Archaeologists Uncover the Ancient Gods of a Lost Civilization in Stunning Find

The Tartessos peoples burned down their own temples and vanished 2,500 years ago.
Archaeologists Uncover the Ancient Gods of a Lost Civilization in Stunning Find
Image: Samuel Sanchez (El País) via CSIC
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Archaeologists have unveiled the first known sculptures of human figures made by the Tartessos peoples, a lost civilization that flourished in southern Spain some 3,000 years ago that has been linked to the myth of Atlantis. According to researchers, they are likely depictions of gods and warriors. 

The discovery of five reliefs of human faces at the ancient Tartessian site of Casas del Turuñuelo has revealed unexpected details about this Bronze Age society that mysteriously vanished around 2,500 years ago. Though these peoples produced an abundance of gorgeous artifacts, these reliefs are the first human representations excavated at the site, adding a surprising new layer to our understanding of this vibrant culture.  


“The unusual thing about the new finding is that the representations correspond to human faces,” according to Erika López, a spokesperson for the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), in a statement released on Tuesday.  

“This extraordinary finding represents a profound paradigm shift in the interpretation of the Tartessos people, who are traditionally considered an aniconic culture for representing divinity through animal or plant motifs, or through betilos (sacred stones),” López noted.

The human faces date back to the 5th century BCE, at the tail end of this centuries-long civilization that has enchanted both ancient and modern scholars. Two of the most well-preserved reliefs appear to depict women who might have been goddesses in the Tartessian pantheon, according to a team led by Esther Rodríguez González and Sebastián Celestino Pérez of CSIC’s Institute of Archaeology.  

A third figure adorned with a helmet could be a Tartessian warrior, the researchers said. The remaining pair of reliefs are more poorly preserved, but they may also be deities that were watching over the warrior as part of a larger sculpted scene.

The human reliefs were found in an ancient adobe temple that is filled with the bones of animals that were killed, eaten, and deposited in a pit during a mass sacrifice. For some unknown reason, the site was then intentionally sealed and burned to the ground as part of a ritual that appears to have been common among the Tartessos, as the nearby Tartessian sites of Cancho Roano and La Mata were also torched in a similar manner.


Artifacts buried in the wreckage of these buildings offer a glimpse of this bygone culture, which was known for its unique written language and gorgeous metal artwork. The Tartessos were likely descended from both Paleo-Hispanic and Phoenician groups in the Western Mediterranean and became famous for intricate artifacts crafted from gold, silver, bronze, copper, tin, and other metals mined from the region. 

Though the Tartessos thrived in southern Iberia for several centuries, this rich culture seems to have fallen off the face of the planet not too long after Casas del Turuñuelo was burned to the ground. Some experts have speculated that a collapse in the mining and metalworks trade dealt an economic death blow to the Tartessos. 

Other scholars have suggested that earthquakes and tsunamis inflicted widespread floods and damage to Tartessian settlements from which the civilization never recovered. This hypothesis explains why some researchers have suggested that the Tartessos may be the origin of the legend of Atlantis, though others in the academic community have called these claims “fanciful” and “complete madness.”

Given that the Casas del Turuñuelo was discovered very recently, in 2015, archaeologists are still only scratching the surface of this fascinating site. The CSIC team hopes that future excavation of the ancient temple will reveal new insights about the Tartessos peoples, their culture, and their strange disappearance.

“These findings further influence both the importance of the site and the importance of the Tartessian culture in the Guadiana valley during its last moments,” López said in the statement.