The Bronze Age site of La Almoloya was a small, governing outpost of the Argaric culture, a highly hierarchical society that flourished in south-east Iberia between 2200 and 1550 BC. Excavations at the site in 2014 made several remarkable discoveries (CWA 69), including a number of palatial structures, but the most significant find was without doubt a rich double burial, called Grave 38. This burial belonged to a man and woman who died at around the same time, c.1650 BC, and were interred inside a large ceramic vessel with many lavish grave goods, including a rare silver diadem, beneath a communal hall believed to have been used for governing purposes.
The discovery raised questions about the political structure of Argaric society, particularly concerning the role that women may have played in its government. Now, a paper published in Antiquity (https://doi.org/10.15184/aqy.2021.8) is shedding more light on the burial and offering answers to these questions.
Further study of Grave 38 has revealed the extent of the economic divisions that existed in Argaric society, and the wealth and power enjoyed by the deceased pair. It was determined that the weight of the silver represented in the grave goods (230g), most of which is in the form of silver spirals attached to the woman’s hair, veil, or ears, was equivalent to 27.5 shekels (a currency used at the time in several Near Eastern and Aegean economies), making it equal to approximately 938 daily wages at the time in Babylonia, or the price of 3,350kg of barley.
Perhaps more significant than the economic value of the grave goods, though, is the symbolic value of the silver diadem that was found on the head of the woman. Four similar examples had previously been found during 19th-century excavations at El Argar, the type site of Argaric culture, which lies 90km (56 miles) south of La Almoloya. All of the diadems came from rich burials of extremely high-status women. The Antiquity paper presents a new theory about the significance of these diadems as emblems of power and suggests that they may reflect the central position of these women in the governance of Argaric society. This is reflected in wider patterns present in Argaric burials, where the grave goods belonging to men are generally lower in both quantity and value than those of women. The researchers suggest that the swords and daggers found in male burials indicate that they could have been tasked with enforcing political decisions, whilst women (specifically those buried with diadems, who were probably at the apex of society) may have been responsible for ideological legitimation and perhaps even the government itself.