Paleolithic, Neolithic and Bronze Age in Iberia

I’m David Cot, host of The History of Spain
Podcast, and this is episode 3, called Paleolithic, Neolithic and Bronze Age in Iberia. In this episode you will learn how was the
Iberian Peninsula during the Prehistory, except for the Iron Age that we will see in the next
two episodes. Subscribe to the podcast to not miss an episode! Okay, the first thing you have to know about
Prehistory is that new archeological findings challenge the previous theories every time,
and I’m not talking about Spain but in general. Therefore, take everything with a grain of
salt because in the future some things that I will say may be refuted by new findings. For instance, the ‘Out of Africa’ theory
has been challenged by recent evidence found in places like China or Morocco. We rely on a few skeletons and tools to determine
the chronological and geographical evolution of the human species, so any new discovery
made by archeologists, geneticists or anthropologists can change our entire paradigm of the origins
of human beings. At least it’s safe to say, following the
Out of Africa hypothesis, that the firsts Homo Sapiens went out of Africa much earlier
than initially thought, in 120.000 BC, and that those Homo sapiens intermixed with the
Neanderthals and Denisovan. The oldest rests of a Homo specie in Europe
was found in the most famous archeological site of Spain, Atapuerca, dating back 1’2
or 1’3 million years. The rests have yet to be identified with a
known specie, but they could belong to a new one. Anyway, in the prolific prehistoric site of
Atapuerca paleontologists found Homo species like the Homo antecessor, the Homo heidelbergensis,
or the much more recent rests of Homo neanderthalensis and Homo sapiens. In the Paleolithic, Europe looked very different
than how it looks nowadays. Elephants, rhinos and lions lived in Europe
and the north and much of central Europe was frozen. That’s why the early humans used caves as
refugees. Homo species lived as nomads and hunter-gatherers,
and they were also scavengers and even cannibals. Let’s picture a group of those early humans. Some did the hunting, going where the animals
went to drink or graze, attacking in group, preparing ambushes. Others had the task to transport the prey,
skin the game, cook or to gather fruits. We can already see social structures and specialization
before the discovery of agriculture. The first settlers of the Iberian Peninsula
presumably used the Strait of Gibraltar to come in. Around 200,000 years ago the Neanderthals
started to move to the Peninsula, and they weren’t wiped out at least until 28,000
years ago. Homo sapiens entered the Iberian Peninsula
at the end of the Paleolithic and they coexisted with the Neanderthals during a long ass time. Along with France, the Iberian Peninsula is
one of the top regions when it comes to Paleolithic cave paintings, with the famous Cave of Altamira
as the most relevant of all. The Cave of Altamira was discovered in 1868
in the northern region of Cantabria, and it’s famous for the many parietal cave paintings
of the Upper Paleolithic, with some paintings made 36,000 years ago. Around 13,000 years ago a rockfall sealed
the entrance of the cave, which helped to preserve the paintings. The polychromatic art displayed in the cave
is astonishing, as visitors can enjoy beautiful images of steppe bison, horses and deer. Google Cave of Altamira or go to
because it’s impressive how humans made beautiful drawings back in the Paleolithic. cave of altamira Around 12,000 BC the Allerød Oscillation
occurred and that changed the climate conditions, ending the last ice age. As the climate became warmer, there were technological
changes and big animals like mammoths got extinct, so hunted animals became smaller
and humans had to also start consuming seafood to survive. In this period called the Mesolithic we find
regional differences in the industries of the Iberian Peninsula, a trend that was happening
all over Europe. The most remarkable thing of this period is
the rock art that can be found all over the Spanish Mediterranean Basin, especially in
Valencia and Aragon. We are talking about more than 700 pieces
of art from this period, which is the largest collection found in Europe. The Homo sapiens of this period didn’t only
paint animals, they started painting humans as well. They showed how they used honey for instance
to attract animals and hunt them, scenes of fighting and dancing, and how they already
used skirts and even masks that were used by people of a certain role or status. Moving on to the Neolithic around 6,000 BC,
the Neolithic signified the widespread use of agriculture as a source of food. For the first time humans were trying to control
and shape nature to satisfy their demands. The first agriculturalists probably came from
North Africa with early forms of ships, as the southern region of Andalusia is the first
to have signs of cultivation of food. It took more time to domesticate animals though. Later on, humans of the Peninsula started
to build dolmen tombs around 4,800 BC, and to fabricate pottery. The invention of pottery is very important,
as now humans were able to storage products and plan their future. All these things were signs seen pretty much
everywhere in the world that indicated that societies grew larger and more complex. Nonetheless, the spread of agriculture was
more limited in the interior and northern regions of Iberia. In Cádiz, archeologists found an incredible
necropolis while inspecting an area to build a hockey stadium. The necropolis is from around 4,300 BC and
one of the most stunning things discovered in Cádiz is the burial of two humans, one
man and one woman, intertwined and hugging, which suggests that they were lovers. Spanish archeologists also found that they
incinerated domestic animals and buried them in the very same necropolis. Maybe because they loved their cats and dogs
or maybe for religious rituals. It was somewhere between the 5th and 4th millennia
BC that the Balearic Islands started to be inhabited, while the first settlers of the
Canary Islands moved there at the start of the Neolithic or even before, although they
were Berbers from North Africa, not settlers from Iberia. The pattern we see in the Neolithic is that
Andalusia and Valencia, that is in southern and southeastern Spain, were always the first
of the Peninsula to get the latest technologies, the center adopted technologies later and
the north even later. I’m saying that because, even though the
process of Neolithization began in the 6,000 BC, the Neolithic didn’t arrive in Asturias
or Cantabria until 3,000 BC. That’s a very long time, I think that the
dates matter here to get an idea of how limited cultural diffusion at the time was and how
isolated the human communities were. The main economic activity, agriculture, was
focused on the cultivation of wheat and barley, although legumes were planted as well. Agriculture has two main advantages: many
more people can be feed in comparison to hunting or gathering food, and it’s a safer option
to be sedentary as cereals can be stored and it’s riskier to move around seeking food. It has some disadvantages as well, most notably
the diet can be less balanced and less energetic, but the pros seemed to have overwhelmed the
cons. Now talking about cattle, the usual domesticated
animals to consume were, not surprisingly, cows, sheep, goats and pigs. Most of the rests of cattle found in the Iberian
Peninsula belong the sheep and goats, I’m talking about 50 or 60% of the cattle, and
that is very interesting because that means that many Neolithic Iberians were pastoralists,
an intermediate step between nomadic and sedentary lifestyles. From this period, we have very well-preserved
necklaces, bracelets, rings, combs, spoons and even espadrilles made of esparto. Those human-made tools and ornaments were
definitely the basis for urban and developed societies. The Neolithic also brought a change in the
religious beliefs, as humans started to represent gods and to make all kind of rituals to bear
a child, to have a good harvest, to have a good military campaign and so on. This time they painted schematically, in caves
but more frequently in portable objects that gave them luck and protection. Regarding the burial of the dead, they did
it collectively and in artificial structures. The Chalcolithic or Copper Age follows the
Neolithic. This period, that started around the third
millennium in the Iberian Peninsula, is when humans started to develop this fascination
for shiny things and began extracting and working copper, silver and gold. Metal goods became popular especially in the
south and there is evidence that long-distance trade was a thing already. The Beaker culture, an archeological culture
of Europe, was spread in many places of Iberia, where archeologists have found numerous bell-shaped
beakers that were used for multiple reasons, one being to have a recipient to store alcoholic
drinks. This Copper Age also sought the greatest expansion
of megaliths to bury the dead for practical and religious purposes. Again, there are regional differences, as
megalithism was common in Atlantic Iberia but not so much in the Mediterranean. We find already relatively big urbanized towns
protected by walls, like Los Millares in Andalusia that had an estimated population of 1,000
people. Los Millares relied primarily on agriculture
to be a powerful city of the area, but it’s more significant for us their mining and metalwork
industries. They divided the process of metalworking,
indicating a considerable degree of specialization, and their society was stratified. The 70 beehive-styled tombs built, and the
4 lines of fortifications suggest that Los Millares was often at war. A very interesting question is why this town
was so developed in Almería, a very arid region of Spain that is hardly suitable for
traditional agricultural techniques. Archeologist Clay Mathers thinks that the
agricultural limitations and the investment to build irrigation systems made the settlers
look for an administrative warrior class that protected their land. There are other theories, but none can be
contrasted with the empiric evidence we have. Now let’s take a break and talk about recent
genetic studies, because it was during this period between the Copper and Bronze Age that
genetics changed substantially. During the third millennium BC, Iberia received
newcomers both from the north and south. Apparently 40% of male Iberians descend from
a common ancestor that lived 4,500 years ago, and around the same time there was a replacement
of the native males of the Peninsula, according to the findings of a study of Harvard University
published a few weeks ago. There are already archeologists and historians
questioning the study, so the information I’m gonna talk about now could be wrong. According to the study, the Caucasian Indo-European
people known as Yamna would have gradually substituted many people of the continent,
especially men since they were conquerors, and, as conquerors, they wanted to have sex
with the native women. The R1b haplogroup clearly dominates Spanish
genetics, and this Y-chromosome was spread in Spain with the Indo-European invasion of
the Yamna. As I said earlier in this episode, Prehistory
is still the most mysterious and confusing period of human history, and we continually
get new archeological or genetic findings that challenge the theories we have today,
so take everything from this era with a grain of salt. Around 1,800 BC the Bronze Age spread in Iberia. This period was characterized for, guess what,
the spread of the secret to produce bronze, a material harder and longer-lasting compared
to other metals available at the time. The firsts writings appeared in this age but
only in Mesopotamia and the regions nearby. Most notably, the culture of Los Millares
disappeared but was replaced by the Argaric culture in the same region of Almería and
Murcia. The Argaric culture was characterized by the
demographic growth of towns, an increasing stratification, individual burials under homes
and towns built in areas of difficult access for defensive purposes, near sources of potable
water or near mines. There is debate whether there was a state
dominated by a singly king or the Argaric were numerous independent city-states with
a common culture. The existence of large storages for cereals
indicates that there was some degree of centralization, and archeological evidence suggests that production
was specialized in each geographical zone, with mining and farming towns complementing
their activities. That means that Argaric towns traded with
each other and presupposes the existence of sociopolitical institutions. The Argaric region of southeastern Spain was
the economic powerhouse of Iberia, producing weapons like knives, swords, arrows and axes,
as well as glass, pottery and textile manufacture. We can see that with the Treasure of Villena,
which is an incredible collection of gold from the European Bronze Age, with bowls,
bottles and bracelets made of gold and worked in detail. From the Argaric region, the technique of
producing bronze slowly spread over the Peninsula. After 1,300 BC many changes occurred that
opened the Late Bronze period. The old Argaric culture disintegrated, the
degree of specialization fell, hunting increased and livestock production outproduced pastoral
activities once and for all. The pattern of settlements changed, as there
was a trend of occupying plateaus and low, better communicated areas, which helped to
develop the economy but made them more vulnerable in case of military attack. The Late Bronze Age is considerably important
for the Iberian Peninsula, because the previous politically centralized areas disappeared,
while the focal urbanized and economically important area shifted towards the Atlantic
and Southwestern Spain. For instance, Galicia provided tin and lead,
necessary to make true bronze, while the Guadalquivir Valley exported bronze. Because of that, the Iberian Peninsula became
an important commercial hub and link between the Atlantic and Mediterranean. Moreover, new waves of Celts arrived in the
territories of northern and central Spain, something that would change the genetics and
cultures of those regions. THE VERDICT: This is the first episode with
The Verdict section, and as I explained in the first introductory episode, here I will
give my reflections, thoughts or just rhetorical questions about today’s topic. My reflection is, how little we know about
our own origins and what’s more fascinating to me is how we, and by we I mean humans,
are always revising our knowledge with new findings that arise new questions too. And that’s a good thing, right? If we didn’t have curiosity, we would still
be living like our ancestors of the Paleolithic. And not only that, if there weren’t a few
inquiring minds that would constantly seek “the truth”, we would still explain history
using myths and religious beliefs. Humanity wouldn’t progress if there weren’t
people with critical thinking and scientific aspirations, that’s why it’s so important
to promote these kinds of values. And with that, The Verdict ends. The Iron Age, starting around 800 BC, is the
protohistory of Iberia. What that means is that we know from the peoples
that inhabited the Peninsula not by the natives, but by other civilizations that had writing
systems. I will talk about the First Iron Age and the
Second Iron Age in the next two episodes, focusing on the native and colonial cultures
that settled in the Iberian Peninsula before the Roman conquest. To end this episode, let me remind you that
I built a website,, where you can find the scripts of the episodes
and a list of books about Spanish history available on Amazon and you can also subscribe
to the weekly newsletter. Please subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts,
Spotify, YouTube and more, review the podcast, and follow and give feedback in the social
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for listening!

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