I found myself writing the other day about the Iberian Pyrite Belt, and a mine in southern Spain. It got me wondering again about one of the great mysteries of the ancient world.
Sorry, one for historical enthusiasts like me, then. The Belt is a huge stretch of mineral-rich deposits that runs some 250 km across the bottom half of the Iberian Peninsula, from the Atlantic coast of Portugal well into southern Spain.
It has been mined for some three millennia and parts are still viable today, though there are plenty of abandoned mines such as the Sao Domingo in Portugal.
In the late Bronze Age, say 1,000 BC or later in Europe, there existed a rich and powerful city state in that region of southern Iberia called Tartessos or Tartessus. It is rather less well known than contemporary civilisations, Minoan Crete or Mycenae, for example, because little of the language survives and its location is debatable.
Some have put it around Huelva, some at the mouth of the Guadalquivir River that flows from Seville to the Atlantic. Tartessos was said by Greek historians to be at the mouth of a great river, and there is even, probably, a mention in the Bible, as “Tarshish”.
This lost civilisation will have owed its riches to the Iberian Pyrite Belt, and have traded in the minerals from there. Those Greek historians say it perished in a great flood, most probably because of a shift in the course of that river.
A great, sea-going lost civilisation out beyond the Pillars of Hercules/Straits of Gibraltar, in the Atlantic, then, that perished in a flood? Raises the odd thought.
(Actually, some historians have firmly identified Tartessos as the source of the legend of Atlantis. Some say not, though they accept it definitely existed. That’s historians for you.)