3 November 2011

Meet the Iberians

The Iberian lynx is a rare sight nowadays. It is actually the most endangered feline species in the world, and the few remaining individuals can only be found in some areas of western Andalusia (south of Spain). They are called Iberian for obvious geographic reasons. The Iberian Peninsula (Spain + Portugal) is named after the term Iberia, used by the Greeks and the Romans to refer to the peoples that they met on the Mediterranean coast. In fact, it was originally the name of a river (Iberos, nowadays Ebro). Through time, Iberia acquired its modern meaning, grossly equivalent to ancient Hispania. But the ethnonym Iberian is also an archaeological term, referring to a given pre-Roman material culture, associated with a language (still undeciphered) that can be read in a series of inscriptions. The meaning of ethnonyms and ancient languages is usually quite inaccurate and often misleading, and the term Iberian is no exception. However, we can be quite certain that around the east and south of Sapin there was a cultural continuum, including inscriptions and characteristic place-names, apart from a given set of settlement structures, that is generally labelled Iberian. In contrast to this, the rest of pre-Roman Spain is thought to be Celtic. Now, let's go back to the rare Iberian lynx: how Iberian is it actually? The territory where it is presently found is not at all the heart of the Iberian world. The Iberian lynx is probably more Tartessian than Iberian. The Tartessians are also quite a mysterious people themselves. For some authors (see e.g. here), they would be connected to the Celts, though this theory is far from being generally accepted.

So where do you have to go if you want to meet the real Iberians? A good place to go is Medierranean Spain, the area where I live. One of my hobbies is to visit the archaeological sites in the Valencia area; I've seen many of them, and I'm planning more tours in the future. The other day, I even had the chance to meet some ancient Iberians! I went to a site in Caudete de las Fuentes, supposed to be the ancient Kelin, a name that has been preserved in coins. Let's see some pictures from that day:

There I was with an Iberian lady who welcomed us in the museum (picture on the left) and listening to some merchants (right), in this beautiful reenactment organized by the University of Valencia. This type of events really helps you get closer to the ancient world. They are not just a show for families or some kind of touristy entertainment. Archaeology is more than just stones or abstractions, archaeology is something that can (or must) be felt, looked at, measured. Let's see another picture:

This is me at Puntal dels Llops (the Hill of Wolves), an Iberian site in Olocau, near Valencia. I went up there last year, and the most impressive thing about it is that, when you look around, you can locate other ancient sites and some relevant geographic features, and this gives you the right perspective. It makes sense. It looks real.

A couple of years ago I started my PhD dissertation, focused on the ancient languages of Britain. Some lines of my research are outlined in my blog, and they obviously include a good deal of arcchaeology. Now, there's a problem here. I haven't been to Britain in many years, and I don't have any direct experience of British archaeology: I haven't visited any of the main sites, which means I don't have a personal perspective of places, distances, the real size and look of ancient artifacts. To put it simple: I haven't touched British past. It is impossible to do research from simple abstractions, or from books. If you do something in life, try to make it real. That's why I think I won't finish my dissertation.


Dunika said...

Da gusto encontrarte de vez en cuando con blogs como este. Además de ser muy ameno y estar escrito de froma muy didáctica, te permite aprender sobre temas que normalmente no son tratados de forma muy seria en la red. Por tanto ¡Enhorabuena por este magnífico blog! ¡Espero que siga asi por mucho tiempo!

Jesús Sanchis said...

Thank you for the comments, Dunika, and welcome to this blog!

Dunika said...

I'm looking foward your next post. I hope it coming soon.

JoseAngel said...

Hey, I didn't like the sound of the ending of this post, at all. It sounds as if the thing you have to do is travel a bit to Britain and visit some museums and archaeological sites, maybe you'll find there the connection to your experience that you feel is lacking. Or maybe you're thinking of doing work on the Iberians? Of course one doesn't need to write a thesis unless it's for some practical purpose. Anyway there ought to be some common ground between these interests, working on the pre-Roman landscape of Europe generally. And you do have a special interest in this issue, if I get you right!

Jesús Sanchis said...

Yes, JoseAngel, the last paragraph of the post sounds a bit pessimistic, and this is how I'm feeling about my possible research work. Right now it's on standby, and I don't think I'll ever finish it. This is partly because of some health problems I've had this year, but the main reason is the one I have explained in the post.

Doing research on the Iberians would be a great thing. I know some of the people who are involved in the decipherment of the Iberian language, and it's one of these scientific challenges that I would like to be involved in. However, studying the Iberian language requires some background knowledge that I don't have, and given the fact that I'm already 43 y.o. I don't think I have a real chance of acquiring this knowledge. It would be essential, for example, to have a degree in classical studies, including some work on ancient epigraphy.

But yes, the blog goes on and I will still have a chance to say a few things about ancient languages.

Octavià Alexandre said...

És interessant saber que el biscaí té la paraula luki 'guineu' (anglès fox), que deriva de la mateixa arrel que l'indoeuropeu 'linx'.

Això és continuïtat en el sentit que li dono a aquest concepte, que no és ben bé el mateix que té a la TCP d'Alinei i companyia.

Refel said...

Hello, do you know Ullastret? If you travel to Empordà, go to Ullastret!

Jesús Sanchis said...

Definitely. Ullastret is one of the Iberian sites I'd like to visit. There are so many of them! My next visit will be to Castellar de Meca, near Ayora, in Valencia, a real Iberian jewel.