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The Fashion Capital of The Prehistoric World

Archaeologists have been unearthing what appears to have been the fashion capital of the prehistoric world. Dating back some 5,000 years, the site – in what is now southern Spain – has produced the largest concentration of upmarket prehistoric fashion goods ever found.

Ontiveros Rock Crystal Arrow heads (Research Group ATLAS, University of Seville)

So far, literally hundreds of spectacularly beautiful gold, ivory, rock-crystal, amber, greenstone, sea-shell, ostrich eggshell, flint and copper artefacts have been unearthed – despite the fact that only around 1 percent of the site has so far been excavated.

The site is located between the towns of Castilleja de Guzman and Valencina de la Concepción near Seville.

The detailed excavations, which have been going on for the past two decades, suggest that the site was a major international trade hub, attracting merchandise from literally thousands of miles away. Scientific tests have revealed that the most exotic raw materials for the most upmarket fashion accessories, came from as far afield as Western Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, Sicily and northern Spain.

Ivory comb with pigs (Research Group ATLAS, University of Seville)

So far, archaeologists – from the Spanish universities of Seville and Huelva and from Germany – have found dozens of deeply buried complete and fragmentary ivory figurines, drinking cups and ornamental combs, as well as jewellery and luxury furniture and garment decorations.

Most of the ivory is from African elephants – but some are from Asian ones, which at that time still roamed the grasslands of western Asia. Archaeologists and other scientists from five UK universities and other research institutions have helped date and analyse many of the key finds.

Gold – probably from southwest Spain – was used to produce eye-shaped solar religious symbols made of gold foil. The site has so far yielded two of these highly prized artefacts, the only ones ever found in western Europe.

Beautifully crafted eye-shaped solar symbols embossed on gold foil (Research Group ATLAS, University of Seville)

Not only did the high-end fashion raw materials come from many different areas – but around 33 percent of the settlement’s people were also non-local. This has been revealed through an isotopic study of skeletons, buried in the ancient settlement – but it is not yet known whether they came from elsewhere in Spain or from overseas.

At its peak, around 4,500 years ago, the ancient settlement covered more than 400 hectares (1.5 square miles) and may have had a permanent or fluctuating population of up to several thousand. It almost certainly had multiple functions – religious, ceremonial, commercial and political. In terms of physical size, it seems to have been the largest settlement of its time in western Europe.

The settlement first came into existence in the late Neolithic (around 3200BC). After rapid growth, it became culturally, economically and politically important for much of the third millennium BC – but came to a relatively abrupt end in around 2350BC.

At its peak, it flourished at around the same time that Stonehenge was being built.


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