Spatula Idols in the Inner Iberian Peninsula

  1. Rodrigo Villalobos García 1
  2. Germán Delibes de Castro 1
  3. Pilar Zapatero Magadaleno 1
  4. Elisa Guerra Doce 1
  5. Javier Fernández Eraso 2
  6. José Antonio Mujika Alustiza 2
  7. Primitiva Bueno Ramírez 3
  1. 1 Universidad de Valladolid

    Universidad de Valladolid

    Valladolid, España


  2. 2 Universidad del País Vasco/Euskal Herriko Unibertsitatea

    Universidad del País Vasco/Euskal Herriko Unibertsitatea

    Lejona, España


  3. 3 Universidad de Alcalá

    Universidad de Alcalá

    Alcalá de Henares, España


Zona arqueológica

ISSN: 1579-7384

Year of publication: 2021

Issue: 23

Pages: 253-270

Type: Article

More publications in: Zona arqueológica



  • Social Sciences: D


The “San Martín- El Miradero” spatula idols are artefacts closely associated with Late Neolithic collective tombs (approx. 4th millennium cal BCE) in the centre-north Iberian Peninsula. They are bone objects with a functional spatula part while most of them are also characterised by numerous decorations including geometric motifs and, in some cases, human figurative representations; mainly female attributes such as breasts or vaginas. Since the discovery of the first spatula idol fifty years ago nearly one hundred of these objects have been recovered in archaeological excavations. A wide variety of interpretations try to explain their origin and the role they played during the Late Neolithic. Some scholars envisage spatula idols as merely functional objects but the decorations –especially in the case of the figurative ones- led other archaeologists to believe that the spatula idols are ideotechnic artefacts, objects that represent the ideology and beliefs of the people that created them. There are also hypotheses that conceive spatula idols as identity symbols, as representations of a funerary deity, as symbols of status, or as objects employed in different ceremonies such as the treatment of corpses with ochre or cinnabar or the consumption of drugs. Furthermore, some spatula idols were employed in activities such as rearrangements of ossuaries and even architectural restructuring of the monumental tombs. The recent radiocarbon dates obtained directly from spatula idols revealed an earlier chronology than expected, opening the door to interpret some of these objects as relics or heirlooms whose biography than expected, opening the door to interpret some of these objects as relics or heirlooms whose biography could have started prior to the construction of the tombs that finally hosted them. All of these hypotheses can be stronger or weaker, but above all it must be stated that spatula idols were a significant part of the funerary and/or ritual customs of Late Neolithic communities in the Inner Iberian Peninsula.