La Lentejuela Teba necropolis, near Malaga in southern Spain, captivated historians and archaeologists when it was first discovered in 2005. Dating back to 4,000 BC, this ancient burial site was later reused in the Bronze Age between 2200 BC and 800 BC.
Since it was first unearthed, 13 stone structures and over 100 tombs have revealed a wealth of artifacts, including pottery, jewelry and tools, providing valuable insights into the burial practices and daily lives of its inhabitants.
But now, a team of researchers from the University of Cadiz (UCA) has been working to find out more about two megalithic Bronze Age dolmens discovered at the same site. Having been originally built over 6,000 years ago, the pair of ancient burial portals were rebuilt in the Bronze Age and used to enshrine the bodies of societal elites.
Archaeologists excavating the Bronze Age dolmens at La Lentejuela Teba near Malaga in southern Spain. ( Universidad de Cádiz )
Diving into the Bronze Age Dolmens of La Lentejuela Teba Necropolis
A report in Malaga Hoy explains that one of the dolmens was explored in the second campaign of archaeological excavations, within the framework of the general research project “Monumentality, time and Society. The megalithic phenomenon in the necropolis of La Lentejuela.” However, before we begin this story, let’s first look at the word “dolmen.”
A dolmen is a type of megalithic tomb or burial monument constructed during the Neolithic and Bronze Ages. Found in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East, they are some of the earliest architectural structures built by human societies. Commonly composed with a series of large upright vertically aligned stones, supporting a horizontal capstone, a dolmen resembles a table. Dolmens are often described as portals.
Dolmens were used for storing or enshrining, the remains of the deceased, who were ritually interred and accompanied by grave goods including pottery, tools and ornaments. However, after having been exposed to the environment, and ploughs, for thousands of years, these days dolmens most often appear as grassy-tumuli or earthen mounds.
The researchers have concluded that the dolmens discovered at La Lentejuela Teba necropolis in southern Spain were originally built over 6,000 years ago and then rebuilt in the Bronze. ( Universidad de Cádiz )
Following the Burial Curves of Prehistory
According to an article published on Now Archaeology , Professor Serafín Becerra from UCA, who led the excavation, said the team of researchers used “ drone aerial photography , photogrammetry, 3D digital scanning, differential GNSS, precise topography employing total stations, and other modern technologies to record every structure at the La Lentejuela Teba necropolis.”
Known as Funeral Structure 1, UCA Prehistory professor Eduardo Vijande said the researchers “faced a corridor dolmen with certain compartmentalizations.” He explained that the funerary structure presents “an angled corridor (with a curved shape) that gives access to an antechamber, differentiated from the corridor by the presence of two vertical orthostats (upright mounted stones) as jambs.” Finally, the “burial chamber [was] separated from the antechamber by two other steep stelae,” added Vijande.
Professor Becerra concluded that preliminary dating indicated that Structure 1 was built as early as the end of the 4th millennium BC. However, the newly explored dolmen was resurrected during the Bronze Age, during the 3rd millennium BC, at which time social elites were interred within.
The Antequera Dolmens Site in Malaga represents the most iconic example of a Bronze Age dolmen site in Spain. ( Carolina / Adobe Stock)
Putting the Bronze Age Dolmens into Context
Professor Becerra said the Bronze Age culture built small spaces inside the dolmen, in which they buried the deceased individually, or with no more than two people. Dolmen burial sites were reserved for individuals of social importance. Because their construction involved considerable effort, this highlighted the significance, power and resources of the deceased in the eyes of their contemporaries.
The distribution of dolmens across Spain varies, with notable concentrations in the regions of Andalusia, Extremadura and Galicia. There are over 1,300 known dolmens in Andalusia alone, while the Antequera Dolmens Site in the Andalusian province of Malaga—made up of three large dolmens (Menga, Viera, and El Romeral)—represents the most iconic example of a Bronze Age dolmen site in Spain.
The study of Bronze Age burial dolmens in Spain continues to reveal details about the complexities of the ancient societies that inhabited the Iberian Peninsula thousands of years ago. These enduring monuments all whisper secrets pertaining to the cultural richness and profound after-death rituals that were practiced by our distant ancestors.
Top image: Archaeologists at work excavating the Bronze Age dolmens at La Lentejuela Teba necropolis in southern Spain. Source: Universidad de Cádiz
By Ashley Cowie
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