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She Was Buried With a Silver Crown. Was She the One Who Held Power?

Historians in the News
tags: archaeology, womens history



About 3,700 years ago, a man and a woman were buried together in the southeast of the Iberian Peninsula. Their tomb was an ovoid jar beneath the floor of a grand hall in an expansive hilltop complex known as La Almoloya, in what is now Murcia, Spain. It’s one of many archaeological sites associated with the El Argar culture of the Early Bronze Age that controlled an area about the size of Belgium from 2200 B.C. to 1500 B.C.

Judging by the 29 high-value objects in the tomb, described Thursday in the journal Antiquity, the couple appear to have been members of the Argaric upper class. And the woman may have been the more important of the two, raising questions for archaeologists about who wielded power among the Argarics, and adding more evidence to a debate about the role of women in prehistoric Europe.

She died in her 20s, possibly of tuberculosis, and had been placed on her back with her legs bent toward the man. In life, she had a range of congenital anomalies such as a shortened, fused spine and a stunted left thumb.

On and around her were sublime silver emblems of wealth and power. Her hair had been fastened with silver spirals, and her silver earlobe plugs — one larger than the other — had silver spirals looped through them. A silver bracelet was near her elbow, and a silver ring was still on her finger. Silver embellished the diamond-shaped ceramic pot near her, and triple plates of silver embellished her oak-wood awl — a symbol of womanhood.

Her most fantastic silver artifact is an impeccably crafted diadem — a headband-like crown — that still rested on her head. Only six have been discovered in Argaric graves.

She would have shimmered in life. “Imagine the diadem with a disc going down to the tip of her nose,” said Cristina Rihuete Herrada, an archaeologist and professor of prehistory at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, and one of the discoverers of the burial. “It’s shining. You could actually see yourself in the disc. Framing the eyes of that woman, it would be a very, very impressive thing to see. And the ability of somebody to be reflected — their face in another face — would have been something shocking.”

Read entire article at New York Times

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