The History of Iberian Archaeology: One Archaeology for Two Spains

Article excerpt


In this article we set out to analyse, from an archaeological point of view, a political problem which, as demonstrated by current debate, including acts of violence, goes well beyond archaeology. Throughout the 19th century, and especially in its latter half, a centralist political model for Spain was developed in which a political balance could not be found between the State and the autonomous traditions of the various regions of the Iberian Peninsula. As a result of this failure, legitimation programmes began to be constructed towards the end of 19th century, based on the history of the peoples of these regions. This led to a search in protohistorical archaeology (Iberians, Celts, Tartessians, etc.) for a possible solution to the political problems caused by a lack of institutional agreement between states and regions.

Peripheral reactions to the centralist model, disagreements between the centralist model and peripheral regions, and even local reactions to regional models all fuelled a debate which continues with us today. Archaeological research has an important voice in this debate, notably by deconstructing the processes by which paradigmatic statements on the past are generated.

A time of crisis: from August 1897 to December 1898

The starting point of this study is 4 August 1897, when an Iberian carved stone bust was accidentally discovered in Elche in Eastern Spain (FIGURE 1). The finding was published in the local press on 8 August. Ten days later the bust was sold to the Louvre, and by 30 August began the Paris-bound journey of `La Dama de Elche', soon to be the paradigmatic figure of Iberian culture. On 10 December 1898, the Paris peace treaty was signed, ending the Spanish-American war, and depriving Spain of Cuba and the Philippines. The beginning of the 20th century meant for the peoples of Spain a reflection on their identity, in the midst of a profound social and political crisis in which a new group of intellectuals took the reins of power.


In fact, the situation had brought about the beginning of a legitimation programme of Spain's political identity which would last until the Second Republic, and the consequences of which are still evident. It was the ideological programme of a new hegemonic block, led by the most liberal and democratic sectors of the Spanish bourgeoisie.

The programme began to influence archaeology for the first time in 1900 when two recognized members of Institucion Libre de Ensenanza, Saavedra and Riano, succeeded in obtaining from the government of Silvela the appointment of the young Gomez-Moreno as head of the Monumental and Artistic Catalogue of the Nation. The creation and development of different institutions increased between 1910 and 1916. In 1910, under Canalejas' Liberal government, the Centro de Estudios Historicos was founded, led from the start by Menendez Pidal. It was supported from the beginning by Gomez-Moreno, and had an extremely important role.

Spanish Nationalism in the 19th century and the origins of the Spanish nation

In Spain, researchers agree that the origin of the Spanish Nation can be placed at the beginning of the 19th century. B. Riquer, who interprets the nation as the result of the politicization and radicalization of identity, divides Spanish nationalization into two models. The first model corresponds to liberal nationalism, and is based on individual liberties. It is a civic-state process in which the concept of the nation is not fully identified with that of the state. The second model, which could be called national identity, entails the submission of personal relationships to the right of the national collective; to the interest of the nation. This is also the interest of the state, since it is evident that the process has led to the construction of an equivalence between the state and the nation (Riquer 1999). In political terms, the development of the process was not clear-cut. …