Riches in a Bronze Age grave suggest it holds a queen

The find points to a female ruler in Spain 3,700 years ago, bucking the idea only men ruled

bones of a man and woman with artifacts in a bronze age grave

A roughly 3,700-year-old grave found beneath the floor of a Bronze Age palace held the remains of a man and a woman surrounded by valuable objects. The woman may have been a queen, researchers suspect.


A lavish Bronze Age burial found in southeastern Spain may hold a queen’s remains, researchers say.

This unexpected discovery bolsters suspicions that women wielded political power in that region’s El Argar society, which lasted from around 4,220 to 3,570 years ago. Researchers have typically assumed that men ran Bronze Age societies (SN: 10/10/19).

In 2014, a team led by archaeologist Vicente Lull of the Autonomous University of Barcelona discovered the skeletons of a man and a woman in a large jar underneath what appears to be a royal structure at a site called La Almoloya. Radiocarbon dating indicates that both individuals died about 3,700 years ago.

La Almoloya site landscape
Remnants of a Bronze Age palace at Spain’s La Almoloya site held a surprise: the grave of a woman who may have been a queen.Grup ASOME/UAB

Most of the 29 valuables in the grave lay on or next to the woman, Lull’s group reports in the April Antiquity. A semicircular silver headband, or diadem, with a disk that would have rested on the forehead or the bridge of the nose, was found on the woman’s skull. Excavations at other El Argar sites in the 19th and 20th centuries yielded several females buried with diadems. Functions of the buildings under which those graves were located are unknown. But diadems signified power and social prominence, the researchers contend.

silver diadem
A crownlike silver diadem found atop the skull of a woman buried at a Bronze Age site in Spain contributed to suspicions that she had been a political ruler.Grup ASOME/UAB

At La Almoloya, the woman and man were buried beneath a room where up to around 50 people could have conducted royal and political business. Other parts of what was likely a palace contained living quarters and spaces for activities such as grinding grain.

If the La Almoloya woman was a queen, the researchers can’t say if she was a ceremonial leader or made actual rulings, either on her own or with a royal council.

Bruce Bower has written about the behavioral sciences for Science News since 1984. He writes about psychology, anthropology, archaeology and mental health issues.

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