El Sotillo, La Chabola de la Hechicera and Las Yurdinas II

Overarching period: Copper Age, 6,500 to 3,700 BP
Specific period: Iberian Copper Age 6,500 to 4,200 BP
Carbon dating: 4,212 - 5,627 years old
El Sotillo - 42.57° North, 2.62° West
La Chabola de la Hechicera - 42.57° North, 2.55° West
Las Yurdinas II - 42.63° North, 2.70° West
Site location country: Spain
mtDNA haplogroups: U, J, V, H
Y haplogroups: I, G, CF

Bronze Age Dagger Example of a Copper Age dagger [4]

The Copper Age in Spain:

The innovation of the Copper Age brought with it a rise in ornaments. Some of these were made of gold, and others more exotic materials. The majority of gold Iberian Copper Age objects were thin sheets. The largest and heaviest Copper Age Iberian gold artefact recorded is a hammered decorated gold sheet, found at a large settlement known as Valencina de la Concepción in present day Seville, Spain. The sheet was not associated with any human remains, which is unusual. This implies that in the Iberian Copper Age gold had a wider ideological significance than simply being used in burial activities. The most important individual in this site was not buried with any gold but was instead buried with exotic materials such as ivory, flint, amber and cinnabar. This is not unusual for the Copper Age.

This suggests that, although societies were highly stratified with an elite, metal was not generally used to signify this. This perhaps explains why the only documented copper-based objects at this time in Iberia are tools or weapons, and the earliest Iberian copper ornaments date to the Early Bronze Age. In contrast, almost all known gold ornaments dating to the Bronze Age were associated with buried individuals [11].

In contrast to being symbolic of society as it was in the Bronze Age, gold appears to have been symbolic of worldview. The decorations on this gold sheet in particular (consisting of chevrons, zigzag lines and pyramid-like motifs) are similar to Copper Age Iberian slate idols. Most significantly, there were four eye motifs, which had important symbolic significance. It is believed that they were associated with ethnic, cultural and social identities. In support of this theory, the only known gold eye motifs in the entire Iberian peninsula have been found in Seville [11]. This suggests that people of Copper Age Spain may have used gold decorations as expressions of their identities.

The Individuals from El Sotillo, La Chabola de la Hechicera and Las Yurdinas II:

The individuals in this sample were found at sites in present-day Spain, in the province of Álava. Three were found at the site El Sotillo, on the west side of the town Bilar. Another three individuals came from the site of La Chabola de la Hechicera, on the east side of the town Lagran. The final four individuals were found at the site Las Yurdinas II, between towns Montoria and Loza. The individuals in this sample were carbon dated to between 4,212 and 5,627 years old [12].

The site El Sotillo is 4,000-5,000 years old. It is a tomb with a corridor and almost circular chamber. The bodies were found amongst numerous tools made of rock, a metal tool for engraving, eight arrowheads, including one made of bone and one made of metal, and more items. There were also some pottery remains and a cup with incised decorations [12].

The site La Chabola de la Hichicera is another tomb, around 5,000 years old, constructed in the Late Neolithic period but used until the Bronze Age [12]. In the tomb were thirty-nine individuals, along with sylex arrowheads, personal ornaments (including necklace beads and pendants), a carved bone idol and pottery remains [13].

At the final site, Las Yurdinas II, which is over 6,000 years old [14], there were dark-ochre paintings representing a female silhouette and cow head [12]. A large crack leads to a small chamber which was used as a burial tomb [14]. In this tomb were the bodies of ninety-five individuals, accompanied by burial goods including arrowheads, points and spikes of various materials, and a necklace made of rocks [12].

Studies have shown that European populations at this time were descended from migrants from present-day Turkey, who interbred with resident hunter-gatherers. However, the extent of this interbreeding is debated. The individuals in this sample had a large proportion of hunter-gatherer ancestry. Evidence suggests that there was more than one way that hunter-gatherer DNA was mixed in with the ancestors of these individuals – some of the ancestry comes from admixture between farmers and local hunter-gatherers; some comes from admixture with other farmers who had themselves interbred with hunter-gatherers from different areas [12].

Three of the individuals in this sample belonged to the mitochondrial haplogroup U, which was the most common haplogroup among European hunter-gatherers of the Paleolithic and still exists in Europe today although at lower frequencies due to the genetic contribution of incoming European farmers [15]. Two of the individuals in this sample belonged to mitochondrial haplogroup J, which can be found in about 12% of the present European population and is also found in Middle East and North-East Africa. It originated in the Paleolithic (45,000 years ago), potentially in the Caucuses area [16]. Individuals of this haplogroup may produce higher body heat – a trait which may have been selected for in northern Europe [17]. Another two individuals belonged to haplogroup V, which is a haplogroup believed to have evolved in Western Europe at a time when ice covered almost the entire continent, causing Iberia to become a refugium. As the glaciers retreated around 15,000 years ago, the haplogroup was then carried across Europe [18]. The final individuals belonged to mitochondrial haplogroup H, which is also commonly found in Europe today and is known to have Middle Eastern origins. It has been found in Mesolithic hunter-gatherers, and existed in Europe prior to the arrival of agriculture [19].

Two of the males in this sample belonged to Y-chromosomal haplogroup I, which is found today in Europe and West Asia, particularly towards the Caucuses. It likely originated in the European Paleolithic [20]. Another male belonged to Y-chromosomal haplogroup G, which is common in Europe today but thought to be of Anatolian or Iranian origin [21]. The final male belonged to the Y-chromosomal haplogroup CF, which is a subclade of a haplogroup which likely evolved before the out of Africa migration, leading to the ancestor of all CT ancestors to become known as the “Out of Africa Adam”. The CF subclade dominates most non-African populations [22].