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European Kingdoms

Early Cultures


Early Iberia

FeatureThe system which has evolved to catalogue the various archaeological expressions of human progress is one which involves cultures. For well over a century, archaeological cultures have remained the framework for global prehistory. The earliest cultures which emerge from Africa and the Near East are perhaps the easiest to catalogue, right up until human expansion reaches the Americas. The task of cataloguing that vast range of human cultures is covered in the related feature (see link, right).

Iberia is the ancient name for the sun-drenched south-western peninsula of Europe. It comprises the modern countries of Portugal and Spain, plus the principality of Andorra and the British crown colony of Gibraltar. The peninsula's role in human development can first be charted through the story of Homo Neanderthalis - the Neanderthals.

FeatureThe early stages of this species living in Europe are still being pinned down (see feature link), with previously Homo Heidelbergensis remains currently being re-evaluated and sometimes reclassified as Neanderthals. A population seems to have been in place by about 600,000 BC though, with its final appearance being on Gibraltar around 24,000 BC.

Modern Europeans in the form of Homo sapiens first appeared in the Balkans around 47,000 BC, largely through the transitional Bohunician culture. The Magdalenian culture of circa 17,000 to 12,000 BC was the last major pan-European expression of early human spread. Once the most recent ice age had retreated, human cultures became increasingly regionalised, initially divided here between Northern Europe and Southern Europe.

The first modern humans arrived in Iberia by about 24,000 BC, immediately preceding the start of the Solutrean culture. There may have been earlier arrivals but evidence is still being assessed before any definitive statement can be made.

More specific occupation zones for the peninsula's regions is also still somewhat open to debate. Conditions on the southern side of the Pyrenees were harsh at the time, away from the coastal regions, but older theories which held this as a reason to count against a human presence have now been discounted.

Iberia experienced the long-lived Azilian culture shortly after that first occupation by modern humans, and then the more highly-regionalised Asturian. However, it was the native Bell Beaker horizon which really put it on the archaeological map as far as modern cultural development was concerned. The people of this horizon are the likely ancestors of the pre-Carthaginian tribal peoples of Iberia, especially of the Turdetani, possibly the Iberian tribes such as the Edetani, and possibly also the Aquitani to the north.

It was also this period which saw the first peopling of the Early Balearic Islands, and which led into the Iberian Iron Age of the first millennium BC. This in turn generated the related Castro culture in the north and Tartessian culture in the south.

Homo Neanderthalis

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from A Genetic Signal of Central European Celtic Ancestry, David K Faux, from Investigating Archaeological Cultures: Material Culture, Variability, and Transmission, Benjamin W Roberts & Marc Vander Linden (Eds), and from External Links: Mesolithic Culture of Europe (PDF, Vidya Mitra Integrated E-Content Portal), and The Mesolithic of Iberia (Encyclopaedia.com), and First modern human settlement recorded in the Iberian hinterland (Scientific Reports).)


King list Asturian Culture
(c.7250 - 4500 BC)

The highly localised Asturian was identified as a distinct culture after excavations by Vega del Sella at the cave of El Penicial in Asturias in Spain in 1914.

King list Bell Beaker Horizon
(c.2800 - 2300 BC)

This horizon expanded to cover all of Iberia and the early Balearic Islands before subsequently reaching most of modern Germany.

King list Argaric Culture
(c.2300 - 1500 BC)

The Argaric culture emerged to encompass a large stretch of south-eastern Iberia during the early Bronze Age, born directly out of the vibrant Bell Beaker culture.

King list Balearic Cultures
(c.1500 BC)

The Balearics name comes from the Punic, from the word 'ba'le' (singular) plus 'yaroh', a combined word which means 'those who throw stones', referring to slingers.

King list Iberian Iron Age
(c.1200 BC)

Various incomers into Iron Age Iberia all mixed together in various ways to form Hispano-Celts, Celtiberians, pre-Celtic Indo-Europeans, and other groups.

King list Castro Culture
(c.900 - 27 BC)

The most notable characteristics of this north-western Iberian culture are the walled oppida and hill forts which are known as 'castro'.

King list Tartessian Culture
(c.900 - 400s BC)

The archaeological name of Tartessian which is used to classify this particular Iberian Late Bronze Age culture comes from the port city of Tartessos.

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