Craftsmanship on hard animal materials in the Iron Age in the East of the Iberian Peninsula. The archaeological complex of Ullastret
Handicrafts on hard animal materials in the Iberian period are a part of the material culture that, until now, had generally been relegated in archaeological research on the peninsular Iron Age; a reality that, roughly speaking, also extends to the European sphere.
However, based on the study carried out on this type of objects in Iberian sites, with chronologies ranging from the 7th to the 1st century BC, it has been possible to see how this type of tools and ornaments were more common in the Iron Age than was supposed until the present day, being present to a greater or lesser extent in the everyday, craft, social, economic, funerary and/or symbolic aspects of the Iberian world. Therefore, the relevance of the analysis of this kind of industries has been underlined, in coexistence with other handcrafted productions such as carpentry, metallurgy or goldsmithing.
One of the most numerous sets of artefacts made from bone, horn and/or ivory, as well as evidence of various phases of the operational chains of their production, has been identified in the archaeological complex of Ullastret (Girona), which includes the habitat areas of Illa d’en Reixac and Puig de Sant Andreu, the periurban district of Gou-Batlle and the necropolis of Puig de Serra (Serra de Daró). This work presents the results of the taxonomic, typological, technological, functional and contextual analyses of the documented pieces deposited in the Museu d’Arqueologia de Catalunya – Seu Ullastret. The materials from both the ancient excavations and the archaeological work still being carried out in the oppidum have been reviewed, thus obtaining a reliable view of the whole archaeological complex. We will focus on the evidence of craft production on these raw materials in the habitat areas, as well as on the most outstanding concentrations of identified pieces, such as House 32 of the Predi Nord Subirana area of Puig de Sant Andreu excavated by M. Oliva in the 1970s or in area 14 excavated at the beginning of the 20th century by A. Martín and the MAC-Ullastret team, among others.
Furthermore, it is particularly interesting that this set of materials allows us to compare the pieces recovered in different habitat spaces with the case of the necropolis, thus showing both the features shared by both contexts and their particularities. For example, artefacts such as hinges, handles, beads and worked tabas are the most common pieces in domestic spaces, while wall lights or decorative plaques have a greater presence in the funeral trousseaux.
The review of this group of artefacts has allowed us to identify the use of common raw materials in this type of industry, such as the bones of medium-sized and large mammals, deer antlers or the astragalus of ovicaprines, but also some more exceptional ones: a bear tooth, a possible cetacean bone and elephant ivory.
Therefore, we consider that through the example of the archaeological complex of Ullastret we can show the relevance of these handicrafts in the Iron Age, emphasizing the kind of pieces documented, the techniques and tools used and the value given to the objects, raising the possible places of production of this type of crafts, as well as deepening in those pieces or raw materials that could have come through the Mediterranean contact and trade.