Sculptors' Signatures on Iberian Stone Statues from Ipolca-Obulco (Porcuna, Jaen, Spain)

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Iberian culture is defined as that which flourished from the sixth to the first centuries BC within the Iberian Peninsula. Its roots can be determined from at least the ninth century BC, when the local late Bronze Age population developed a strong interaction with the Phoenicians, who had founded important establishments on the Spanish southern coast. The Phoenician presence provoked economic changes among the indigenous population, investing it with a special personality within the Mediterranean context (Cunliffe & Keay 1995; Ruiz & Molinos 1998).

The major features of the Iberian culture include a tendency towards urban structures, an intensification of long-distance trade, specialisation in metallurgical and ceramic production, and the formalisation of a particular cosmology that had no apparent relationship with that of the Greek world. Nonetheless, Iberian religious customs shared with those of Greece or Etruria the practice of erecting stone statues in sanctuaries and cemeteries.

Eastern Andalusia saw an appreciable increase in the number of sculptors' workshops linked to the process of urbanisation, a development with its roots in the Orientalising period (eighth--sixth centuries BC) that would reach its climax in the fifth century BC. Numerous pieces of sculpture have been discovered in the province of Jaen, some with works of great quality, such as the Pajarillo de Huelma (Chapa et al. 2006). However, the most important site in terms of the number and quality of pieces is that of Cerrillo Blanco de Porcuna, known as Ipolca to the Iberians andas Obulco in Roman times (Figure 1). The sculptures were cut in limestone and unfortunately they were recovered with no archaeological control. Most of them were discovered in a ditch dug at the edge of an Orientalising cemetery (Blazquez & Gonzalez Navarrete 1985; Gonzalez Navarrete 1987), although the sculptures can be dated by means of their style during the fifth century BC. A total of 1486 fragments of different sizes were recovered that were later partially pieced together at the Jaen Museum, where they are still held. The most complete study of these fragments was made by Negueruela (1990), although other interesting works have been published (Leon 1998; Olmos 2002).


All the studied Ipolca sculptures were violently broken and dumped in the above-mentioned ditch, although some fragments appear to have been scattered over the surface of the surrounding hillside--some were even used as construction material in fourth-century graves. The destruction of these pieces has been related to the rejection of the elite groups that were represented, but it could also have been the result of a ritual transfer from the sanctuary to which they belonged, at the moment this monument was abandoned, renewed or moved to a new place (Zofio & Chapa 2005).

To date, research has been focused on iconography and style, stressing the links between Iberian and eastern Greek, especially Ionic workshops. However, those authors who have compared them indicate the lack of direct dependency between these two areas. Iberian sculpture has its own tastes and formulae, and in general does not coincide properly with supposedly Hellenic models in terms of its subjects nor technical features (Boardman 1994: 69; Marcade 1997; Croissant 1998). Moreover, the recent discovery of a stone sculpture showing clear Phoenician influence in the Tartessian village of Carmona (Belen & Garcia Morillo 2006) indicates this type of sculpture was already present in pre-Iberian times, Therefore, the origins of Iberian stone sculpture must be searched on the Orientalising period, with strong links with Phoenician religion and iconography. Similarities with Greek art along the development of Iberian sculptures can be considered as the introduction of new techniques and styles without changing the basic foundations of the local production. …