Approximately 2500 years ago, the ancient inhabitants of the area currently occupied by the municipality of Guareña, in Badajoz (Spain), carried out a peculiar ritual in the courtyard of an enclave known today as Casas del Turuñuelo. This site, discovered in 2017, has provided new information about the Tartessian culture that populated those lands in the Iron Age.

Recently, a study published in the journal Plos One and led by researchers from the Institute of Archaeology of Mérida has shed light on the practices that took place in this site.

By analyzing the bone remains found, scientists have determined that it is the largest animal sacrifice discovered in the western Mediterranean of the time, with bones from more than 50 animals.

Through zooarchaeological and microstratigraphic analysis of the remains, the experts were able to reconstruct the ritual that was carried out. It is believed that the sacrifices were carried out in several phases over the last years of occupation of the set of houses, until its abandonment in the late 5th century BC. In it, six bulls, four pigs, one dog and forty-one equids (horses, donkeys and their hybrids) were offered.

Some bones showed tooth marks and indications of having been exposed to the open air, suggesting that initially the animals were sacrificed and their bodies left to the elements.

Later, others were completely buried and in anatomical position, pointing to a ritual of rapid burial. Finally, in the last phase the remains of a banquet were deposited including beef and pork, accompanying the sacrifice of two equids.

Along with the bones, carbonized vegetables and ritual objects such as sheep beads were also found. The orderly arrangement of the skeletons leads scientists to believe that staging was sought with the sacrifices.

The study, also funded by the Regional Government of Extremadura and the Palarq Foundation, demonstrates the importance of animal rituals in the societies of European Iron Age and highlights the prominence of equids in Tartessian culture.

This finding in Casas del Turuñuelo provides new data on the religious beliefs and customs of the inhabitants of that region in antiquity. Thanks to the interdisciplinary work of more than a dozen scientific institutions, we now have more details about the life and cosmogony of the last peoples who inhabited this area before the beginning of Roman domination in the Iberian Peninsula.


CSIC | Iborra Eres MP, Albizuri S, Gutiérrez Rodríguez M, Jiménez Fragoso J, Lira Garrido J, Martín Cuervo M, et al. (2023) Mass animal sacrifice at casas del Turuñuelo (Guareña, Spain): A unique Tartessian (Iron Age) site in the southwest of the Iberian Peninsula. PLoS ONE 18(11): e0293654.

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