The only sure thing is that they were all buried in the main chamber of the megalith about 4,800 years ago The prehistorians do not know if they died at the same time, as well as what caused his death. But they do know that they are 20 people (at least 15 women and 5 individuals of unidentified sex, but more than likely females) dressed in spectacular braided dresses with thousands of beads between 3 and 4 millimeters in diameter and carrying pendants from ivory and amber in the form of acorns. They were the priestesses of the temple of Montelirio (Castilleja de Guzmán, Sevilla). Now, an investigation of a large team led by Professor Leonardo García Sanjuán, Department of Prehistory and Archeology of the Sevilla University, reveals one of the great mysteries of peninsular megalithism: they died with an average age of 31 years and between great pains, poisoned by mercury, although it is possible that while they suffered the effects of the poison were auctioned violently.
The site, whose name is Tholos de Montelirio, in the archaeological zone of Valencina de la Concepción-Castilleja de Guzmán, was discovered in 1868 and abandoned for decades. Its excavation was resumed starting in 1980 due to the urban growth of Seville. Schematically it is a megalithic construction (between 3,000 and 2,800 years before Christ) composed of an open-air "corridor" of about 40 meters in length leading to two underground chambers with roofs with paths of about 5 and 2.75 meters in diameter, respectively, that were sustained -during the setting of the work- on wooden pillars. The main chamber, where the bodies were found, was covered with a red patina of cinnabar and decorated with motifs that made reference to the Sun.
The latest research of the University of Seville has determined that for a few minutes during the winter solstice the sun was streaming through the entrance corridor, illuminating the funeral chamber and striking a stele that represented the Mother Goddess, provoking "a sensory saturation "among the people who were inside it.
In the remains of all bodies have been detected "very high levels" of mercury (brought from Almadén, Ciudad Real), which would cause serious motor and cognitive dysfunctions. "This means that they were continuously exposed to cinnabar, either for ingestion for religious reasons or because they lived with the skin painted by mercury," says the researcher. In addition, bones have bone-like conditions (arthritis and osteoarthritis) that, given their "youth" (the average age of death in the Copper Age was around 40 years old), indicate that they either walked a lot or were "dancers", which reinforces their possible priestly character. García Sanjuán admits that it is unknown if "all died at the same time or in a very short period of time, but it is possible that the monument was built for a unique funeral event or for a very special group."
These people were buried covered by a kind of sequined dresses, which were actually clothes made with tens of thousands of limestone beads or shells and strung by threads. The weight of these suits would go, according to the calculations of the students, the eight or 10 kilos. One of the bodies has been found in a prayerful position towards the statue of the feminine deity, although most of the skeletons are in supine position. Along with the remains have been unearthed sumptuary materials imported from faraway places, such as ivory, amber, variscite, cinnabar or rock crystal.
The tomb, which accumulates materials that were transformed by craftsmanship of exceptional quality, includes pieces of carved ivory, gold foil or arrowheads of rock crystal. The tomb of Montelirio has been linked to another great megalithic mausoleum found some 200 meters away: the grave tomb of the so-called Marchante del Marfil. It is a "great man" who was buried with valuable objects, including the tusk of an elephant and a flint dagger with amber knob. The Max Planck Society of Jena (an outstanding network of German scientific research institutes) is analyzing several samples that will allow to determine the possible relationship of kinship among all the bodies found.
The Tholos de Montelirio can not be visited and its objects and remains are currently stored in the Museum of Archeology in Seville. "It is unfortunate that some pieces that have gone around the scientific world, given their undeniable value, can not be admired by the public, which would generate more expectation about a site that is unique in the world", concludes García Sanjuán.