The dolmen of the 17 priestesses, left at the mercy of vandalism | Culture


Leonardo García Sanjuán points out a slate slab belonging to one of the megalithic burials next to the Motelirio dolmen, in the Sevillian town of Castilleja de Guzmán.
Leonardo García Sanjuán points out a slate slab belonging to one of the megalithic burials next to the Motelirio dolmen, in the Sevillian town of Castilleja de Guzmán.PACO PUENTES / EL PAÍS

The dolmen o tholos de Montelirio, dated between 2850 and 2700 BC, is abandoned to its fate. This jewel of the largest human settlement of the Copper Age in the Iberian Peninsula, which together totals 450 hectares and has other landmarks such as the Matarrubilla or La Pastora dolmens, is in the Aljarafe region of Seville, where 5,000 years ago it flourished a society that built imposing monuments. Studies began in 2007 in a preventive excavation for the construction of 53 homes on the PP4 plot: 1.8 hectares on the outskirts of Castilleja de Guzmán. The find revolutionized the world of Prehistory and paralyzed the project of the Cadiz company Jale: a 39-meter corridor and two covered chambers appeared, the main one decorated with paintings (in which lay the bodies of 17 priestesses adorned with rich beaded dresses and with very high levels of mercury in the bones), and another minor with the remains of a man and a woman, as well as three other bodies in the corridor.

The dolmens (the Greek word is also used tholos if they have a circular shape) they are monuments formed by large stones, generally with a funerary or ritual function. On the plot where Montelirio is located, another 134 prehistoric structures were found. In 2010 they were covered with land, waiting for an investment that would allow their conditioning for visits, and since then they have been unprotected and unguarded, full of bushes that damage the complex and at the mercy of looters and vandals.

Leonardo García Sanjuán, Professor of Prehistory at the University of Seville, denounces: “The situation is unsustainable. There are holes in the ground with which, more than a decade ago, important funerary structures excavated in the Partial Plan 4 (PP4) sector were covered, made with the intention of looting or vandalizing, and among the undergrowth the slate slabs that they covered graves of more than 4,000 years ago ”. García Sanjuán is the author of the Montelirio study together with Álvaro Fernández Flores, the archaeologist who led the excavation.

“The discovery of Montelirio”, adds García Sanjuán, “meant for the Chalcolithic [del griego chalkós, bronce; un periodo de la prehistoria] the same as Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922 for Egyptology. It has been an opportunity to study with current scientific methods a tholos that has come down to us as it was about 4,800 years ago, something that did not happen with those of La Pastora and Matarrubilla, discovered in 1860 and 1918 ”. García Sanjuán affirms that the state of the monument and of the entire PP4 sector, declared an Asset of Cultural Interest, is “regrettable: inversely proportional to its value and the attention paid to it by the international scientific community.”

A spokesman for the Ministry of Culture and Heritage of the Junta de Andalucía, promoter of the excavation campaign that Montelirio brought to light between 2009 and 2010 and owner of everything found in the subsoil according to the law, has limited himself to remembering that It is up to the owners of the land to “keep them in the proper conditions of safety, health and decoration” and who have no record of allegations of plunder. “In the next few days we will carry out an inspection from the Provincial Delegation of Seville”, they advance.

One of the holes made to loot next to the Motelirio dolmen, in Castilleja de Guzmán.
One of the holes made to loot next to the Motelirio dolmen, in Castilleja de Guzmán.
PACO PUENTES / EL PAÍS

The archaeologist García Sanjuán recalls that the investigations carried out have been published in Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences O Journal of World Prehistory and that the pieces found have been exhibited in Budapest, Lyon or Lisbon. Even the rock crystal and ivory dagger found in the tomb of the Marchante de Marfil has been part of the sample with which the National Archaeological Museum celebrated its 150th anniversary. Most of the pieces were deposited in 2010 at the Archaeological Museum of Seville and have never been exhibited in the Andalusian capital. García Sanjuán adds: “Multiple details regarding the group in the main chamber, all women in their 30s, suggest that they were priestesses with symbolic-mystical roles. One of them had polydactyly in both feet, it is the oldest known case in European Prehistory and it was someone very special in the community. The most striking thing is the exorbitant amount of mercury that we have found in their bones. We do not know if the mercury was part of a ritual and they inhaled it or ingested it, but what is clear is that they were poisoned ”.

The origin of Seville

For García Sanjuán, this 5,000-year-old site in the Aljarafe region is the origin of Seville, something that would unseat Cádiz as the oldest city in Andalusia. “There was a human aggregation, with its monuments, rites, customs and crafts on the shores of the great marine gulf, because then the sea reached here. This has been a historically privileged site, as evidenced by the discovery of the El Carambolo treasure, which is 2,000 years after Montelirio ”, comments the archaeologist in Castilleja, next to the slate slabs of a burial that the rain has revealed.

Isabel Medrano, a member of the Los Dólmenes association that for years has defended the historical heritage of Aljarafe, also contributes her complaint: “We put our hands to our heads when the Taliban destroyed the Buddhas in Afghanistan and here we let the heritage be destroyed and nothing happens”. And he continues: “I know that this destruction is not premeditated, but the result is the same: the erasure of our memory.”

The Montelirio dolmen in March 2010, before being covered with land awaiting an investment to prepare it for visits, in Seville.
The Montelirio dolmen in March 2010, before being covered with land awaiting an investment to prepare it for visits, in Seville.Javier Barbancho

For her part, the mayor of Castilleja de Guzmán, Mar Rodríguez, acknowledges that she has not moved a file for two years: “Our last action on the ground was to demand that the Ministry of Culture of the previous Government, in 2018, clean it, fence it and protect it. The plot is now a vacant lot, unprotected and full of dandelions; but we are a small municipality [2.840 habitantes] and in debt ”. The municipality of Castilleja owns the Montelirio dolmen plot and two others in the PP4 sector for VPO and public services; the rest belongs to a bank.

“It is urgent”, Medrano points out, “to modify the urban planning so that the entire site is declared non-developable land of special protection” And he regrets: “They have even allowed them to make a parking lot next to the dolmens.”

We put our hands to our heads when the Taliban destroyed the Buddhas in Afghanistan and here we let the heritage be destroyed and nothing happens

Isabel Medrano (Los Dólmenes Association)

The only dolmens that can be visited in the complex, La Pastora and Matarrubilla, located in the neighboring town of Valencina de la Concepción on private farms, have been closed since the beginning of the pandemic. “The Board ordered to close them alleging that the access corridors are too narrow to maintain distances. We have asked that they be reopened, since other similar ones, such as the Antequera dolmens, remain open. In addition, the owners of the farm where the Matarrubilla is located have closed the passage and we do not know what will happen, ”says Antonio Suárez, mayor of Valencina.

Right foot of the woman with polydactyly whose body was found in the Montelirio dolmen and an ivory comb, both from the main chamber.
Right foot of the woman with polydactyly whose body was found in the Montelirio dolmen and an ivory comb, both from the main chamber.


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