The project “Damas y Héroes. Tras la Ilici ibérica”, led by Alberto Lorrio, Professor of Prehistory at the University of Alicante, and Héctor Uroz, Professor of Ancient History at the University of Murcia, has uncovered architectural remains that provide invaluable information about Iberian society and its historical context. The discovery pertains to the foundational Iberian city of Ilici (modern Elche in southeastern Spain).

Researchers were already aware of the site’s significance from previous findings, such as the famous sculpture of the Lady of Elche, but there were no architectural remains to support the level of complexity and development of the Iberian society in this location. Now, thanks to excavations that began in 2017, remains have been found that allow a better understanding of the foundational site, which dates back to around 500 BCE.

In addition to the city wall, eight rooms have been identified that belong to houses attached to the foundational wall, demonstrating that Ilici was one of the most important cities in the Iberian region of Contestania, which encompassed parts of the present-day provinces of Alicante, Murcia, Albacete, and Valencia. This new information confirms that La Alcudia was home to the first metropolis, the first major Iberian city in Contestania.

Archaeologists working at the site
Archaeologists working at the site. Credit: Proyecto “Damas y Héroes. Tras la Ilici ibérica” / Universidad de Alicante

The discovery provides context for the Iberian elites who commissioned sculptures like the Lady of Elche and helps to better understand daily life in the city. Lorrio highlights that these findings are even more significant than discovering another sculpture, as they offer substantial historical and archaeological value to the knowledge of the site.

The excellent state of preservation of the remains is notable, attributed to the decision of the ancient inhabitants to abandon the area due to frequent flooding. Before leaving, they filled the interiors of the houses, which preserved the structures and allowed archaeologists to discover unique construction details, such as the use of masonry bases and adobe or molded mud walls.

The “Damas y Héroes. Tras la Ilici ibérica” project involves the participation of students and graduates from the History and Archaeology programs at the universities of Alicante and Murcia, with support from the City of Elche and the Generalitat Valenciana. Now that the excavation phase has concluded, the research team is analyzing the artifacts found in the lab to gather more information.

Family photo of some of the participants in the 2024 campaign of the project
Family photo of some of the participants in the 2024 campaign of the project “Ladies and Heroes. After the Iberian Ilici” at the L’Alcúdia site. Credit: Proyecto “Damas y Héroes. Tras la Ilici ibérica” / Universidad de Alicante

In future campaigns, they plan to expand the excavations to gain a more complete understanding of the older Iberian phases, addressing the history of La Alcudia from a reverse perspective, presenting a unique challenge due to the overlapping layers and findings from different periods.

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