Necropolis excavation 2013-5

por | Jul 29, 2013 | English articles, Necrópolis islámica | 0 Comentarios

24 tombs found during the excavation of the Islamic necropolis in Tauste

Phase IV of the excavation of the maqbara (cemetery) in Tauste is finished.

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Phase IV excavations of the Islamic Necropolis in Tauste were conducted throughout the blazing-hot July of 2013.

Promoted by the El Patiaz Cultural Association, the initial project planned to be finished in two months had to be shortened to four weeks due to the lack of support from the institutions, Its financing was provided by the Association and some micro fundraisers and was strongly backed by civil society.

Under the supervision of the archaeologist, Francisco Javier Gutierrez Gonzalez, and consulting of the Professor of Medieval History, Carlos Laliena Corbera, twenty-two students of various degrees and specialties from different parts of Spain could meet in Tauste and stay there for almost a month sharing experiences and doing fieldwork related to their specialties (archaeology, anthropology, anatomy, topography and history).

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University students during the excavation work listening to the explanations about the features of one of the tombs provided by the excavation director

Even though this experience was not long, some extraordinary results were achieved. Over the explored area of 103 m2, 24 tombs were found containing human remains in different stages of preservation. The typology of all tombs corresponded to the Islamic style, in which the bodies were placed on their right side facing the Mecca.

Three tombs stand out for being the typical double-pit burials with small caves and another one that contained a skeleton with signs of tibia and fibula fractures healed while the person was alive. Some other identified variables (sacrum and probably spinal misalignment) made us think about possible side effects of such injuries. The person in question was 1.77-meters high, which was higher than average back in the day. Two more people of similar height were found in previous trial excavations.

There are 44 tombs found by this moment in four excavations conducted. In them, we found men, women and children. In this excavation, we also came across a bronze earring, which is quite an uncommon find in the Muslim tombs, where funerary objects were not allowed. However, some decorative items worn for personal adornment were occasionally discovered.  At the level above that of the necropolis, a possibly prehistoric hand axe was also uncovered.

This cemetery seems to be full of surprising finds. In the previous phase, a trepanned cranium was found. It had signs of survival upon application of either a surgical or religious technique that consisted of drilling holes with a stone or metal tool, which was not at all common in the Middle Ages.

Top-view of tombs in the excavations.
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A trepanned cranium was found. It had signs of
survival upon application of a surgical technique.
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A flint tool found in the excavation that corresponds
to the type of tool used in the Middle Paleolithic by Neanderthals
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A bronze earring found in one of the tombs

Once the tombs are uncovered, it is the anthropologist Miriam Pina who does the subsequent research. She will conduct an anthropological analysis of the remains in August. These analyses are expected to bring about some interesting results regarding this Islamic necropolis. It seems to date back to the period of Muslim rule in the Ebro Valley (the 8th and 12th centuries) and deems essential for learning about the first Islamic communities in this area. In fact, it has already been recognized as one of the oldest in the Iberian Peninsula (among those dated so far using the carbon-14 method, including the one in Pamplona). Given its extension and density, it also proves that Tauste used to be an important city in that period of time, despite the beliefs that were previously voiced and supported by conventional historiographers.

The find of this necropolis also backs some technical conclusions that were made before this cemetery had been uncovered. The tower of this town, previously catalogued as the 13th-century Mudejar-style, is actually the 11th-century minaret and a part of the main mosque of the Islamic Tauste that was later reused as a bell tower.

Representatives of the university community, politics and Cultural heritage of the Government of Aragon have shown interest in the four-week intense excavations by visiting Tauste to see the works progress. The excavations also received significant media coverage in both printed and online means of communication, on local, regional and national radio and television channels, as well as on the websites specialized in archaeology and anthropology. 

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National Spanish Television channel Canal 24 horas, and local Aragon TV have closely tracked the excavation works.