, Spain, have archaeologist wondering if women held more power in the Early Bronze Age El Argar culture. The remains were entombed in a jar discovered in a hilltop complex called La Almoloya and a report recently published in Antiquity gives an overview of findings that have archaeologist revisiting the role of women in Argaric society.

La Almoloya is significant because it was a prominent place in El Argar society and offers a glimpse into one of the first Bronze Age palaces in Western Europe. The Argaric people thrived between 2200 BC and 1500 BC and lived in a structured and stratified society. Until this discovery, it was believed that the El Argar society structure was patriarchal, like many societies contemporary to it.

In the double burial, the remains of the woman, who died in her 20s, were found on top of those of the male, who died in his 30s. Alongside them were 29 “emblematic” objects, including rings, bracelets and ear plugs of both gold and silver, suggesting the two were of a high class.

The burial was discovered beneath the floor of a grand hall that archaeologists believe could have been used for political purposes in La Almoloya. The room, which was large enough to accommodate as many as 50 people, boasts benches and podium leading to researchers even referring to it as a parliament. “There have been hundreds of El Argar buildings excavated, and this one is unique. It’s quite clearly a building specialized in politics,” Dr. Cristina Rihuete Herrada, one of the archaeologists who discovered the burial and professor of prehistory at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, told The New York Times.

Also of particular interest to archaeologist was the fact that the woman was discovered still wearing a silver diadem, a headband-like crown. The impeccably crafted diadem is among only a handful ever found in Argaric society. Diadems, which consist of a thin band with a disc that hangs from the band over the nose, were only worn by women and women of very high status, at that.

Moreover, the age of the woman and the breadth of the grave goods found with her suggest that girls were considered women at an earlier age than boys were men.

The combination of the diadem, the number of grave goods, and the unique placement of the grave beneath the floor of a political room has helped form the hypothesis that the woman found would have held a political role within El Argar society.

Research is ongoing, but according to Rihuete-Herrada, the items found alongside the woman and man suggest they may have each had roles of power within society. The “enforcement of government decisions will be in the hands of men,” said Rihuete-Herrada citing a copper and silver dagger found among the man’s possession. She continued that due to the nature of items found with the woman, researchers now believe that “maybe women were political rulers, but not alone.”