Rare Lead Plate With Mysterious Text Rescued From An Iberian Dump

A unique lead plate covered with Iberian writing has been recovered from Pico de los Ajos (Yátova), one of the most important archaeological sites in Spain. Bent out of shape, with a mysterious religious message, this lead plate, a rare artifact, was discovered in an ancient metal recycling site nearby.

The Iberian Village of Pico de los Ajos is an archaeological site in the municipality of Yátova (Valencia) that was inhabited since the 7th century BC and abandoned between the first century BC and the first century AD.

The foundations of many ancient habitations and defensive structures have been excavated from the center of this highly-defended town and many of the digs have unearthed hundreds of fragmented ceramics and monetary materials.

But now, a team of researchers has excavated a rare lead plate covered in ancient writing, but it was bent out of shape as if it had been discarded. The bent religious artifact perplexed the team of researchers, until they realized the metallic tablet had lost its spiritual power and was discarded for recycling.

Spanish archaeologists from the University of Valencia excavating at the Pico de los Ajos (Yatova) site in southeastern Spain, where the bent lead plate sheet was found in a nearby ancient metal recycling site. ( University of Valencia )

A Rare Example of a Kind Of Ancient Iberian Lead Plate Slab

The University of Valencia (UV) team who discovered the rare carved plate comprised archaeologists from the Prehistory Museum of Valencia (MPV) and the University of Barcelona (UB). Together, the multi-disciplined research group have published a new study in the Veleia journal (in Spanish) detailing their discovery of, and subsequent interpretation of, what is being called “the first lead plate inscribed with Iberian writing obtained in a regulated excavation” at Pico de los Ajos (Yátova).

The lead sheet is inscribed with archaic writing “in an unknown theme” but the paper explains that it has been phonetically transcribed, an exercise which has already “advanced our knowledge of Iberian culture,” according to the study. The lead artifact was discovered with writing on both sides forming a single text, but the plate had been bent.

Testing determined that the ancient Iberian symbols were written between the fourth and third centuries BC, a fact which is exciting the scientists because most similar lead plates are from later centuries. However, this particular Iberian lead plate was discovered in a 2nd to first century BC archaeological layer.

A “younger” lead plate with Iberian inscription from the Pico de los Ajos (Yatova) site, called “Pico de los Ajos I.” It is inscribed on both sides, verifying the existence of poorly erased previous texts. Part of the collection in the Museum of Prehistory of Valencia, Spain. (Falconaumanni / CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Treasure Hunters Have Stolen Much From This Site In The Past

According to a report in Heritage Daily many of the known lead sheets recovered from this site have come to the hands of archaeologists from looting. However, this particular example represents one of only a handful of plates that have been obtained during controlled excavations at the site. What this means is that the artifact was discovered within a known context, “both temporal and spatial,” wrote the authors of the new paper.

This of course reminds us of how about 5% of the potential historical data from an artifact comes from the tangible object itself, and the remaining 95% comes from the context in which it was found. Thus, treasure hunters rob not only the artifacts, but also the bulk of the archaeological information that is connected with where they were found or unearthed the stolen item.

Dr David Quixal says Iberian is a language that still cannot be translated, and this is unfortunate as the site has provided archaeologists with “one of the largest sets of texts written in Iberian on the entire peninsula.” This situation also means that although the plate has been studied phonetically , the nature and meaning of the message is not yet clear.

Another lead plate with epigraphic inscription in a now-extinct Iberian language, from Castellet de Bernabe, Spain, which is another known Iberian archaeological site in Valencia province. (Pguerin / CC BY-SA 4.0 )

A Lead Plate With A Spiritual Inscription That Was Discarded?  

The professor added that neither is “the context” in which the message should be interpreted clear, harking back to that 95%. However, what the researchers have been able to do is determine that the text is most probably of a spiritual nature rather than a commercial or contractual one.

The text is thought to be religious because its “formal characteristics are uncommon.” The closest parallel to the language is that of the votive plates from El Amarejo (Albacete) which the authors of the new study point out contains the “ kutuŕ” element which is frequently observed in rock votive inscriptions which also indicates that the text had a religious function .

In conclusion, the researchers wrote that the text was created between the 4th and 3rd centuries BC but because it was discovered in a 2nd to first century BC archaeological layer, in a building dedicated to the recycling of metal tools and utensils , the sheet was probably just another discarded object waiting to be recycled.

And further edging into the origins of the text the team have successfully identified the name of someone mentioned within it as “tořaibeleś,” who is suspected to have been the commissioner or author of the text.

Top image: The bent Iberian lead plate, with its strange inscription, found at the Pico de Los Ajo (Yátova) in a nearby ancient metal recycling site . Source: University of Valencia

By Ashley Cowie

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