Ibiza History Culture

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History in Ibiza

History of Ibiza
by Emily Kaufman

Archaeology Conference


Historical Information

Welcome to the history page. This week, as promised, we will review the groundbreaking revelations made at the Conference of Phoenicio-Punic Archaeology, held last week at Ibiza's branch university. This prestigious lecture series is fully sponsored and organized every autumn by the island's Archaeology Museum. Since its inception in 1985, the conference has become one of Spain's most important meeting-of-the-minds in the field of Phoenicio-Punic studies.


Before going on, I cannot help but interject, perhaps ill advisedly, that Ibiza's primary claim to fame could easily rest on its historical prominence rather than on its highly developed party life. Trends come and trends go. At present, the island is a haven to clubbers and assorted bons vivants - which is not a bad thing as long as there is a parallel respect for (and cognizance of) past eras.

Nobody expects holidaymakers to sit in reverend awe of Ibiza's by-gone splendour. Nonetheless, a healthy dose of curiosity as to the crucial role the island played in the founding of Western Europe (ergo its designation as a World Heritage Site), would be the dog's Balearics, to use a tenuous new cliché.

I might add that, as in all things, the decisive factor controlling public interest is the media. Needless to say, media coverage of Ibiza has barely begun to scrape the surface of the historical, cultural and ecological wealth that is waiting, nay begging, to be discovered. Sadly, sensationalist reporting (which barely begins to scrape the surface of reality let alone the inside summer scene) seems to be the order of the day.


I suppose I've digressed enough for one edition, so we'd better get back to business. It was the museum's 16th annual lecture series we were discussing, and I was about to say that, despite the shortage of air links to Ibiza, all of the scheduled speakers were able to make it to the conference, albeit in a different order than previously reported. To quickly review and update the information we forwarded in Ibiza History Culture Archive article Weekly Edition 035 of Saturday 27th October 2001:

1) Monday's lecture was given by Dr. López Pardo from the University of Madrid and carried the title The Phoencician Presence on the African Atlantic Coast: Received Heritage and New Projects.

2) Tuesdays' lecture was given by Dr. González Prats from the University of Alicante and was called The Phoenicio-Punic Colonization of the (Spanish) Mediterranean Seaboard.

3) Wednesday's interesting lecture was given by Dr. Torres Ortiz from the University of Madrid under the title Phoenicinas in the Peninsular Southwest (of Spain).

4) Thursday's lecture was a truly galvanizing experience delivered by Dr. Carrilero Millán from the University of Almería and was called Phoenicians and Autochthons in Mediterranean Andalusia. (Tip: that really big word beginning with 'au' means 'indigenous inhabitants'.)

5) Friday's lecture, touted to be one of the best, lived up to its promise with flying colours. Despite the fact that she spoke very softly, did not stand up and rarely gesticulated, Dr. Aubet Semmler delivered the kind of talk that leaves you glued to your seat. Her thoughts emerged in neat succession, like crystalline drops of empiricism, painstakingly distilled from the treacherous seas of archaeological deduction. Her paper, The Phoenicians in the West: The State of the Science and Perspectives for the 21st Century, addressed the evolution of archaeological methodology over the past 30 years, summarized the field's most conclusive discoveries to date, and mapped out the direction of research it will follow as we usher in the new millennium.

New Facts Loom Large

The influx of information over the course of the five days was so overwhelming that, now, in the afterglow of illumination, it is difficult to single out key facts. If pressed, I would have to say that the week's top revelation was the recent discovery of several major Phoenician colonies near Lisbon that date back to the early archaic period, i.e., the 9th century BC.

It is not my personal assessment that regards these finds as ground-breaking, but rather the fact that they were mentioned by each and every one of the five speakers at the conference - whether they pertained to his/her area of expertise or not! Even Dr. González, whose talk dealt with the easternmost stretch of Spanish coastline (roughly, Catalonia to Murcia), could not resist making a passing reference to the Portuguese excavations, the most important of which are Abul and Almada.

Abul, in particular has yielded splendid findings: a large pier with adjacent warehouses for the storage of surplus wine, oil, etc. (a typical Phoenician practice), as well as two ancient sanctuaries, both with rectangular inner patios where fire rites were performed.

It boggles the mind to think that the Phoenicians had turned even this remote corner of the known world into a hub of commerce and industry as long ago as the 9th century BC. Not surprisingly (in light of the Abul excavations), Phoenician artefacts such as scarabs and ceramic jugs have also been discovered under the actual Castle of Lisbon, La Seo.

The reason these finds are so important is two-fold. First of all, until recently, archaeologists never suspected that the Phoenicians had left the confines of the Mediterranean to brave the rough Atlantic waters as early as the 9th century. Later, we know, they sailed all the way to England, which they called the 'Tin Islands', in search of . . . tin, of course! Interestingly, tin was very plentiful in Portugal and, along with high quality alluvial gold, was most certainly the reason for Tyre's colonisation of the area.

The second serious implication of the Portugal finds is the rationale that Spain's more easterly foundations - Malaga, Cadiz for example - must have been founded prior to the dates that are currently accepted. The question of Cadiz's founding is a hotly debated subject with academic opinion ranging between the 10th and the 8th centuries BC. The discovery of Abul and Almada seem to add more weight to the 10th century supporters in that a minor colony would not have been founded in advance of a major one. Common sense tells us that the ever-practical Phoenicians would not have glibly sailed past the excellent natural harbour of Cadiz, for example, to venture into the scary Atlantic without a some sort of outpost to fall back on. Even the dates for Ibiza's founding (7th century BC) may have to be pushed back, although corroborating material evidence is still lacking.

Choice Morsels

In addition to the Portugal finds, the lectures were sprinkled with juicy titbits of information that many readers will no doubt find interesting.

FACT: Tyre founded more colonies on the Iberian Peninsula than anywhere else in the Mediterranean.

FACT: The Phoenicians introduced both the chicken and the donkey to Western Europe.

FACT: The Phoenicians introduced square architecture to Iberia. Before their arrival, all man-made structures had round walls.

FACT: The Phoenicians travelled as far south as Bambuk in Africa (between the River Niger and the River Senegal) in search of gold.

FACT: The Phoenicians collected and crafted amber (which traditionally comes from the Baltic regions) in the north of Africa.

FACT: Iberia is full of majestic royal burial tombs containing luxury grave goods of gold and silver. Both the tombs and the funeral dowry are nearly identical to those found in Tyre, indicating that Iberia was the New World of antiquity, full of promise and prosperity. Interestingly, the central Mediterranean colonies, such as those founded in Italy and Sardinia, developed their own culture under the aegis of Carthage.


How's that for sensationalism? Like they say, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em! Tune in next week for a few reflections on the Yule-tide. Until then.

Emily Kaufman