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Margarita Díaz-Andreu
University of Durham

Abstract: A re-evaluation of how ethnicity is currently understood in archaeology is necessary in view of

recent developments in the archaeology of identity. In this article, it will be argued that nationalism has
led to an understanding of ethnicity as monolithic, denying in this way its heterogeneous nature. Since
the 1920s, archaeologists working under the culture-historical umbrella have explicitly defined ethnicity
on the basis of material culture, maintaining endless, and perhaps fruitless, debates. However, as
anthropologists have been discussing since the 1970s, ethnicity is perhaps not about material culture, or
not necessarily about material culture, but about perception. Archaeologists should consider ethnic
identities as fluid and polymorphous, for multiple ethnic affiliations can coexist and overlap in the
same individual. Ethnic identification(s) displayed by each individual will change depending on the
circumstances, the interlocutor and the situation. In addition, archaeologists cannot study ethnic
identity in isolation from other types of identifications - gender, religion, status, etc. - as all of them will
be at play, ready to act (or to be hidden), on each particular occasion. These issues will be discussed in
this article in relation to Iron Age Iberians.

Keywords: ethnicity, Iberians, identity, Iron Age, nationalism, perception

In this essay, my aim is to reflect upon current interpretations of Iberian ethnicity. I
discuss how Iberian ethnic identity is currently interpreted, to what extent nationalism
continues to shape our understanding of ethnicity, and in which ways ethnicity - and
Iberian ethnicity in particular - can be reassessed in the light of recent research. In
addition, I argue the need for a re-evaluation of our understanding of ethnicity, which,
because of nationalism, is at present too monolithically defined. I propose that
ethnicity has a polymorphous nature, and evaluate how this operated amongst
Iberians. The apparent contradiction between the classical sources
European Journal of Archaeology Vol. 1(2): 199-218 Copyright © 1998 Sage Publications
(London, Thousand Oaks, CA and New Delhi) and the European Association of
Archaeologists [1461-9571(199808)1:2;199-218;003646]

Figure 1. Iberian peoples according to classical sources written in (a) the sixth and
fifth centuries BC (after Ruiz Rodríguez, and Molinos 1993: Fig. 84); and (b) the
third century BC (after Ruiz Rodríguez and Molinos 1993: Fig. 85).
DÍAZ-ANDREU : Iron Age Iberian ethnicity 201

regarding the different names given to this group, the more encompassing one of
Iberians but also the more restricted ones of Bastetanians, Edetanians, Layetanians,
etc. can be analysed from this new perspective. My discussion will focus on the book
recently published on the Iberians by Arturo Ruiz Rodríguez and Manuel Molinos
(1993), soon to appear in English translation, not only because it is an excellent book
which merits general discussion but also because it is a good example of the way in
which Iberian ethnicity is generally approached by Spanish and non-Spanish scholars.
The chapter on 'Ethnic groups, States . . . Socioeconomic Formations' will serve here as
the basis for my discussion on current understanding of ethnicity.
Iberians have been defined as the inhabitants of the Mediterranean coast from the
south of France west to the Guadalquivir valley, and of regions in the interior of the
Ebro basin and in part of the southern Meseta, from the sixth century BC through to
Roman rule. Their name comes from the classical sources, which also describe them as
various 'peoples': Edetanians, Oretanians, Contestanians, Ilercavonians, etc. However,
the contradictions in the written sources make it difficult archaeologically to define the
territory of each and the disparity resulting from a comparison of the maps produced
by different scholars is clear in this respect. 'Iberian' or 'Iberian culture' are terms
currently used by archaeologists. In order to define what pertains to the 'Iberian
culture', archaeologists use several criteria, mainly type of settlements, burial rites and
material culture. Settlements have a relatively high degree of urbanization, with
structures which are not exclusively domestic, and houses of rectangular plans and
normalized interior spaces. In cemeteries a cremation rite was practised and burials
show a standardized set of deposited objects. A final major type of sites has been
interpreted as sanctuaries. Material culture is characterized, among other things, by
wheel-made pottery of orange clay and painted decorations of a wine colour with
geometric and/or figurative designs, by sculptures portraying human and animal
images, and bronze and terracotta statuettes which, at least in some cases, seem to
have been votive offerings. From a socio-political point of view, archaeologists have
interpreted the spatial archaeological pattern as being the consequence of the existence
of chiefdoms and, in a later period, in some areas, of state societies.



Ruiz Rodríguez and Molinos (1993) discuss Iberian ethnicity mainly on the basis of the
information provided by the classical sources. As the authors point out, the written
sources describe the groups in a hierarchical way. In the sixth century BC, a distinction
is made between three major groups, Iberians, Mastienians and Tartessians but, within
them, other minor units, called tribes by the classical authors, are also referred to
(1993:243) (Fig. 1(a)). Later, in the fifth century BC, the classical sources define
Tartessos and Mastia as Iberian. This change is considered by Ruiz Rodríguez and
Molinos (1993:244) as a redefinition of their ethnic role at that time. After the Second
Punic War, the groups discussed by the written sources are the Turdetanians and the
Turdulians, seen as descendents of Tartessians; the Bastetanians, who hailed from the

Mastenians; the Oretanians, and other minor groups, whose identity is reinforced in
some cases through sanctuaries (1993:249) (Fig 1(b)). The Carthaginians first and then
the Romans eventually disrupted the ethnic processes taking place in Iberian
Ruiz Rodríguez and Molinos (1989; 1993) undoubtedly show a more sophisticated
understanding of the issue of ethnicity in Iberians than that of their culture-historian
predecessors from the 1920s to the 1970s.1 The authors point out that the definition of
the groups mentioned in the sources is not homogeneous, for sometimes they are
described mainly as political units and sometimes they are seen as mainly ethnic ones.
Looking at the issue from the political point of view, they argue that political units can
be either ethnically homogeneous or heterogeneous in their ethnic nature. In the case
of state formations, they maintain there were both 'ethnic states' and 'supra-ethnic
states'. Tartessos and Mastia are regarded as illustrations of supra - ethnic political
units, as they enclose other minor groups which Ruiz Rodríguez and Molinos (1993)
believe to be truly ethnic. The relation between politics and ethnicity is seen, thus, as
multiple, but also as fluid, as a 'supra-ethnic state' might potentially be the focus for
the creation of a new homogeneous ethnic group. Tartessos is used as an example of a
(failed) attempt to build such an ethnic identity. Thus, the authors maintain that in the
whole of Tartessos and Mastia - a territory which broadly coincides with present-day
Andalucía and Murcia - an effort was made within the political unit to create a
homogeneous ethnic identification (1993:245).2


A double reading can be made of Ruiz Rodríguez and Molinos' study of Iberian eth-
nicity from a present-day political perspective. On the one hand, in their hypothesis,
we can see the survival of the equation established in the late eighteenth century
between political unit and ethnic group. I have discussed this elsewhere and I shall not
insist on arguments already outlined there (Díaz-Andreu 1996).3 On the other hand,
the influence of modern politics in their scheme is clear when we realize that it is not
difficult to find modern examples of both types of states defined by them. Examples of
a supra-ethnic state are the United Kingdom and modern autonomous Spain;
examples of an ethnic state, France ai)d Francoist Spain. If we wished to adopt an
over-critical, distrustful attitude, we might argue that their work is another example of
how present politics influence the elaboration of archaeological models. In particular I
have in mind the possible influence in their work of the political situation in Spain. In
the 1970s and 1980s, when the model was formulated (see Ruiz Rodríguez and
Molinos 1989 and previous publications), Spain was in the middle of a transition
between dictatorship and democracy, between an imposed ethnic state and a
democratically chosen, supra-ethnic state. However, I am far from suggesting here that
Ruiz Rodríguez and Molinos are trying to deceive us, to use the present maliciously to
represent the past.4 On the contrary, what I am proposing is that the contexts in which
we archaeologists become immersed make us realize that similar processes might have
occurred in the past. We become aware of possibilities that we had not imagined
DÍAZ-ANDREU : Iron Age Iberian ethnicity 203

before. This is a healthy relation between present and past. And, because it is, it can
also be criticized and debated.
Leaving modern politics (partly) aside, several other points are worth making on
Ruiz Rodríguez and Molinos' hypothesis. The first is whether the features selected by
the authors to define ethnicity are correct. I shall briefly expand on this issue before
going to my second, and I think more important, question regarding their model. Ruiz
Rodríguez and Molinos (1993) approach ethnicity on the basis of the selection of both
the presence of specific types and the absence of others which they consider diagnostic
to define the groups. In this, the authors do not differ from other previous scholars in
Spain and elsewhere, as this is the standard means of designating ethnicity in
archaeology. Thus, for example, the Edetanians are described around the third century
BC, as possessing a very characteristic type of pottery, the Lima pottery, and through
the absence of figurines in sanctuaries.5 This allows them to assign to this group a
territory on a wide coastal strip between the rivers Xúcar and Mijares (1993:255). The
Bastetanians are defined by the presence of funerary boxes, chamber tombs and
imitations of Athenian craters in a specific territory (1993: Fig. 94). A final example will
suffice. In the case of the fifth century BC sculpture group from the site of Porcuna, the
soldiers represented are considered to belong to the same ethnic unit, because all 'wear
and use the same armour and weapons' (Ruiz Rodríguez 1997:182).6
The discussion of whether the diagnostic types selected by the authors to define
each of the groups are appropriate or not is an issue that has occupied archaeologists
from the 1920s. The debate is an easy one to set in motion, as in all cases there is an
unequal treatment of the different elements of material culture. Archaeologists usually
select those features - diagnostic types - which fit their hypotheses. Whereas
Edetanians are defined by the Lima pottery, funerary boxes are used in the case of the
Bastetanians. Using this example, two criticisms could be made. The first is that the
features selected might not have anything to do with ethnicity. For example, the Lima
pottery seems to be the product of a few generations of potters, and its distribution
could have more to do with elite exchange routes than with ethnicity (see pp. 207-213).
In the case of the funerary boxes, their distribution could be more related to a religious
practice than to ethnicity, but neither trade nor religion are discussed in this context by
the authors. Other interpretations other than trade and religion could be suggested,
and various authors have widely discussed this issue on a more general basis (see
Jones 1997:108-9 for an overview). Archaeologists are ill-prepared to distinguish which
identity is the appropriate one to interpret a particular distribution. The authors seem
to depend too much on the information obtained from the written sources, to such an
extent that they seem to dictate archaeological research. This second criticism can also
be extrapolated to other protohistorical and historical archaeological studies of
ethnicity. Because there is nothing per se in the archaeological record which clearly
points to ethnicity, the way to overcome this difficulty is to attempt to arrange the
archaeological data in order to justify the written sources. Thus, the relationship
between the use of the classical sources and the archaeological ones is unbalanced. I
would argue that the potential of archaeological data is undervalued. Archaeology is

not being used to contradict what is in reality poor information which we have
inherited from the classical sources.
I shall leave here the discussion on how appropriate the selection of the diagnostic
types is, for, as stated, it has been running from the 1920s and within the present
framework it will go on so for ever. The debate in fact is, I think, fruitless. There is a
basic problem in the discussion, which is not the selection of diagnostic types, but
something more fundamental, namely the method used. Ethnicity is defined on the
basis of material culture, but none of the authors have discussed whether material
culture is an appropriate factor to define ethnicity, and whether this endless
discussion is related to the nature of the problem, perhaps too difficult for archaeology
to resolve, or instead the result of looking at the problem in an inadequate way. Could
it be that ethnicity is not about material culture, or not necessarily about material
culture? Could it be that ethnicity is not necessarily about material culture as much as
about perception?

The subjectivist or emic perspective for the study of ethnicity has increasingly been
accepted in anthropology from at least the 1970s (Jones 1997: chapter 4). The wide
recognition of the role of perception in the definition of identity, and in particular of
ethnicity, is partly a consequence of the influential work of Fredrik Barth. Barth (1969)
radically changed the study of ethnicity with his proposal that ethnicity was
something which could not be objectified, but was defined by diagnostic socially
relevant factors for membership and the (successful) ascription of the members to
their ethnic group. Although he pointed out that all ethnic groups have their own
overt signals (diacritical features that people look for and exhibit to show identity),
together with basic value orientations (the standards of morality and excellence by
which* performance is judged), he considered that the critical feature which defined
ethnicity was self-ascription and ascription by others, and that there was 'no simple
one-to-one relationship between ethnic units and cultural similarities and differences.
The features that are taken into account are not the sum of "objective" differences, but
only those which the actors themselves regard as significant' (1969:13-14). Barth's
proposal ruled out the possibility of having an objective and objectified way to
designate ethnicity, to use material culture as a critical factor in the study of ethnicity,
and instead perception took an essential role. Barth's ideas were later refined by other
authors. Among them, I want to emphasize the work by Ronald Cohen. Cohen (1978)
went even further than Barth when he stressed the situational and fluid character of
ethnicity, whose influence was only possible as far as it was a meaningful element in
social interaction. Although neither Barth nor Cohen, nor any of the other authors,
arrived at my contention that ethnic identity is heterogeneous, and it is likely that
multiple ethnic identifications coexist in the same person, Cohen (1978) almost
reached this conclusion. Some of his examples clearly pointed in that direction. He
even stated that 'the same person can be categorized according to different criteria of
relevance in different situations' (Cohen 1978:388), but instead of conceding that more
than one of these characterizations could be ethnic, he continued to consider ethnicity
as monolithic. Despite this, I think that the study of ethnicity should finally get rid of
DÍAZ-ANDREU : Iron Age Iberian ethnicity 205

the nationalistic trap and researchers should recognize that ethnicity is richer than a
nationalist perspective would allow, and that it is so not only nowadays, in capitalist
societies, but it is and was also in small-scale societies, including - as I shall maintain -
prehistoric ones.
Barth and Cohen were not dealing with prehistoric peoples and never considered
the issue of whether ethnicity was an appropriate concept to be extended into the past.
There have been some claims of the unsuitability of the use of the concept in pre-
capitalist societies. Eriksen (1993: 80), for example, argued that, outside Europe,
ethnicity only appeared after peoples' contact with capitalism. There is some truth in
Eriksen's view, as some new ethnic groups were indeed created by the colonizers
(Cohen 1978:383; Gulliver 1969:15) or even by the anthropologists (Cohen 1978: 380-3).
However, the colonizers created those new ethnic groups on the basis of pre-existent
ones, either amalgamating, separating or reorganizing them. Colonizers may not have
been successful in all their new creations, but in some they undoubtedly were. In the
case of anthropologists, Cohen (1978:380-1) acknowledges that some of them had to
provide a name for a 'tribe' (a concept which Cohen discusses as equivalent to ethnic
unit) 'even when the group faded imperceptibly into other named groups more or less
similar and was broken up into named sub-groupings that had strong we/they
feelings dividing them'. I think that we should interpret these anthropological
categorizations as, on the one hand, reflecting the multiple levels of ethnic affiliations
amongst these groups and, on the other, as an example of how anthropologists
themselves used their own sense of we/ they division in order to classify 'the other' in
their own (nationalistic) language deciding, as a result, which grouping was the only
one - the proto-ethno-nation – that should be considered as their object of study.
Ethnicity, therefore, is a type of identity that is perfectly suitable to small-scale
societies, not only in the present but also in the prehistoric past. Ethnicity, defined as
'an aspect of a person's self-conceptualization which results from identification with
one or more broader groups in opposition to others on the basis of perceived cultural
differentiation and/or common descent' (based on Jones 1997, with additions), is a broad
enough category to be applied to Iron Age peoples and probably to all societies from
at least the upper Palaeolithic onwards. I consider that Iberians indeed had ethnic
identities, and that, moreover, they were fluid and not homogeneous, because
multiple ethnic affiliations coexisted and overlapped in the same subjects. These
affiliations were fluid, they were in a continuous process of flux, as it is reflected by
the appearance and disappearance of group names throughout the several centuries
referred to in the written sources. The affiliations were also multiple, reflecting the
probable fact that all groups mentioned in the texts, and not only those selected by
Ruiz Rodríguez and Molinos (1993) or the other authors before them, were ethnic
units. Additionally there might have been many more than those disclosed by the
poor information provided by the few written sources. Moreover, each individual in
the Iberian world would not necessarily have been ethnically identified with only one
of these groups, but sometimes with several of them. It would be futile to wonder
what was the prime identity of an Oretanian (or a Turdulian or someone from

whichever of the Iberian groups mentioned in the sources), whether it was the
Oretanian or the Iberian. Both identifications probably coexisted, besides other similar
ones such as town or village identification that I also define as ethnic. The ethnic
identification (s) displayed by each individual would change depending on the
circumstances, the interlocutor and the situation. One or more of these ethnic
identities, together with the other types of identifications – gender, religion, status, etc.
- would be at play, ready to act (or be hidden), in each particular occasion. Studies on
Iberian identity should be carried out with the acknowledgement of ethnicity as
multidimensional, active and negotiable, intermixed in a complex manner with other
types of identities.
Furthermore, it is possible that some of the groups mentioned in the written sources
were merely Greek creations. As in the case of Kanuri with the Kirdi (Cohen 1978:382),
the Greeks might have created the Misgetes (Ruiz Rodríguez and Molinos 1993:344-5),
whose name is etymologically Greek. This leads the authors to deny the Misgetes an
ethnic character (1993:246). As I have explained before, things are not that easy, and
even if later, in the third century BC, they were subdivided into three different groups
(the Indiketes, Ausetanians and Sordones), this does not mean that the people who
were given the name of Misgetes did not possess a sort of ethnic identity or even that
it was created on the basis of their imposed name.
Because of the way I have approached the discussion on the current understanding
of Iberian ethnicity, focusing it on a revision of Ruiz Rodríguez and Molinos' (1993)
hypotheses, written texts have perhaps had too much weight in the discussion. What
is left to archaeology by itself? If material culture is not the way to look for ethnicity,
what can archaeologists do? Without doubt, archaeological data cannot give definitive
answers on ethnicity. This should not take us by surprise, as this is the case of most
questions dealt with by archaeologists. However, even if the archaeological record will
never provide us with definitive answers about perceptions, this does not mean that
the archaeological study of identity through material culture should be discarded.
Archaeology is the only way that we can approach such an issue in most periods. This
is positively the case in prehistory, but it also remains so for later periods. In those
historical periods in which we have written accounts, archaeology still remains the
main source of information - if not the only one - for the great majority of the
population, which usually was not contemplated by the literate elite who produced
the texts. It is also the only source to contrast the information provided by those texts,
which in most cases is shaped by - at the least - status and gender identities. The
debates carried out in archaeology and anthropology can help historians in their
understanding of written texts, which are usually treated without consideration of the
bias entailed from our present perspectives. I shall use the example of the discussion
of Edetanian ethnicity as an illustration of this.
DÍAZ-ANDREU : Iron Age Iberian ethnicity 207



Edeta is one of the names cited by the classical authors to designate both a town and
its territory (Strabo III, 4, 1; Plinius III, 20 and Ptolomeus II, 6, 15). Most archaeologists
and historians agree that its frontiers are defined in the south, north and east by the
rivers Xúcar and Mijares and by the Mediterranean respectively, and in the west by a
blurred line situated in the mountain chain dividing the coast strip and the southern
Meseta (Bonet Rosado 1995:497; Ruiz Rodríguez and Molinos 1993:255). Around the
time of the Second Punic War (218-201 BC), an aristocrat- king - Edecon - is
mentioned. The classical authors call him 'dinastes' and 'dux'. As dinastes, he was an
indigenous chief who ruled over various neighbouring towns whereas, as dux, he
could act as a military chief who, in periods of danger, commanded other similarly
powerful leaders. Because of his title as dux, when King Edecon decided to change his
allegiance from the Carthaginians to the Romans after the Roman general, Scipio, had
freed the members of his family held by the former, many others leaders and
territories followed suit (Bonet Rosado 1995:500). Recent research on the archaeology
of the area has centred on a revision of the old excavations (in particular those of Llíria
reviewed by Helena Bonet Rosado (1995)) and an ambitious programme of surveys
has been undertaken. The survey around Llíria, in particular, has resulted in a deeper
knowledge of the territorial organization. From the fourth to the mid second centuries
BC (middle Iberian period), the settlement pattern shows a high degree of
hierarchization. Several site categories have been distinguished: town, village, farm
and fort. The pattern completely changed in the later Ibero-Roman period (mid second
to first centuries BC) (Bonet Rosado 1995:522-30).
The territory of Edeta is considered by Ruiz Rodríguez and Molinos (1993: 255) and
by Helena Bonet Rosado (1995:501) to correspond to an ethnic unit. This conclusion is
mainly based on the information given by the classical sources backed up by
archaeological data. One issue is central to the whole discussion of the archaeological
basis of the data given by the classical sources: the identification of the village of Sant
Miquel de Llíria7 (shortened as Llíria) with Edeta, already made as early as the
seventeenth century. Scholars reached this conclusion on the basis of the vast area
occupied by the ancient 'ruins' and the finding of several Roman grave-stones with the
name of Edeta in the area around Llíria (Bonet Rosado 1995:497-8).
After centuries of scholarly, discussion of the meaning and reliability of the classical
sources regarding the Edetanian territory and the town of Edeta, in the 1930s
archaeologists found a diagnostic type to define the former archaeologically, the Llíria
pottery (Figs 2 and 3). Its discovery led to the first (proper) excavations of the Tossal
de Sant Miquel de Lima site, the ancient Edeta.
The selection of the Llíria pottery as a diagnostic type to define the Edetanian ter-
ritory and ethnicity corresponds to the belief of the possibility of defining ethnicity on
the basis of material culture. However, several problems hinder the reliability of the
Llíria pottery as a good diagnostic type. Regarding its chronology, the Llíria pottery

only began to be manufactured in the third century BC (Bonet Rosado 1995:447) and
most of its production corresponds to the end of the third and the second centuries
BC. Therefore, it cannot be used to define the Edetanian territory before or after this
period. In addition, for a definition of ethnicity based on material culture,
archaeologists usually expect the chosen diagnostic type to be evenly distributed
among the population. However, most authors (Aranegui 1992; Bonet Rosado
1992:234; 1995:448; Olmos 1992:29) have considered it to have an aristocratic character.
Only a few archaeologists such as Tarradell (1968) regarded it as popular because of
its presence in the whole excavated area of the Llíria site (Bonet Rosado 1995:439). This
assertion did not take into account that the area excavated was selected precisely
because of the finds of decorated pottery in it (1995:35), and therefore, it is not
necessarily representative of the whole settlement. On the contrary, the exclusive
nature of the several houses and the temple excavated (Bonet Rosado 1992:230-3)
seems clear because of the presence not only of Llíria pottery but also of imported
ceramics (Phoenician, Greek, Etruscan, Punic and Roman pottery) (Bonet Rosado
1995:392-4), which in cemeteries are significatively only associated to the richest
graves. Accordingly, nowadays archaeologists tend to interpret the excavated area as
the aristocratic quarter, and therefore the data obtained from it cannot be extrapolated
to the rest of the town and its territory.
The iconography represented in the ceramics also points to the aristocratic character
of the Llíria pottery. For example, the high percentage of riders in comparison with
foot soldiers (Kurtz 1992:213) shows a bias towards the portrayal of (real or mythical)
personages of high status. Again, in cemeteries, only very selected burials have
elements associated with horses. Moreover, more adult men than women, children or
aged people are depicted. This seems to indicate that the Llíria pottery was very far
from representing the whole of the population, as its message was especially directed
at a very particular segment of society: adult men of high status. Some authors have
even gone further and proposed very specific explanations of particular groups of
Llíria pottery. This is the case of urns and vases with war scenes and armed figures,
which have been interpreted by Carmen Aranegui (1992:325) as awards to competition
winners or as part of a funerary set made for the person in whose honour the games
were played. She regards the town of Edeta as a central place in the organization of
these type of games (1992:325).
DÍAZ-ANDREU : Iron Age Iberian ethnicity 209

Figure 2. Lima pottery (after Bonet Rosado 1995: Fig. 110).


Figure 3. Llíria pottery (after Bonet Rosado 1995: Fig. 26).

DÍAZ-ANDREU : Iron Age Iberian ethnicity 211

Following the suggestion by Ricardo Olmos (1990b:42), she proposes that these vases
were made to order, further stressing their association to the elite.
A third problem that the Llíria pottery has as a reliable diagnostic type to represent
Edetanian ethnicity is its geographical distribution. Archaeologists have maintained a
double standard regarding the interpretation of its location. Findings made outside
the previously defined Edetanian territory such as those in Murcia (Bonet Rosado
1995:448) are considered as a result of elite exchange. However, in the surveys made in
the delimited Edetanian area (for example, Bernabeu et al. 1987; Bonet Rosado and
Mata Parreno 1991; Bonet Rosado 1995) archaeologists never specify the percentage of
Llíria pottery in terms of the whole material retrieved. Because of its aristocratic
character, my suspicion is that Llíria pottery is by no means to be found in all sites in
the area. This is certainly the case for the sites dated before the third century BC,
which are also defined as Edetanian.
Another question is the basis on which archaeologists have decided that the ethnic
identification of Edetanians had to do with Edeta and not with Iberia as a whole. As I
shall discuss later, the material culture found in the (supposedly) Edetanian zone also
presents parallels to other areas which could serve to justify other alternative ethnic
units: the eastern (Valencia and Murcia) ethnic unit, the 'pure' Iberian (from Murcia to
Catalonia) ethnic unit, the Iberian ethnic group (including the 'pure' Iberians with
those groups of Andalucía), and even the Mediterranean ethnic group. Regarding the
former, female head-dress could be used to define an eastern Iberian ethnic territory,
i.e. the Valencian country and Murcia. The head-dress generally represented in the
Llíria pottery as well as in votive terra- cottae of female heads is the mitre (;mitra)
(Bandera 1978), also called peineta (Bonet Rosado et al. 1990:186). The same type of
head-dress is also found to the south of the Edetanian territory, in the votive figurines
of El Cigarralejo (Prada 1979). Although the distribution of female head-dresses shows
a blurred pattern (Bandera 1977: maps 2 and 3), in general it could be said that in other
areas different headdresses are found: vertical diadems in the High Guadalquivir area,
coifs (cofias) in the Contestania and turbans in the Oretania (Bandera 1978:416-7).
Material culture can also be used as the basis to define what could be called the
'pure' Iberian ethnic area. In this case the element chosen will be the figurative
decorated pottery. This is not only found in the Edetania, but also in an extensive area
covering Catalonia, Aragon, the Valencian country and Murcia (Maestro Zaldivar
1989), in which different styles are found. As opposed to this area, in the Guadalquivir
valley a more sober geometrical design is applied to the ceramic surfaces. The
characterization of ethnic unit could, furthermore, be legitimated on the basis of the
information provided by the classical sources. It is precisely in the area in which figurative
motifs are employed where, in the sixth century, before any ceramics were decorated with
figurative motifs at all, the texts locate the Iberians as opposed to the Tartessians and
Mastienians of the Andalusian area, peoples not yet considered as Iberians (Ruiz
Rodríguez and Molinos 1993:243).
In turn, an Iberian ethnic territory on the basis of the iconographic code could also
be proposed. The depictions on the Llíria pottery share their code of representation

with the whole Iberian area. Looking at, for example, the way in which gender is
illustrated, this follows the same general rules described for other artistic media (Díaz-
Andreu and Tortosa forthcoming). As in the whole Iberian area, men are depicted as
heroes and usually associated with other elements (horse, weapons) illustrating a very
specific set of activities: in most cases hunting and warfare. Women are given less
specific roles, and because of the relatively inexpensive cost of the material, the
frequency of goddess representations is small, although these are still represented in a
seated position while the mortal women stand (Díaz- Andreu and Tortosa
forthcoming). A series of elements depicted in Llíria are, in addition, found in a
broader territory, such as the falcatas or Iberian swords which are found in cemeteries
throughout the whole Iberian area (Kurtz 1992:208; Aranegui 1992: Fig. 9; Quesada
1992: Fig. 29).
Finally, we could even go further and talk about the existence of an ethnic unit
present in the whole Mediterranean. It is generally accepted (Chapa 1986; Olmos 1984,
1987, 1989, 1990a, 1990b, 1991; Page 1984) that Iberian iconography, and therefore also
the scenes in the Llíria pottery, are part of the Mediterranean koine and, in particular,
are clearly connected with Greek iconography.
From the point of view of the methodology used, the ethnic units constructed on the
basis of material culture, the Edetanian, the eastern Iberian, the 'pure' Iberian, the
(simply) Iberian and the Mediterranean, are equally valid (see Bonet Rosado, Ruiz
Rodríguez and others). Furthermore, they are not the only alternatives as others could
be added. In the 1930s and 1940s and again today, several authors have submitted the
hypothesis of the Iberians as forming part of a broader Celtic ethnic group (Martinez
Santa-Olalla 1941). The decision to consider one of the options as valid has usually
more to do with the political ideology of the archaeologists than with the information
given by the archaeological data and the classical sources.
Is, then, archaeological material culture useless in the discussion of past ethnicities?
Far from it, material culture indeed addresses ethnicity as well as other identities. It
displays the perception of them all and is actively used in the negotiations that they
entail. The difficulty for archaeologists is that all these identities overlap in their
manifestations and that because ethnicity is about perception, there is not a direct
relationship with material culture. Thus, material culture will only exceptionally, if at
all, allow us to establish ethnic territories because the pattern resulting from its role in
the daily negotiations of the various identities is too complex for archaeologists to
interpret. Thus, all the examples given regarding the Llíria pottery give us clues as to
the processes occurring in the Iberian world. They show us the active use of material
culture in the daily re-creation of the various identities. The scenes in the Llíria pottery
tell us about how the potters in Edeta and their clients perceived various types of
identity: gender, status, the Mediterranean world, Edetania, the eastern area of Iberia
and the whole Iberian area, and, moreover, what selection of motifs and scenes to be
painted they made, depending on what they wanted to communicate through the
decorated pots. The Llíria pottery can be considered as a vehicle of propaganda, for it
is associated with the (real or mythical) self-representation of adult males of the
DÍAZ-ANDREU : Iron Age Iberian ethnicity 213

highest status. In addition, it also served as a medium to display, manipulate, and

perceive ethnicity. All these messages overlap, as the representations and perceptions
of status, gender and ethnicity are not opposite but intermingle on the same surface.
Most English women, for example, would consider Rolls Royce cars as English even if
they cannot afford to have one, or they would never buy one. In addition, in their
visits abroad they will feel perhaps even proud whenever they see one, as they will
identify with it. Similarly, the Llíria pottery could have been considered as Edetanian
or any of the other ethnic identities, even by people who never had any of their own.
The ethnic identity displayed in the Llíria pots is not univocal. The depictions on
the Llíria pottery show the multiple nature of ethnicity as they identify the Edetania
with the eastern part of Iberia (female head-dresses), the 'pure' Iberian area (figurative
motifs) and Iberians (code of representation, in turn a reinterpretation of the Greek).
Pots displayed all these ethnic affiliations and the perception of one or other would
depend on the context: where they were placed, who was seeing them, touching them,
talking about them, using them. The way in which a Llíria pot was perceived
depended on the context in which it was immersed. In Edeta, many people might have
seen in it a symbol of status in the first instance. Some of the objects depicted may
have been familiar, some considered as something very particular to Edetania and
others known to be also used in a broader area. Outside the town of Edeta, one might
have seen it as a proof of the good relations of the local cacique with the elites of the
metropoli, or perhaps as a gift from a relative living there, or, following Carmen
Aranegui's (1992) hypothesis, as a proof of the success achieved in a gladiator contest.
These are only a few examples of an infinite number of situations in which the Llíria
pottery may have been immersed, in which the Llíria pottery continued to display the
heterogeneous range of ethnicities felt by each particular individual.
Unfortunately, material culture does not have the one-to-one relationship with
ethnicity wrongly supposed by archaeologists, nor is this so in the case of the other
types of identities. However, the role of material culture in the daily shaping of such
identities cannot be denied. Each group indeed has overt signals, though fluent,
changeable, unstable, and situational, for they play a significant role in daily
negotiations. Material culture, thus, gives us some glimpses of identity processes, and
this is the information which is the basis of a discussion on past identities. All this
makes the study of ethnicity in the past an exciting but difficult challenge.
This essay has used the Iberian case as an example to think about ethnicity. In this
context, I have proposed a hypothesis which completely re-evaluates the nature of
ethnicity, which refers to the multiple, overlapping nature of ethnic affiliations in each
individual. The way in which present identifications condition the configuration of the
past has led archaeologists to consider ethnicity as monolithic because of our
nationalist training. However, each of us feels several ethnic identifications, which we
use separately or in combination depending on the circumstances. Finally, I have
sided with anthropologists in their consideration of ethnicity as perception and not
necessarily about material culture. This realization critically changes the
archaeological study of ethnicity, and has wider implications, which archaeology must

eventually face.


This article originated from my paper on The role of the Past in Ethnic and National
Redefinition' given at the conference on 'Archaeology, Ethnicity and the Past', orga-
nized by the Prehistoric Society in Sheffield, 18 January 1997.1 would like to thank
Marek Zvelebil, the organizer, for having invited me to the conference and in this way
to have stimulated me to think about ethnicity. I would also like to thank many people
who have read different drafts of this paper, some of my colleagues (Matthew
Johnson, Sam Lucy and John Chapman) and other commentators, such as Mike
Rowlands and Trini Tortosa. All of them have given extremely valuable insights which
in most cases I have tried to incorporate in the paper. I would also like to thank Arturo
Ruiz, Manuel Molinos and Helena Bonet for their kind permission to use the figures
from their publications, and my husband, Angel Smith, who always constructively
criticizes all my work on archaeology from a historical perspective, whilst at the same
time patiently editing my English.

1. I am referring to Bosch Gimpera, Schulten, García y Bellido, and Almagro Basch among others.
2. This statement is based on information provided by Avienus, although they do not seem to
have fully developed their line of argument.
3. In that article I did not make clear the equivalence established between 'culture' and ethnic
group, made explicit by all archaeologists in the first third of this century.
4. I am not denying that some archaeologists consciously misuse and have misused the past, but
proposing that they are a minority. Academia and other factors explain some of the other biases.
5. Recent research, however, has pointed to the presence of terracottae in Edetanian sanctuaries
(Bonet Rosado et al. 1990).
6. They also see language as an important ethnic feature (1993: 252), but I do not think that the
discussion is well integrated with the rest of the text, and therefore I will not discuss this issue.
However, their consideration of language points again to a very conservative way of defining ethnicity.
7. Sant Miquel de Llíria is the Valencian name of the present village. Publications before the 1980s
used its Castillian name, San Miguel de Liria.

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Margarita Díaz-Andreu is a lecturer at the University of Durham. Her main research

interests are in the archaeology of identity (particularly of gender, ethnicity and
nationalism), prehistoric rock art and European prehistory. She has recently published
a book on La Edad del Bronce en la provincia de Cuenca and three jointly edited books on
Nationalism and Archaeology in Europe, The Archaeology of Iberia, and Excavating Women:
History of Women in European Archaeology.
DÍAZ-ANDREU : Iron Age Iberian ethnicity 217

Ethnizitat und die Iberer: am archaologischen Scheideweg von Wahrnehmung und materieller
Margarita Díaz-Andreu
Im Lichte neuerer Entwicklungen der 'Archaologie der Identitat' ist eine Neubewertung des
Verstandnisses von Ethnizitat in der Archaologie notwendig. In diesem Beitrag wird argumentiert, dafi
Nationalismus zu einem Verstandnis von Ethnizitat gefiihrt hat, das monolithisch ist und somit ihren
heterogenen Charakter leugnet. Seit den Zwanziger Jahren dieses Jahrhunderts haben
Archaolog(inn)en, die mit einem kulturhistorischen Ansatz arbeiten, Ethnizitat explizit auf der
Grundlage materieller Kultur definiert und dariiber endlose, vielleicht ergebnislose Debatten gefiihrt.
Vielleicht hat Ethnizitat allerdings, wie auch Ethnolog(inn)en seit den Siebziger Jahren argumentiert
haben, gar nicht unbedingt viel mit materieller Kultur zu tun, sondern mehr mit Wahrnehmung.
Archaolog(inn)en sollten ethnische Identitaten als fliefiend und vielgestaltig auffassen, da mehrere
ethnische Zugehorigkeiten nebeneinander bestehen und sich in ein und demselben Individuum
iiberschneiden konnen. Die ethnische(n) Identifikation(en), die jedes Individuum nach aufien zu
erkennen gibt, andert/andern sich je nach Umstanden, Gesprachspartner(in) und Situation. AuEerdem
konnen Archaolog(inn)en ethnische Identitat nicht isoliert von anderen Identifizierungsweisen
(Geschlecht, Religion, Status usw.) betrachten, da sie alle in jeder einzelnen Situation eine Rolle spielen
konnen, entweder als direkt Einflufi nehmende Faktoren oder als etwas, das verborgen werden soil.
Diese Fragen werden im vorliegenden Beitrag unter Bezug auf die eisenzeitlichen Iberer diskutiert.

Etnicidad e iberos: una encrucijada arqueologica entre la percepcion y la cultura material

Margarita Díaz-Andreu
Las recientes propuestas en el estudio de la arqueología de la identidad hacen imprescindible una
reevaluación de la forma de entender el concepto de etnicidad en arqueología. En este artículo defiendo
que el nacionalismo ha llevado a una comprensión de la etnicidad como una identidad monolítica,
negando de esta manera su carácter heterogéneo. Desde el historicismo cultural aceptado a partir de los
años veinte de este siglo, los arqueólogos/as han venido definiendo explicitamente el concepto de
etnicidad sobre la base de la cultural material de los grupos del pasado, manteniendo interminables, y a
mi entender en gran parte vanas, discusiones. El problema radica en que, tal y como la Antropología
han estado debatiendo desde los años setenta, la etnicidad no tiene que ver con cultura material, o al
menos no tiene necesariamente que ver con ella, sino que hemos de definirla como percepción. Los
arqueólogos/as deberían entender las identidades étnicas como fluidas y polimórficas, ya que lo
normal es que múltiples afiliaciones étnicas coexistan y se superpongan en cada individuo. La(s)
identificación(es) étnica(s) que cada persona tiene en un momento determinado cambia(n) dependiendo
de las circunstancias, del interlocutor y de la situación. Además, los arqueólogos/as no deberían
abordar de forma aislada el estudio de la identidad étnica sin tener en cuenta otros tipos de identidades
como la del género, religión, estatus, etc. ya que todas ellas forman parte del juego, están preparadas
para actuar (o para ser escondidas) en cada ocasión en particular. Este artículo tratara todos estos temas
eligiendo como caso de estudio los iberos de la Edad del Hierro.