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Exhibition: Iberians. Princes, warriors and artisans

Jaén, 26 March 2004

Two large towers that recreate the entrance to an ancient Iberian settlement flank the start of the exhibit, which features a full-scale reproduction of the Gran Dama Oferente unearthed at Cerro de los Santos (Albacete). The discovery of this sculpture in 1897, along with the Dama de Elche, sparked an interest in Iberian culture throughout Europe.
The history of the Iberians dates back to the end of the 6th century B.C. with the appearance of an aristocracy of warrior-princes who built cities and sanctuaries, promoted trade and writing, and engendered their own art forms. This culture came to an end in the 1st century B.C. when it was absorbed by the political and cultural power of Rome.
Scientific reproductions of works of art, models, audio-visual presentations, photographs and engravings—these are some of the elements used in this exhibit to give visitors a sense of everyday life in an Iberian settlement, the relationships of the Iberians with Phoenicians and Greeks, the importance of agriculture and trade and the mysteries surrounding the disappearance of the Iberian language.
In 1997, ”la Caixa” Foundation organised the exhibit entitled Iberians, princes of the West, which for the first time offered a holistic vision of Iberian culture, understood as being one of the most important civilisations of the ancient Mediterranean. Now, Iberians: princes, warriors and artisans has arisen as an outgrowth of that project in order to offer an up-to-date look at the world of the Iberians.

The Iberians: princes, warriors and artisans exhibit, curated by archaeologist Lluís Batista and organised in collaboration with the regional government of Andalusia, can be visited from 7 May to 29 June, 2003 at the Provincial Museum of Jaén (Paseo de la Estación, 27).

The Iberian peninsula was so named after the first culture with a certain amount of homogeneity insofar as its common social and economic structure is concerned that developed on the Mediterranean coast in the south of France and Spain. This civilisation settled in southern Languedoc, Catalonia, part of Aragon, Valencia, Murcia and extensively throughout Andalusia. Greeks, Phoenicians and Carthaginians had a decisive bearing on the formation of Iberian culture.
Iberians laid out population centres equipped with significant fortifications, created an art of their own which they developed over the course of five centuries, and shared a common language with its corresponding written form and a money-based economy that enabled them to maximize the country’s agricultural, livestock and mining riches. They became the object of admiration of the epoch’s leading Mediterranean powers while also serving as a model for them.
As part of its historical-artistic component, the Iberians: princes, warriors and artisans exhibit presents scientific reproductions of unique objects from this age-old culture, in addition to diverse settings that show scenes from everyday life in an Iberian settlement, divided up into the six different thematic areas that comprise the exhibit: historical context, military organisation and forms of government, everyday life, writing and trade, urban development and architecture, and religion and funerary rites.

Historical context
After entering into the exhibit area by passing through the two towers that simulate the entrance to an Iberian settlement a reproduction of the Iberian ramparts of Castellet de Banyoles located at Tivissa (Tarragona) visitors are offered an introduction to the geographical and chronological context in which the Iberian culture developed via an audio-visual presentation. This presentation provides background on the Iberians, their external influences and the invasions that befell them; a map is used to show the main Iberian settlements discovered up to the present day, which are to be found all along the Mediterranean coast and the southern part of the Iberian peninsula, from Andalusia to south-eastern France.

Military organisation and forms of government
In substance, the Iberian people were not warlike and did not have well-trained armies. In times of unrest and on certain occasions, as when they acted as mercenaries for Carthaginians and Romans, they were forced to take up arms and fight to defend their interests. Displayed in this section is the way in which Iberians were organised militarily: their combat strategies, wartime institutions, martial architecture and the equipment of knights and soldiers.
Iberian society was a highly hierarchical society. In order to assert and legitimise their power, Iberian princes created their own heroic myth: idealised representations of warriors on horseback pitted against human foes or fantastic creatures, were found among the sculptures of Cerrillo Blanco de Porcuna, in Jaén, which were discovered in the mid-1970s.
The different strata of Iberian society can be observed through a series of idealised sculptures of such personages as a priestess, an aristocratic warrior, a trader, an artisan and, lastly, a peasant.

Everyday life
Shown here are the activities that the Iberians performed throughout the day and the implements they used in their most important chores, namely, those of agriculture, livestock raising and the textile industry.
The Iberians developed new agricultural techniques that were bound up with the advances in ironworking and the ceramic spinning wheel. The crops most frequently grown by the Iberian people were cereals, olive trees and grapevines. In this connection, Iberians used the rotary mill for grinding cereals as well as for producing oil. A reproduction of the latter type is on display at the exhibit, alongside of a number of flat-mouthed amphoras used for storing and transporting oil, wine and cereals. A spinning frame, replica tools and objects from rural life are some of the artefacts featured at the exhibit.
This display puts special emphasis on ceramics and metallurgy. Given their abundance and variety, the ceramic remnants and pieces that are today available to archaeologists prove to be invaluable in helping them to date excavation sites.
Bronzes, terracottas and ceramics share the same type of schematic decoration and detail, which offers insight into the Iberian’s dress, gestural expression, habits and religious beliefs.

Writing and trade
The inscriptions that have been found on vessels, coins, pieces of lead, ceramics and stone have enabled us to understand some words in Iberian, a pre-Indo-European language from a very old group of which there are no traces left in known languages. The Iberian alphabet is made up of signs that represented letters and others that represented syllables. Paradoxically, we know the sounds of Iberian linguistic units but not their meaning.
An indication that well-established trade existed is the appearance of coins beginning in the 3rd century. Early coinage imitated Greek and Phoenician monies from the colonies in Marseilles, Empúries and Roses. The distribution of the products that were traded in Iberian lands gave rise to the first route that ran along the Mediterranean coast: Via Heraklea, or Hannibal’s Way, which later would become Via Augusta.

Urban development and architecture
In the world of the Iberians, population centres were the seat of power and economic redistribution. Built up around them were ramparts and sophisticated defensive systems. Their large fortified nexuses are known as oppidum and are generally found in elevated areas. The models of the settlements of Puente Tablas in Jaén, Tejada Vieja in Huelva, and Puig Castellar in Barcelona are three examples of urban planning shown at the exhibit. One of the standout attractions in this section is the life-sized reproduction of an Iberian dwelling, a house that is rectangular in shape, built with adobe and covered with a flat roof. Also on display are models of specialised structures such as palaces and temples, buildings that responded to the social and religious needs of community life.

Religion and funerary rites
The Iberians undertook to create spaces reserved for the disposing of their deceased, forming veritable cemeteries.
This civilisation incinerated their dead together with their most significant belongings over pyres of wood. The dead person’s remains not consumed by fire were purified by means of a cleansing rite and, as a general rule, were then put into a ceramic urn that was deposited inside the tomb. An exceptional case is the statue of Dama de Baza (Granada), in whose throne an opening was hollowed out so that the charred bones could be placed inside. The exhibit offers a reproduction of this tomb: the funerary sculpture on display with the bridal accoutrements, arranged exactly as they were when they were found. This piece demonstrates the complexity of their funerary system with the ideological component that it contained. In this thematic area, also to be found are full-size replicas on two of the best-known relics of Iberian culture: the Dama de Elche (Alicante) and the Bicha de Balazote (Albacete).

Iberians: princes, warriors and artisans
From 7 May to 29 June, 2003

Provincial Museum of Jaén
Paseo de la Estación, 27
23008 Jaén

[email protected]

Free admission

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