A group of archaeologists from the University of Granada has discovered and analysed a necropolis found in the Sierra Arana de Darro (Granada). This megalithic funerary space, between 5000 and 6000 years old, was in use for more than a millennium, making it the most long-lived in Granada and among the most enduring in Europe.
The ‘GEA. Material culture and social identity in the recent Prehistory in the south of the Iberian Peninsula’, of the Department of Prehistory and Archaeology of the University of Granada, has carried out excavations and the study of these funerary chambers in a polygonal or rectangular shape built with large slabs of stone, which can be accessed through small and narrow corridors.
The necropolis is referred to as ‘Panoría’, and the professor of the Department of Prehistory and Archaeology at the UGR, Gonzalo Aranda Jiménez, is in charge of the project.
For the first time in more than a century of research, absolute dates have been obtained that establish the chronology of the necropolis, its period of use, reuse and the abandonment. Carbon 14 dates have been obtained for 19 individuals selected from among the men and women buried in the 5 excavated graves.
The study of the 19 dates has led to the conclusion that the first burials in this necropolis took place between 3525-3195 BC, while the last burials date from 2125-1980 BC. Therefore, Panoría was in use for more than a millennium, between 1055-1410 years, according to the statistical analysis. This fact places Panoría as the longest-lasting ritual and funerary space in Granada and among the most surviving sacred places in Europe.
According to the researchers, the excavations have shown that “these are places of collective burial where most of the human remains are disarticulated, appearing piled up on top of each other”.
Associated with the human remains were different types of objects such as pottery, arrowheads, flint knives or seashells that were part of the funeral goods and burial rites of the time. According to anthropological studies, individuals of both sexes and all ages were buried here, with at least 28 individuals being recorded in a single grave.
Not all graves date to the same time. Infact, the dates of the different tombs reveal chronological variations of hundreds of years between them. During the more than one thousand years of ritual and funerary use, the graves were built at different times by quite disparate and possibly unrelated social groups.
“The Panoría necropolis was not a single burial site, as has usually been assumed, of human groups that coexisted in a region or lived in the same village,” say the archaeologists of this project.
Similarly, the period of use differs from one burial to another. Tombs were sometimes used for a few decades, not more than two generations, in others for centuries, while reuses are also documented after long periods of funeral inactivity. This diversity adds enormous heterogeneity and complexity to the burial practices and rituals developed in the necropolis.
Granada, and especially the Guadix basin, has one of the largest megalithic concentrations in Europe. Although the numerous necropolis of this region have been known since the mid-nineteenth century, only recently and thanks to research work that incorporates high-resolution methodologies, it has been possible to begin to understand some of its main cultural aspects.
“Six thousand years ago, the farming and pastoralist societies who inhabited the Guadix basin chose the Panoría mountain as a place to build burials using large stone slabs, which representa a significant cultural change. For the first time, human groups made structures visible in the environment and with a clear sense of endurance over time. This demonstrates the desire to transcend the present.”
According to the researchers, “the selection of Panoría was not accidental. In addition to its high visibility in the Guadix basin, this site was already a place where ritual practices were developed, as evidenced by the cave paintings with anthropomorphic and geometric motifs documented there. The Panoría Mountain, with its conical shape that stood out from the surrounding landscape, became a sacred place of reference for the communities that inhabited the Guadix basin.”
“With the construction, as well as the ritual and funerary usage, of megalithic tombs, different human groups were connected to a special place that provided them with a means to interact with the supernatural. The long-term ritual survival of this sacred landscape is understood in this context, as part of the attraction and desire of different social groups over the centuries to integrate into this environment,” say the archaeologists.
Megaliths are one of the most important cultural phenomena in the history of human societies on a world scale. From at least 10,000 years ago until today, the building of structures with large stones became one of the main forms of cultural expression for many different social groups. Thus, in many regions of the world large upright stones, called menhirs, sometimes grouped in alignments, enclosures or circles, are common. On other occasions, they sometimes appear as vaults of different shapes and sizes called dolmens, and have a funerary meaning.