Sunday, September 9, 2012


Tartessos was a harbor city and surrounding culture on the south coast of the Iberian Peninsula (in modern Andalusia, Spain) at the mouth of the Guadalquivir River. The city appears in historical documents from Greece starting in the middle of the first millennium BC. The name Tartessos fell out of use around 2000 years ago. Historians have suggested that the city may have been suddenly lost to flooding. A large collection of discoveries have been made in the area that has helped form a picture of the Tartessian culture.

The Tartessians were rich in metal. In the 4th century BC the historian Ephorus described “a very prosperous market called Tartessos, with much tin carried by river, as well as gold and copper from Celtic lands.” The people from Tartessos became important trading partners of the Phoenicians. Pausanias, writing in the 2nd century AD, gave details on the location of the city. He wrote that Tartessus (formerly known as Baetis) is a river in the land of the Iberians, which is running into the sea by two mouths. Between the two mouths was a city of the same name. The river formally known as the Baetis is now the Guadalquivir. Thus the site of the city of Tartessos may have been lost and buried under the shifting wetlands.

This area of the world holds some geological significance. The Guadalquivir River delta has gradually been blocked by a sandbar stretching from the mouth of the Rio Tinto, near Palos de la Frontera, to the riverbank opposite Sanlúcar de Barrameda. The land has become protected under the Doñana National Park. In 1994, UNESCO designated the park as a World Heritage Site. UNESCO has recognized Doñana as a Biosphere reserve. It is a wetland of international importance and holds a biodiversity unique in Europe. The park contains a great variety of ecosystems. It shelters wildlife including thousands of European and African migratory birds, fallow deer, Spanish red deer, wild boar, European badger, Egyptian mongoose, and endangered species such as the Spanish Imperial Eagle and Iberian Lynx.

In September 1923, archaeologists discovered a Phoenician necropolis (burial ground) with human remains at the site. A large collection of artifacts were unearthed from the South-Western Iberian Bronze culture. The culture is characterized by individual burials, in which the deceased was accompanied by a knife of bronze. Tartessic artifacts linked with the Tartessos culture have been discovered, and many archaeologists now associate the “lost” city with Huelva, Spain.

Tartessos has been associated with Atlantis. Both Atlantis and Tartessos were believed to be advanced societies which collapsed when their cities were lost beneath the waves. In 2011, a team led by Richard Freund claimed to have found strong evidence for the location of Atlantis in Doñana National Park based on underground and underwater surveys. Spanish scientists have dismissed the claims. Biblical archeologists often identify a place named Tarshish in the Hebrew Bible with Tartessos.

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