The Islamic necropolis of Tauste (Zaragoza, Spain). Project

por | Feb 22, 2014 | English articles, Necrópolis islámica


The Islamic necropolis of Tauste (Zaragoza, Spain)

Project proposal: DNA analysis, radiocarbon dating and paleodiet study.

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lara-fontecha Miriam Guti

Lara Fontecha

Miriam Pina

Francisco Javier Gutiérrez



























SUMMARY: Archaeological excavations carried out in the Spanish town of Tauste (Zaragoza) between 2010 and 2013, and promoted by the Cultural Association ‘El Patiaz’, have exposed a medieval necropolis characterized by a Muslim burial ritual (maqbara). This project proposes a three-line investigation -by independent studies of DNA, paleo diet and radio carbonic analysis to ratify the results that place the necropolis between the 8th and 11th centuries- in order to focus the investigation of this Islamic cemetery from a multidisciplinary approach.

Key words: Archaeology, anthropology, DNA analysis. Paleo diet, radiocarbon


Located in the north of the province of Zaragoza, Tauste is one of the Five Historical Villas of Aragon. Until recently, very little was known about its Islamic past. The presence of a Muslim population in the city was considered merely anecdotal, but an archaeological project launched in 2010 showed that the story was wrong, because there was a stable population settled in Tauste from early Islamic period of the Iberian Peninsula .

Studies on the origin of the tower of St. Mary in Tauste considering it a minaret of the 11th century and associating it to the existence of an Islamic population capable of undertaking this huge work led to the Cultural Association “El Patiaz” os Tauste to initiate investigations to find vestiges of these people.

To explore further burials visible in some private lots, the presence of Islamic ritual in the bones was determined, away version accepted until a few years that these bones belonged to victims of a cholera epidemic documented in the nineteenth century of whose great slaughter have exceeded the limits of the cemetery.

However, skeletons found had very specific characteristics. Its orientation towards Mecca, the burial ritual, the lack of outfit … all pointed to that these were Muslim graves. The Cultural Association “The Patiaz”, continuing with his advocacy of Islamic past in Taussig, took the rest and put all their enthusiasm and hope to launch in 2010 a campaign of archaeological tastings designed to identify and explore the site.

The result was the discovery of a large Islamic cemetery, estimated to number about 4,500 burials, according to the director of the excavations, archaeologist Francisco Gutiérrez. The cemetery also has at least two levels, revealing a large area surface and period of occupation. In fact, using carbon-14 dating conducted determined that this is one of the oldest necropolis of Spain, as the evidence stood one of the tombs in the mid-eighth century. In fact, this is the oldest dated Islamic tomb of Aragon.

Thus, the maqbara Taussig is key to the knowledge of the Andalusian past middle Ebro valley or, as historians have often mentioned, the Upper Al-Andalus.


So far, the Cultural Association “El Patiaz” of Tauste has organised four excavation campaigns, last held in summer 2013, which included a field of work with the participation of university students.

The work of volunteers has been fundamental in the development of this project, because the only economic resources for this research have been the contributions of civil society of Tauste, through the Cultural Association “El Patiaz “.

Once understood the importance of this discovery and the extraordinary potential of this Islamic site, which has changed the historical conception os Tauste, it seems to be essential a external financial support to continue to develop this important project and complete it with new studies and analysis, because the financial expense is out the reach of the project promoter.


To set about this task, Ph. D. in Biology Lara Fontecha -researcher in human genetics, DNA in ancient remains and biomedicine-, anthropologist Miriam Pina -director of anthropological laboratory- and Francisco Javier Gutierrez -coordinator of the excavation of the Islamic necropolis of Tauste (Zaragoza )- have formed a research group with the aim of promoting a project to focus on the knowledge of the important necropolis of Tauste from the point of view of various disciplines, in order to obtain complementary results that provide an overview the object of study.

Dr. Fontecha has a degree in Biology from the University of the Basque Country (UPV). She has completed postgraduate studies in Genealogy and DNA Phylogeny and a Masters in Molecular Biology and Biomedicine. PhD in Biology from the University of the Basque Country with the thesis “Genetic analysis of maqbara of Pamplona (Navarra, VIII century): a window into the Islamic invasion in the north of the Iberian Peninsula,” a consistent analysis of DNA research skeletal remains of Islamic necropolis located in the Plaza del Castillo in Pamplona, one of the oldest in Spain with the Tauste’s one.

She has several publications on forensic genetics and anthropology and she has participated in conferences about genetic variability and DNA.

The anthropologist Miriam Pina has a degree in Social and Cultural Anthropology at the Spanish National University of Distance Education (UNED), her second college title after a degree in Comunication and Information at the Complutense University of Madrid. She has completed specialized courses in biology and forensic anthropology. Since the beginning of the excavations in Tauste, she has developped the anthropological analysis of the exhumed remains and gave a lecture on the study results at the Conference on the History of the town. In the summer campaign of 2013, she led the anthropology lab of the fied of worl with university students, offering practicals in bone recognition, determination of sex, age, height and paleopathological analysis.

Archaeologist Francisco Javier Gutierrez is a graduate of the University of Zaragoza, with over 20 years experience in archaeological research, with particular attention to the Andalusian world, numerous publications in professional journals and the monograph on his excavation of the Paseo de la Independencia of Zaragoza.

The principal investigators also hope to have the opinion of experts and professionals in the field of archeology, anthropology and genetics to support the conclusions of the study and participate in the discussion of results.


This project proposes a three-line multidisciplinary research by DNA-analysis, paleodiet study and radiocarbon dating, explained in detail below.







 PROJECT TITLE: Genetic influence of the Muslim occupation in the necropolis of Tauste (Zaragoza)

SUMMARY: The finding of an Islamic cemetery in Tauste (Zaragoza) offers the opportunity to analyze the relationship between culture and biology, as it questions the cultural filiations of inhumated people, as they could be an autochthonous population that acquires the Islamic culture or an alocthonous human group. Under this hypothesis we must also consider the existence of gene flow, which could affect the female and/or male lineages.

The possibility of recovering and analyzing DNA from skeletal remains will contribute invaluable data to validate the different hypothesis that this archaeological finding posits. The analysis of the mitochondrial DNA and Y-chromosome variability, will allows to assess the possible gene flow between Muslim and peninsular population that contribute to the Iberian Peninsula at this time.



It has been estimated that 10% of the haplotypes of mtDNA and Y chromosome existing in the Iberian Peninsula has an African origin (Corte- Real et al, 1996; Flores et al, 2000; Pereira et al, 2000; Bosch et al, 2001; Larruga et al, 2001; Scozzari et al, 2001; Gonzalez et al, 2003; Alonso et al, 2005) , particularly due to the influence of northwest African populations across the Strait of Gibraltar. There are two hypotheses to explain this northwest African influence in the Iberian Peninsula. Some authors attribute it to the Islamic occupation that began in the year 711 AD and ended with the Reconquest in 1492 (Bosch et al, 2001) , while others, admitting that the Muslim occupation in the historical era introduced haplotypes Africans in the Peninsula, also proposed a relationship from prehistoric times between the Iberian Peninsula and Northwest Africa, basing it in two facts: the presence of African haplotypes in the north of the Iberian Peninsula, an area where it is believed that the Islamic occupation failed (Pereira et al, 2000; Larruga et al, 2001; Maca -Meyer et al, 2003; Brion et al, 2003; Flores et al, 2004) and the geographical distribution of African lineages in the Iberian Peninsula, which can not be explained only with the first hypothesis (Gonzalez et al, 2003) .

Recent genetic studies in the Muslim necropolis found in Pamplona (8th century) revealed the presence of stable settlements of North African populations in the north of the Iberian Peninsula from the beginning of the invasion, showing a marked sexual asymmetry in the individuals and finding a “different story” for maternal and paternal lineage, showing a possible slanting match between African men and indigenous women, who also seems to have been diluted since the time of the invasion to the present (Fontecha L, 2013 ).

The necropolis of Tauste is the second Muslim cemetery of this kind found in the northern region of the Iberian Peninsula. It is similar to the maqbara of Pamplona and the researchers believe that the density of burial in an area of twenty thousand square meters is at least 4,500 adult individuals. These facts make it the largest archaelogical site in the time of the Islamic invasion of the Iberian peninsula and the greatest historic and prehistoric site found till date.


In the fourth phase of excavations at the necropolis of Tauste (Zaragoza, 8th – 11th centuries), held in July 2013, volunteers exhumed 24 individuals: 3 children, 5 juveniles and 15 adults, each one with characteristics of Islamic culture.

The characteristics of this necropolis in conservation and number of recovered individuals allow us to tackle the issue of the genetic influence of the Muslim occupation in the north of the Iberian Peninsula, from a genetic andanthropological point of view. In fact, the anthropological study has shown the demographic composition of the population (sex ratio and age) as well as the health and lifestyle of this people. This anthropological information is essential to put this population in a bio-cultural and social context.

A careful recovery of skeletons facilitates the DNA analysis we propose in this project. The aim of the project is the application of recovery techniques and DNA analysis from skeletal elements (preferably teeth) to resolve a historical question; whether the cultural influence of the Islamic world in the present necropolis has a biological correspondence and what is its nature.


Ancient DNA analysis has had a recent development, limited by its methodological complexity and its high cost, specially in the field of anthropology and in our country. Collaborations with other investigation fields focus on the the methodological aspects, where investigators have joined forces since the very beginning of this discipline.

In this sense, Dr. Fontecha has done her training in a pioneering in this discipline in Spain and she has also promoted initiatives to exchange experiences and strengthen this line of research.


Alonso S, Flores C, Cabrera V, Alonso A, Martin P, Albarran C, Izagirre N, de la Rua C, y García O (2005): “The place of the Basques in the European Y-chromosome diversity landscape”. Eur.J Hum.Genet. (13):1293-302.

Alonso A, Albarran C, Martin P, García P, García O, de la Rúa C, Alzualde A, Fernández de Simón L, Sancho M y Fernández-Piqueras J (2003): “Multiplex-PCR of short amplicons for mtDNA sequencing from ancient DNA”. International Congress Series. (1239): 585-88.

Alvarez L, Santos C, Ramos A, Pratdesaba R, Francalacci P y Aluja M.P (2010): “Mitochondrial DNA patterns in the Iberian Northern plateau: Population dynamics and substructure of the Zamora province”. Am.J.Phys.Anthropol. (142):531-539.

Alzualde A, Izagirre N, Alonso S, Alonso A y de la Rúa C (2005): “Temporal mitochondrial DNA variation in the Basque Country: influence of post-neolithic events.” Ann Hum Genet. 69(6): 665-79.

Alzualde A, Izagirre N, Alonso S, Alonso A, Albarran C, Azkarate A y de la Rúa C (2006): “Insights into the “isolation” of the Basques: mtDNA lineages from the historical site of Aldaieta (6th-7th centuries AD)”. Am J Phys Anthropol. 130(3): 394-404.

Capelli C, Onofri V, Brisighelli F, Boschi I, Scarnicci F, Masullo M, Ferri G, Tofanelli S, Tagliabracci A, Gusmao L, Amorim A, Gatto F, Kirin M, Merlitti D, Brion M, Blanco Verea A, Romano V, Cali F y Pascali V (2009): “Moors and Saracens in Europe: estimating the medieval North Áfrican male legacy in southern Europe”. Europ J Hum Gent. (17):848-852.

Carrasco J, Salrach JM, Valderón J y Viguera MJ (2002): “Historia de las Españas medievales”.Barcelona: Crítica.

Casas MJ, Hagelberg E, Fregel R, Larruga JM y Gonzalez AM (2006): “Human mitochondrial DNA diversity in an archaeological site in al-Andalus: genetic impact of migrations from North África in medieval Spain”. Am J Phys.Anthropol. (131):539-551.

De Miguel MP (2007): “La Maqbara de la Plaza del Castillo (Pamplona, Navarra): avance del estudio osteoarqueológico.” Villes et campagnes de Tarraconaise et d´al-Andalus (VIº-XIº siécles): La transición. 183-197

Fadhlaoui-Zid K, Rodriguez-Botigue L, Naoui N, ammar-Elgaaied A, Calafell F y Comas D (2011): “Mitochondrial DNA structure in North África reveals a genetic discontinuity in the Nile Valley”. Am.J Phys.Anthropol. (145):107-117.

Faro Carballa, JA, García-Barberena M. & Unzu M (2007): “La presencia islámica en Pamplona”. Villes et campagnes de Tarraconaise et d´al-Andalus (VIº-XIº siécles): La transición. 97-138.

Faro Carballa JA, García-Barberena M y Unzu M (2008): “Pamplona y el Islam. Nuevos testimonios arqueológicos”.Trabajos de Arqueología de Navarra. (20)229-284.

Fontecha L, Hervella M, López S, de Miguel MP, Alonso S, Izagirre N& de la Rúa C (2012): “Variabilidad genética de la población adulta de la maqbara de Pamplona (Navarra, s. VIII)”. Diversidad humana y antropología aplicada.

Fregel R, Gomes V, Gusmão L, González AM, Cabrera VM, Amorim A y Larruga JM (2009): “Demographic history of Canary Islands male gene-pool: replacement of native lineages by European”. BMC Evol.Biol. (9): 181-194.

Garcia O, Fregel R, Larruga JM, Alvarez V, Yurrebaso I, Cabrera VM y Gonzalez AM (2011): “Using mitochondrial DNA to test the hypothesis of a European post-glacial human recolonization from the Franco-Cantabrian refuge”. Heredity. (106) :37-45.

González AM, Brehm A, Pérez JA, Maca-Meyer N, Flores C y Cabrera VM. (2003): “Mitochondrial DNA affinities at the Atlantic fringe of Europe”. Am J Phys Anthropol. (120):391–404.

Harich N, Costa MD, Fernandes V, Kandil M.; Pereira JB, Silva NM y Pereira,L (2010): “The trans-Saharan slave trade – clues from interpolation analyses and high-resolution characterization of mitochondrial DNA lineages”. BMC Evol.Biol. 10 (1):138-156.

Hervella M (2010): “Variación temporal del ADNmt en poblaciones de la Cornisa cantábrica. Contribución del ADN antiguo”. Tesis doctoral (inédita). Universidad del País Vasco (UPV/EHU).

Pereira L, Cunha C, Alves C. y Amorim, A. (2005): “Áfrican female Heritage in Iberia: A reassessment of mtDNA lineage distribution in present times”. Hum Biol. (77):213-229.

Plaza S, Calafell F, Helal A, Bouzerna N, Lefranc G, Bertranpetit J y Comas D (2003): “Joining the pillars of Hercules: mtDNA sequences show multidirectional gene flow in the western Mediterranean”. Ann.Hum Genet. (67):312-328.

Richards M, Rengo C, Cruciani F, Gratix F, Wilson JF, Scozzari R, Macaulay V y Torroni A (2003): “Extensive female-mediated gene flow from sub-saharan África into near Eastern arab populations”. Am J Hum Genet (72): 1058-1064.

Salas A, Richards M, De la Fé T, Lareu MV, Sobrino B, Sánchez-Diz P, Macaulay V y Carracedo A (2002): “The making of the Áfrican mtDNA landscape”. Am J Hum Genet. (71):1082–1111.

Torroni A, Rengo C, Guida V, Cruciani F, Sellitto D, Coppa A, Calderon FL, Simionati B, Valle G, Richards M, Macaulay V y Scozzari R (2001): “Do the four clades of the mtDNA haplogroup L2 evolve at different rates?” Am J Hum Genet. (69):1348–1356.

Turchi C, Buscemi L, Giacchino E, Onofri V y Fendt L (2009): “Polymorphisms of mtDNA control region in Tunisian and Moroccan populations: an enrichment of forensic mtDNA databases eith northern África data”. FSI Genetics. (3):166-172.


Due to its location as a peripheral region of Europe and close to Africa, the Iberian Peninsula has a great diversity in the mtDNA lineages. These lineages are typically European in its majority, but with signs of African influence (such as haplogroups U6 and M1, commonly seen in North Africa) and also some L subhaplogroups (Pereira et al, 2000;. Casas et al., 2006). The presence of haplogroup U6 in the current populations of the Iberian Peninsula has been related to the Muslim occupation of the 5th-8th centuries, proposing an entry route through the Strait of Gibraltar, as this haplogroup has not been found in other current European populations (Maca-Meyer et al., 2001, 2003).

The analysis of the biallelic Y-chromosome polymorphisms in current populations show that 7% of Y-chromosomes of the Iberian Peninsula can have a North African origin, with a maximum of 14.5 in Andalusia. The analysis of some haplotypes (E, A, B, and J2) has allowed us to suggest the existence of gene flow in the Iberian Peninsula from North Africa. Previous hypotheses based on current data serve as starting point to investigate past populations and define the differential influence of the Muslim occupation of the Iberian Peninsula.

Thus, being in the presence of a necropolis defined by its characteristic as a Muslim necropolis, our srtating hypothesis supports a relationship between biology and culture of this necropolis, aimed at finding in the graves individuals belonging to North Africa.


The general objective of this work is the knowledge of the biological and social significance of the population buried in the Muslim cemetery of Tauste (Zaragoza, 8th-11th centuries)

For this purpose, we consider the following specific objectives:

1. Analysis of variability of mitochondrial DNA of individuals buried both in European lineages and African-influenced (U6, M1 and L subhaplogroups).

2. Sex estimation at molecular level for a more accurate further Y-chromosome analysis.

3. Analysis of Y-chromosome variability of buried people by qPCR.

4. Determine the phylogenetic relationship of the buried people in the context of population movement in The Middle Ages in the Iberian Peninsula.

5. Contrast the historical hypotheses about the little influence of Muslim culture in the North of the Iberian Peninsula with genetic data generated in this project and the ones already generated in the study of the Maqbara of Pamplona (8th century), which has a cultural and chronological resemblance with the necropolis of Tauste.

6. Interpretation of biosocial behavior of this population: funerary Rituals, kinship relationships and possible genetic and social differentiation within the population.


The main limitation we find when working with ancient DNA (aDNA) is the contamination with modern DNA. The aDNA presents a set of physico-chemical properties resulted of post-mortem, that difficults the analysis and reproducibility of the results obtained.

To avoid contamination and ensure the authenticity of the results, it is necessary to follow the authentication criteria adopted by the scientific community when working with aDNA (Pääbo et al., 2004, Cooper y Poinar, 2000; Handt et al., 1994; Hofreiter et al., 2001; Lindahl, 1993).

The working plan for this study contains 6 phases:

1. Osteoanthropological analysis and selection of samples for genetic analysis

2. Extraction and quantification of DNA from teeth

  • Extraction of DNA
  • Quantification of DNA (real-time PCR)
  • Extraction and quantification of duplicates

3. Analysis of mitochondrial DNA variability

  • Analysis of the mitochondrial genome using RFLPs
  • Sequencing HVS-I and HVS-II mtDNA
  • Cloning of problematic samples
  • Analysis of duplicates
  • Treatment and evaluation of the results

4. Sex estimation at a molecular level

  • Analysis of gene amelogenin
  • Analysis of DYZ1
  • Analysis of gene SRY
  • Analysis of duplicates
  • Treatment and evaluation of the results        

5. Analysis of SNPs (Single Nucleotide Polymorphism) of the Y chromosome

  • Analysis of SNPs of the Y chromosome
  • Analysis of duplicates
  • Treatment and evaluation of the results    

6. Replication of the results in an independent laboratory

  • Extraction of DNA
  • Analysis of mtDNA variability

7. Integration and discussion of the overall results: elaboration of report and scientific articles





Activity 1: Selection of samples: dental pieces

Milestone 1: Sample selection

Activity 2: Extraction and Quantification of DNA

Milestone 1: Extraction of DNA

Milestone 2: Quantification of DNA

Milestone 3: Extraction and quantification of duplicates

Activity 3: Analysis of mtDNA variability

Milestone 1: Analysis of the mitochondrial genome using RFLPs

Milestone 2: Sequencing HVS-I and HVS-II mtDNA

Milestone 3: Cloning of problematic samples

Milestone 4: Analysis of duplicates

Milestone 5: Treatment and evaluation of the results

Activity 4: Sex estimation at a molecular level

Milestone 1: Analysis of gene amelogenin

Milestone 2: Analysis of DYZ1

Milestone 3: Analysis of gene SRY

Milestone 4: Analysis of duplicates

Milestone 5: Treatment and evaluation of the results

Activity 5: Analysis of SNPs of the Y chromosome

Milestone 1: Analysis of SNPs of the Y chromosome

Milestone 2: Analysis of duplicates

Milestone 3: Treatment and evaluation of the results

Activity 6: Replication of the results

Milestone 1: Extraction of DNA

Milestone 2: Analysis of mtDNA variability

Activity 7:Integration and discussion of results

Milestone 1: Elaboration of report and scientific articles


Due to the high cost of DNA studies, we propose to conduct an initial study with which we can set the baseline for research, based on the work plan outlined above. The estimated cost of carrying out this study is 20000 euros (about 28000 USD).






PROJECT TITTLE: Population eating patterns in the Islamic necropolis of Tauste (Zaragoza)

SUMMARY: After the fourth phase of excavation in the Islamic necropolis of Tauste (Zaragoza), promoted by the Cultural Association “El Patiaz”, it raises the possibility of completing the anthropological investigations of the sketetons by conducting a study of palaeodiet, consisting of the analysis of different isotopes and trace elements present in the bones to determine the feeding pattern of this population and analyze the results to obtain conclusions on life and socio-economic organization in medieval Muslim Tauste.



The eating pattern is one of the characteristics that best define the adaptive capacity of populations to the enviroment (Trancho and Robledo, 1999), hence the importance of paleodiet studies in recent decades, a way of complement the archaeological and anthropological research by the knowledge of the methods of obtaining natural resources and food and nutrition systems in the ancient populations.

Since its beginning in the 60s of XX century, the development of this discipline was rather discreet at first, because there was a big the need for effective methods to control the diagenetic process (the natural formation of sediment skeletal remains that may alter the composition of these residues).The inability to obtain unbiased results outside the diagenetic phenomenon caused controversy about the conclussions of the paleo-chemical investigation and gave a great boost to the development of a working method that can effectively control diagenetic processes and promote unbiased interpretations (Gallello, 2008).

Currently, the procedures to control the diagenetic alterations include the analysis of as many possible samples and their subsequent comparison with samples of the same soil where they found the remains buried, in order to determine the existence of sedimentary contamination.

Through isotopic analysis of bone collagen, we can determine the presence and combination of different proportions of each type of food. Elements such as calcium (Ca), strontium (Sr) or barium (Ba), due to similarities in their physicochemical properties, enter the body passively and even reach to replace calcium atoms of the hydroxyapatite of the bone: its concentration is proportional to their content in the diet (Cervera, 2012). By defining relationships between the concentrations of these elements, we can establish patterns of diet followed by each individual. For example, depending on the concentration ratio of Zn / Ca, we can define different levels of meat intake (Fornaciari y Mallegni, 1987, en Cervera, 2012).


In the fourth phase of excavations at the necropolis of Tauste (Zaragoza, 8th – 11th centuries), held in July 2013, volunteers exhumed 24 individuals: 3 children, 5 juveniles and 15 adults, each one with characteristics of Islamic culture.

So far, we have carried out an anthropological analysis of the skeletons by determinating age, sex, and height of each individual. We have also made a paleopathological analysis to observe and describe of diseases and injuries that have left its mark on the bones.

However, this is only a basic study, so additional analysis could provide interesting results and expand knowledge about this population. In this sense, a paleodiet investigation can discover, through chemical analysis of the elements present in the bones, the type of feeding of medieval inhabitants of Tauste more than a thousand years ago.

This study of palaeodiet could be an excellent complement to the biological and social aspects of the anthropological research. Knowing the nutritional patterns of the population would also offer us the possibility to establish the socioeconomic context in which that population lived, and the origin and organization of their feeding resources.


Botella, M.; Alemán, I.; Jiménez, S. (1999): “Los huesos humanos, manipulación y alteraciones”. Bellaterra. Barcelona.

Brothwell, D. R. (1987): “Desenterrando huesos”. Fondo de Cultura Económico. México.

Cervera, Juan Miguel (2012): “Paleodieta: un acercamiento al estudio de la alimentación en las poblaciones del pasado”. Revista de Arqueología Estrat Crític 6, 2012, pp. 156-165.

Gallello, G. (2008): “Aspectos de paleodieta en restos óseos de época tardoantigua hallados en la necrópolis de La Boatella en Valencia (campaña 2006-2007)”. Archivo de la Prehistoria Levantina, vol. XXVII.

Gutiérrez, F.J.; Pina, M. (2011): “El cementerio andalusí de Tauste”. XII Jornadas sobre la Historia de Tauste. Asociación Cultural “El Patiaz”. Tauste (Zaragoza).

Lacalle, R. y Guijo, J. M. (2006): “Análisis antropológico de la población islámica califal de El Fontanar”. Anales de Arqueología Cordobesa, 17.

Ortega, L. et al. (2013): “Strontium isotopes of human remains from the San Martín de Dulantzi graveyard (Alegría-Dulantzi, Álava) and population mobility in the Early Middle Ages”. Quaternary International 303, pp. 54-63.

Ramey, K. (2008): “Manual de antropología forense”. Bellaterra.

Serrulla, F.; Grandal, A.; Vilar, S. y Gómez, M. (2011): “Aproximación facial y paleodieta en un esqueleto de la necrópolis de El Vergel (Ávila-España)”. Revista MUNIBE (Antropología-Arqueología) 62, pp. 341-349.

Trancho, G. y Robledo, B. (1999): “Paleodieta: Estudio del patrón alimenticio en El Cerro de la Cabeza (Avila)”. Junta de Castilla y León. Universidad Complutense Madrid.

Ramey, K. (2008): “Manual de antropología forense”. Bellaterra. Barcelona.

White, T.; Black, M.; Folkens, P. (1991): “Human osteology”. Academic Press, San Diego.


Diet is one of the indicative patterns of the organizational system and structure of a particular society. Through its knowledge, we can delve into a system including the environment, social and political organisation, and ideological and cultural patterns that influence the beliefs, preferences, restrictions, and use of food (Palacio y Román, 1994, en Gallello, 2008).

Therefore, the reconstruction of the dietary pattern of ancient societies, in this case of the medieval Muslim population of Tauste, provides us significant information that can be by-passed in archaeological research: information like the techniques of obtaining resources, the structure and level of technology, linkage to agriculture, livestock and commercial activity, dietary restrictions due to religious beliefs… Different approaches can offer a global and multidisciplinary perspective that provides the best reading of the population investigated. Knowing what they ate to find out how they lived.

Most of the skeletons found in the Muslim necropolis Taussig have significant oral pathologies and stress markers, such as enamel hypoplasia, processes indicative of imbalance and even stoppage in growth. One bioanthropological hypothesis to be tested is whether a improper nutrition could produce these episodes of stress that affected the biological state and development of individuals.


The general objective of this study is the knowledge of eating patterns of individuals buried in the Muslim cemetery of Tauste (Zaragoza) and the relationship of this diet with the socioeconomic context of the population.

For this purpose, we consider the following specific objectives:

1. Analysis of C and N isotopes and trace elements present in the bones to determine the eating patterns of the buried subjects.

2. Analysis of radiogenic and stable isotopes to define mobility and migration patterns of individuals.

3. Comparison between the diet of the current inhabitants of Tauste and diet followed by medieval Muslim population.

4. Establishing hypotheses about the relationship between diet and the presence of markers of stress in growth through analysis of agglutination of Ca and other elements such as Zn biomarkers

5. Interpretation of results in order to determine patterns of social and economic organization of the population and the methods they used to obtain their food resources.


The method for determining the diet of a population is performed through destructive analysis of individual samples of bones: two teeth -generally first and second molar- and fragments of ribs.

The study of the isotopes of C and N in the long bones provides us an interpretation of the diet through the analysis of the quantity and quality of proteins, indicative of consumption of cereals and arboreal elements.

The chemical study of teeth, through the ionization of the samples by laser ablation, can volatilize elements present in the composition of the piece and study the enamel -which fossilizes their chemical composition during its formation- and the dentin -that is being remodelled throughout all life- to define the average composition of the tooth in the last years of life of the individual.

The analysis is performed using the technique of Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry (ICP-MS), which determines the concentration of elements in the samples and, using a statistical correlation of the data, we infer the degree of consumption of certain foods. For example, the relationship between the Zn and Ca ratio provides an idea of the level of meat intake, whereas the ratio between the concentrations of Sr and Ca level set vegetable food consumption (Cervera, 2012).

The working plan for this study contains 6 phases:

1. Sampling and cleaning in laboratory.

2. Collagen extraction.

3. Diagenetic alteration determination by Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR).

4. Combustion, spray, dissolution and injection of the samples.

5. Analysis of δ13C and δ15N isotopes and trace elements (Ba, Sr, Zn, Cu …) by Laser Ablation Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS).

6. Results and statistical correlation between the concentrations of trace elements in samples.


The estimated development period of this study is about 12 months. The anthropologist Miriam Pina, director of the anthropological laboratory of the necropolis, has contacted PhD in Geology Luis Angel Ortega, Mineralogy and Petrology expert at the University of the Basque Country. He has extensive experience in chemical analysis and geological research, especially in the fields of archaeometry, petrography and geochemistry.

According to the pricing provided by the University of the Basque Country, laboratory fees would be set at 21.5 euros (about 29,7 USD) per sample for isotope analysis C-N and 70 euros (about 97 USD) per sample for analysis by LA-ICP-MS. In total, 21 samples, 1921.5 euros, plus 400 euros for additional costs, such as travel costs or miscellaneous purchases, so the final total budget amounts to 2325.50 euros (about 3220 USD).







PROJECT TITTLE: Radiocarbon dating of human remains from the Islamic necropolis of Tauste (Zaragoza)

SUMMARY: This project proposes using the radiocarbon dating on several skeletal remains from medieval islamic necropolis of Tauste (Zaragoza), in order to ratify and refine previous results, that placed the maqbara between the 8th and 11th centuries.



Radiocarbon dating is one of the physicochemical methods used by archaeologists to determine the absolute age of organic remains. Born in the mid-twentieth century, this technique involves the analysis of the concentration of carbon-14 containing in the remains to estimate the extent of decay of the isotope and thus set the date of death.

Radiocarbon dating is based on the following principles: cosmic radiation react with nitrogen producing carbon 14 isotope, which combines with oxygen to form radioactive carbon dioxide. This CO2 is absorbed by living beings, incorporating it to their life cycle and a constant ratio between C12 and C14 isotopes. At death, C14 uptake ceased and its concentration starts to drop by radioactive decay. Dating is established by measuring the changes in the ratio between isotopes 12 and 14.

The average life of carbon 14 is estimated at 5730 years, with a handicap of 40, so this dating technique is applied to biological materials less than 60,000 years old. It is an absolute dating technique, offering an age in years, opposed to relative dates that locate an event before or after a known event.

Since 2010 we have held four excavations in the medieval Islamic necropolis os Tauste (Zaragoza). One of the fundamental purposes of the scientific research of the cemetery was the dating of the tombs, in order to establish the period of occupation of the Muslim population in Tauste. Historiography has always considered this presence was merely anecdotal, so it is essential to provide dates and historical items dating to verify the existence of a stable population in Tauste.

After the first excavation in the Islamic necropolis of Tauste, tombs samples 1, 2 and 3 were collected and sent to the Geochronology Laboratory of the CSIC in Madrid to be dated by radiocarbonic method.

The results obtained are summarized in the next table (Calibration Program: 3.10 OxCal curve INTCAL09, 2 sigma).




(years BC)


(years cal. AD)

Tomb 1


1072 ± 32

890 – 1020 (95,4%)

Tomb 2


1286 ± 31

650 – 780 (95,4%)

Tomb 3


1133 ± 28

860 – 990 (92,7%)

There is a first burial (tomb 2) dated between the second half of the 7th century and the first three quarters of the 8th century. Another tomb (tomb 3) is dated the 9th and 10th centuries and the third tomb (Tomb 1) is dated between the 10th and 11th centuries, but more focused on the 10th century. These dates, which cover almost all the four centuries of Islamic rule, lead us to believe certain things:

   Perhaps burials were filling free gaps between graves, making us finding bones from three different chronologies together.

  The presence of an eighth-century burial ensures the early settlement of Muslim population in Tauste. Indeed, so far is the oldest absolute date for an individual buried by the Islamic rite in Aragon. EThis could explain the oral report of a local resident about burials carved in a natural gypsum rock found at the nearby site (no. 43 of the same avenue) when constructing a dwelling. In the process of emptying the plot, we appreciated skeletons placed to the supine position (face up). If this is true, this is something that can only happen at an early stage of Islamic domination, in which orthodoxy was not as rigid as in later centuries. In that case, it could be a common cemetery for individuals of Christian and Muslim religion, although they may be concentrated in distinct areas. Perhaps it was an earlier cemetery (immediate or not), which marked the Muslim cemetery that begins in this area; similarly to what happens in Marroquíes Bajos and Laguardia (Jaén) or Mértola (Portugal). Moreover, it would make sense being a Visigothic cemetery, because it was found so far away, about 400 meters from the stone wall of the medieval core of population.


This project proposes to carry out further analysis to compare the dating of bones from first excavation with samples from the third and fourth excavations to ratify and narrow the results previously obtained. These results put the Islamic necropolis of Tauste between the 8th and 11th centuries demonstrate that there was a stable Islamic population in the town during the medieval period, something ignored by historians, who has always maintained that the Islamic presence in the medieval Tauste was merely anecdotal.


Gutiérrez González, F. J. y Pina Pardos, M, “El cementerio andalusí de Tauste”, Tauste en su historia. Actas de las XII Jornadas sobre Historia de Tauste, febrero de 2011, Asociación Cultural el Patiaz, 2013, p. 67-113.

Sanz González de Lema, S. (2014): “La datación del pasado. Carbono 14 para historiadores”, Ed. Arqueoy+, Madrid. (collects all the refrences)


The absence of grave goods in Islamic burial rites prevents from attributing a specific date to the buried individuals, hence the chemical dating of organic remains is a key to carry out the dating of the tombs and the whole cemetery.

To date, there have been three tests of radiocarbon dating on human femurs from the first phase of excavations, which have dated the maqbara Tasute between the 8th and 11th centuries, featuring the oldest dating an Islamic burial documented in Aragon.

Further excavations provide us new bones and new samples on which perform analysis of radiocarbonic dating, so we propose to conduct further tests to confirm the dates obtained with the first samples and limit these results.


The primary goal of this project is conducting an analysis of radiocarbon dating in order to date three samples from the third and fourth excavations of the Islamic necropolis of Tauste.

More specifically, we aim to:

     Get the dating of the new samples (from the third and fourth tastings) and relate them with the results from the samples analyzed in the first excavation to refine the general dating of the necropolis.

      Get more specifically results from each sample: these samples have been chosen because they present specific and special carcaterísticas that were not present in other remains found in the same excavation.


This project proposes the analysis of four samples consisting of human long bones, which are summarized below:

1. Fragments of two fibulas exhumed from the grave 11 during the third excavation, belonging to a man about 45 years old. This individual presented a trepanation in his skull. Knowing the date of his death can help us to establish the prevalence of this surgical technique during the Muslim period.

2. Femur and almost complete ulna, exhumed from the grave 24, during the fourth excavation, belonging to a woman 20 to 35 years.

3. Femur fragment exhumed in the tomb 30, during the fourth excavation, belonging to a woman 35 to 45 years. Both skeletons, the tomb 24 and tomb 30, were buried one over the other. Radiocarbonic method will date both, show us the correlation between both and determine if such burial was intentional.

4. Tibia fragment exhumed in the tomb 39, during the fourth excavation, belonging to a man of 40-50 years. This is the deepest tomb of the fourth excavation, so it would be the oldest.


Once samples are taken, we sent them to a specific laboratory to perform radiocarbon dating from these bones. The completion of the analysis depends on the amount of collagen present in the remains and the laboratory must determine if the samples provided are enough to complete the analysis. That’s why we cannot determine a specific development period of the study. We set an estimated interval from 6 to 12 months to complete it.

According to the usual pricing in radiocarbon dating, each analysis costs about 600 euros (about 830 USD) per sample. A total of 4 samples would be 2400 euros, plus 400 euros for additional costs, like travel costs or miscellaneous purchases, so the final total budget amounts to 2800 euros (about 3870 USD).


The proposed project has a methodological and applied interest in its three lines of research.

From the technical point of view, the analysis of ancient DNA methodology requires great precision, because the analyzed samples are normally degraded. This requires a continuous reshaping in the techniques of molecular biology, which is allowing to reach achievements unthinkable only a decade ago (eg, sequencing of a fragment of mtDNA from a 100,000 years old Neanderthal). This population analysis requires replication of results in a significant number of samples. Moreover, the degraded state of DNA implies the need to adapt the methodology to almost every sample and to verify of results by cloning when necessary.

From the practical point of view, the genetic analysis proposed in the Muslim necropolis of Tauste (Zaragoza, 8th – 11th centuries) represents a major contribution in the field of archaeo-genetics it will also allow to answer sociocultural, questions for which archeology has no answers yet. Furthermore, the analysis of ancient human remains makes a contribution of interest to forensics, because is a method for accurate analysis on especially degraded remains and also provides a knowledge about the evolution of DNA in human populations, the origin of certain mutations and the temporal and spatial variability.

The study of paleodiet will provide relevant information on eating patterns of individuals who lived in the medieval village of Tauste, allowing us to define the nutritional structure of the population and to determine the pattern of obtaining resources, consumption and even the possible relationship between the nutrition pathologies found in the bones and the processes of imbalance in the proper development of bones.

Previously knowing through historical documentation the social structure of Muslim populations in Spain in the Middle Ages, we can get to infer the socio-economic model developed in the Tauste from the 8th to 11th centuries, and even raise these results to the regional level to establish hypotheses about existing patterns of social organization during this time in the middle Ebro valley.

The radiocarbon analysis of the remains is well known technique of absolute dating in archeology. By calibrating the rate of decay of the unstable isotope of carbon, 14C, we can determine the age of thousands of years old materials. In the present case, radiocarbon dating will narrow the dates of life of individuals in the necropolis and define the time of occupancy of this population in Tauste. Furthermore, the analysis will serve to confirm or establish new dates for the Islamic necropolis of Tauste, placed between the 8th and 11th centuries on the basis of 14C tests already conducted on three samples from the first excavatiom.

This project will strengthen the scientific progress of cooperating institutions. The institutions and universities will benefit from their support appearing as patron and institution backup in all broadcasts, discussion forums and publications about this project. They may also have access to research results and publicate them with consensus agreement by the research group and The Cultural Association “El Patiaz”, promoter of the excavations in Tauste (Zaragoza).

It is intended to conduct a dissemination of results in various forums, such as meetings and specialized conferences, national and international publications, to exchange with other research groups, conferences, museum exhibitions and workshops on the importance of recovery anthropological remains.

Considering the applications of these three aspects, we believe that this multidisciplinary project is interesting and necessary, and we intend to generate new knowledge about the nature of human evolutionary history.


The Islamic necropolis of Tauste.pdf

Some links about islamic cementery of Tauste

Academic world (archeology and anthropology), and the media (press, radio and television).

Media coverage cultural and information