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Students excavating warrior stelae

Last summer, a group of Durham Archaeology students took part in a very special discovery: the first Late Bronze Age (c. 1200-900 BC) warrior stela found in its original context in Iberia.

But wait…. what are ‘warrior stelae’? They are large stone slabs decorated with depictions of warriors surrounded by weaponry, including swords, shields, spears, and other items of prestige such as utensils of personal care, chariots, dogs or lyres. There are currently around 150 in the whole of Iberia. It is thought that these monuments depicted the social aspirations of deceased elite individuals who, through this medium, were remembered as ancestors of the community. Warrior stelae are usually found through agricultural work and very little is known about their archaeological context. That is why this summer´s discovery was extraordinary. The stela of Cañaveral 2 (as we have called it, as it is the second stela found in this area) was found stratified within the confines of a monumental necropolis composed of various tumuli with cists (small stone-built coffin-like boxes or ossuaries). This important archaeological site, which we also discovered last year, is in a landscape well-known since antiquity for its wealth in metal resources.

Dr Marta Diaz-Guardamino, Assistant Professor in Archaeology at Durham, who co-directs the fieldwork at the Cañaveral de León site, is also leading a new project investigating prehistoric mining in southern Iberia, the circulation of metals and maritime connections between Iberia and Scandinavia during the Late Bronze Age. Her project, called “The Atlantic North and the Iberian Peninsula: Contacts c. 1400/1300-600 BC”, is part of the Maritime Encounters programme led by Prof. Johan Ling from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden which was recently awarded c. £3,7 million by the Riksbankens Jubileumsfond. 

In Iberia, evidence suggests that the societies who created warrior stelae included mining communities involved in long-distance exchange networks. The iconography of warrior stelae and material culture from those regions (e.g. metallic items of specific styles, amber) indicate contacts with faraway regions in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. Bronze artefacts found in Britain and Scandinavia contain copper that was most probably mined in Iberia. Dr Diaz-Guardamino’s project aims to shed substantial new light on how mining activities and the circulation of metal were organized within those communities and how these engaged with those long-distance exchange networks reaching the North Atlantic.    

A new paper recently published in the journal Trabajos de Prehistoria (The local appropriation of warrior ideals in Late Bronze Age Europe) advances some results of related research.

The new stela is currently under study and will be published in the upcoming months, when it is officially presented to the public in the Archaeological Museum of Huelva.

Last summer’s excavation will be featured in the Spanish TV series “Arqueomania” on Wednesday evening at 18.50 GMT on La2 TV channel.

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Students involved in the project along with the stela.


Fieldwork at Cañaveral de León in 2022 was co-directed by Dr Marta Díaz-Guardamino jointly with Prof. Leonardo Garcia Sanjuán and Timoteo Rivera, from the University of Seville, Spain.

The excavation was funded by the Department of Archaeology at Durham University and the Riksbankens Jubileumsfond through the Maritime Encounters programme, and benefited from the invaluable support of the Cañaveral de León City Council (   

Find out more:

Learn more about the work of Dr Marta Diaz-Guardamino

Read about the Maritime Encounters Project

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