Rare Phoenician Necropolis discovered in Andalucia, Spain is extraordinary, scientists say

While upgrading water supplies in Andalucia, southern Spain, workers made an unexpected discovery when they came across an “unprecedented” and well-preserved necropolis of subterranean limestone vaults used by the Phoenicians, who lived on the Iberian peninsula 2,500 years ago laid their dead. The necropolis is extraordinary, according to the scientists.

Phoenician necropolis
Subterranean limestone vaults have been discovered in Osuna, where the Phoenicians who lived on the Iberian peninsula 2,500 years ago laid their dead. © Image Credit: Andalucía regional government

The Phoenician settlement was discovered amid the Roman ruins in the town of Osuna, which is located around 90 kilometers (55 miles) east of the city of Seville. Osuna, which has a population of nearly 18,000, found a worldwide audience eight years ago when parts of the fifth season of Game of Thrones were filmed in the town.

In spite of this, it is also a town where several Roman ruins have been discovered by archaeologists in the past. Although the local ruins of the Roman city of Urso are well known, the discovery of the Phoenician necropolis has astounded archaeologists and locals.

Rosario Andújar, the mayor of Osuna tells the discovery of the necropolis is extraordinarily surprising and of great historical significance. The lead archaeologist, Mario Delgado, described the discovery as very significant and very unexpected.

Preliminary surveys of the newly unearthed necropolis have turned up eight burial vaults, staircases, and spaces that may have once served as atriums.

The excavations are being managed by The culture and historical heritage department of the Andalucían regional government, which announced that its archaeologists had discovered “a series of remains of unquestionable historical value” that were “unprecedented in inland Andalucía.”

“To find a necropolis from the Phoenician and Carthaginian era with these characteristics – with eight well tombs, atriums, and staircase access – you’d have to look to Sardinia or even Carthage itself,” said Mario Delgado.

“We thought we might find remains from the imperial Roman age, which would be more in keeping with the surroundings, so we were surprised when we found these structures carved from the rock – hypogea (subterranean vaults) – perfectly preserved beneath the Roman levels.”

According to the archeologists, the necropolis is from the Phoenician-Punic era, dating from the fourth or fifth century BC. And is highly unusual as such sites are normally found in coastal areas rather than so far inland.

“The only similar finds have been made around the coast of Cádiz, which was founded by the Phoenicians in 1100 BC and which is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in Europe.” the Guardian reports.

Archaeologists show Osuna’s mayor around the ruins. Phoenician necropolis
Archaeologists show Osuna’s mayor around the ruins. © Image Credit: Ayuntamiento de Osuna

The discovery, according to mayor Rosario Andújar, has already led to a new investigation into the history of the region.

“We all know that excavations in certain parts of our town are pretty likely to turn up remains that have varying degrees of historical value, but we’ve never gone this deep before,” said Andújar.

The new evidence of a Phoenician-Carthaginian presence in the area, added Andújar, “doesn’t change history – but it does change what we’d known until now about the history of Osuna, and it could be a turning point.” – As reported by the Guardian.

The mayor said that while more research needed to be done, the luxurious nature of the necropolis suggested it had been built for those at “the highest level” of the social hierarchy.

“The operation isn’t over yet and there’s still more to be discovered,” she said. “But the team has already come up with reliable information that attests to the historical importance of all this. Both the graves themselves and the ritual spaces that are being examined suggest that this wasn’t any old burial site.”