More than a cave, that cavity that the people of Santomera (Murcia) called Las Brujas was hardly a coat in the Sierra del Balumba. The doctor in Archeology and Prehistory José Ángel Ocharan was struck by its orientation to the west and its location, on the upper limit of the Iberian town investigating, near an ancient water source. As a specialist in the religiosity of the Iberians, he knew that such a place could become sacred for a people who worshiped nature.
The first levels of the excavation showed, however, that it had been a space dedicated to the production of lead, of a domestic nature. The team of archaeologists led by Ocharan, made up of
professionals specialized in various areas, members of the Santomera Heritage Association and the Cultural Association of Protohistoric Studies and Archeology and students of the University of Murcia, recovered from raw materials, such as galena, to an ingot. It is the first Iberian lead ingot of which we have news.
An entire crucible was also found with the interior casting of molten lead, plates, as well as elaborate objects such as lañas (ceramic repair tools) or lead bullets that were thrown with slingshots. Everything indicated that pyrometallurgical work was being carried out in that shelter, but it was strange that it was outside the town, with no home nearby.
As they continued digging, other elements began to emerge that corroborated what this expert’s nose sensed. In lower strata they found favisas (concealments that were made in the spaces dedicated to worship), goblet vessels used in rituals, imported Attic ceramics or a ‘kylix’, one is of Iberian imitation that in its day served as offerings, as well as a Decorated lead bowl found under a boat-shaped mill. Nearby, linked to this cult utensil, they discovered a stamp with a swastika. They had no doubt. They were before an Iberian sanctuary, which have dated between the 5th and 3rd centuries BC.
Ocharan explains that the seal’s left-handed tetraskel, which rotates in the opposite direction to the Nazi swastika, is a “typical” symbol in the Iberian world. «It should not surprise us because they are solar representations that abound in peninsular protohistory: the triskeles, the lauburus, the Galician spirals … They are very common representations in protohistoric peoples before the arrival of Rome and they were linked to the sun or a luminous deity ».
Their finding indicates that the space had a votive character because have only appeared in shrines or necropolis. «It was an identifying stamp, always linked to a place of worship », indicates this professor at the University of Murcia who has located half a dozen swastikas like this one in Murcia, Valencia, Granada and Jaén. Only in the Murcian region were two others found, one in the excavations of El Cigarralejo and another in the Cabecico del Tesoro, in Verdolay. Both in necropolis, to which is added this one from the sanctuary of Balumba.
Ocharan has observed in several of these stamps “a small manufacturing fault” that also has that of the Cave of the Witches. One of the blades is broken. By detecting this defect in several pieces that coincide in weights and measures, it has been possible to determine that they proceed from the same mold. The stamp “is not unique,” he notes, but the fact that these swastika are always found in cultural spaces reaffirms his hypothesis.
In the cavity of the Balumba site, reproductions of miniature weapons, coins, small objects of personal adornment such as rings or the remains of a small torque-shaped bracelet have also been found. They also found fusayolas (pieces that serve as a counterweight in a spindle for spinning) and ponderales (small weights) or bivalve shells always linked to female trousseau.
A female deity?
This expert in Iberian religiosity had discovered offerings like these in the Sanctuary of La Nariz, in Moratalla, where an iconographic representation of the
famous goddess of Salchite. That is why Ocharan suspects that, like La Nariz, the sanctuary of Las Brujas could be dedicated to a female deity. It would not be strange, since “the great Iberian deity that we call Mother Goddess is feminine in character,” he adds.
Although these shrines had no relation to each other, the
evidence of lead work in both, which are also repeated in the sanctuary of La Luz, have led this researcher to open a line of research so far unpublished to try to understand the linking of these metallurgical works in the rituals of 2,500 years ago. “The production of iron was the main engine of advance in those moments of protohistory. The one with iron was the one who ruled. It does not have to surprise us that these metallurgical spaces are linked to places of worship, ”says Ocharan while recalling that this link is already mentioned in texts of the Iliad and in the Odyssey. In Greek mythology, Hephaestus was the god of fire and the forge, who made the weapons of Achilles.
In the fourth campaign of excavations that they are now preparing, the archaeologists are going to concentrate their forces on the newly discovered sanctuary. Ocharan expects “big surprises” because “There is still enough archaeological power in the cavity”. They calculate that there is still at least a meter and a half to go down and they have to release a landslide that blinded the cave and does not allow them to know its depth with precision. They will also explore the outer esplanade, where the rituals were performed. Strabo relates that people went in a kind of pilgrimage on certain dates to these ‘loca sacra’, these sacred places in the open air, and made libations, drank from goblet or gray ceramic cups and then broke them. Communal meals were held and votive offerings were offered to the deity in gratitude for a good granted.
This must have happened in the 4th and 3rd centuries BC in the small Iberian town of Balumba, a settlement of about 30-40 homes that were formed together with one another, without a defensive wall. Situated on an elevation, with visual control of the entire surrounding area, it was a strategic fort that from the 5th century BC it controlled the communication routes that passed at its feet.
In addition to the sanctuary, whose discovery has not been made known until now because there was a risk of looting, in the third excavation campaign the remains of a large defensive tower were discovered, one of the largest Iberian ones found to date, which It must have had adobe facing and a wooden floor on the top. All of this collapses. We have no materials beyond the third century BC, ”says Ocharan. The abandonment of the Iberian town of Balumba coincided with the end of the Second Punic War.
Declared an Asset of Cultural Interest since 2009 with the whole of the mountains, where an Argaric settlement is also located, the Iberian site of Balumba was excavated for the first time in the 70s. Ocharan’s team resumed its study in 2019, first with prospecting and after a discreet campaign the following year marked by the pandemic, in 2021 they have been able to carry out a satisfactory campaign, thanks to the full involvement of the Santomera City Council, which financially supports the work. Next October, their latest findings will be presented at the
Archaeological Museum of Murcia, where you can see the cult objects unearthed in the sanctuary. Among them, the unique seal with the swastika.