Cerillo de las Sombras is an unusual Iron Age Necropolis (burial site) in Frigiliana, a pretty village six kilometres outside Nerja. It is one of just three Iron Age sites in Europe, dating from the 9th century BC. You cannot visit the site itself, as it is carefully protected, but to learn more about the necropolis, its discovery and the archaeological treasures uncovered there, you should visit the Casa de Apero in Frigiliana.
The necropolis has been the cause of controversy over the years: it was originally believed to be a Phoenician burial site but later discoveries disproved this theory, and showed that, in fact, it dated from the Iron Age. The types of funeral rituals evident at Cerillo de las Sombras are distinct from those at Phoenician burial grounds discovered in Malaga province - for example La Basilica de Vega del Mar in Marbella.
The humble prehistoric tombs at Cerillo de las Sombras are very rare on this continent - the more evident Phoenicians were famous for their much larger funeral pyres and more extensive burial sites.
Discovery of the site
The necropolis was discovered in 1965 by Canadian former fighter pilot John Wilkins whilst he was renovating his farmhouse on the hilltop above Frigiliana; hence the name El Cortijo de las Sombras (The Farmhouse of the Shadows). Wilkins reported his discovery to the local authorities and the site was later excavated by archaeologist and Granada University professor, Antonio Arribas. It is thanks to Wilkins´ rigorous and thorough documentation of his discovery that archaeologists were able to excavate and reconstruct the site so accurately.
What does the site consist of?
The necropolis is composed of about 15 small tombs built into the hillside; inside each tomb is an urn which contains the cremated ashes of the deceased. Before cremation, the corpses would have been washed, scented with perfumes and dressed in ceremonial robes. As well as the ashes of the deceased, the urns contain remains of jewellery such as rings, bracelets, brooches and the ajua (a chest or case containing objects of value to the deceased). The urns are topped with a ceramic plate and placed in the ground, and covered with rocks and soil, leaving a mound in the earth; this mound is then scattered with lime.
History of the site
The site has been dated to the 7th century BC. Evidence found at the necropolis (pottery and tools) indicates that Frigiliana was populated during the Iron Age, linking it to similar artifacts found at sites on the other side of the Mediterranean (in Africa) and adding weight to theories that the two continents were once linked.
When the site was first uncovered, archaeologists believed it to be Phoenician, as its discovery occurred around the same time as several Phoenician sites in the region. This theory held for some decades until further investigations uncovered the true origin of the metal work and ceramics as Tartessian (inhabitants of the Iberian Peninsula from the 9th to 7th centuries BC). The Tartessians are known to have picked up and developed skills from the Phoenicians when they moved across the Iberian Peninsula from Gadir, now Cádiz (around 8th century B.C), such as art and craft, agriculture and animal husbandry. Evidence of their new skills, and the archaeological discoveries from the site, are on display in Frigiliana's archaeology museum. This is housed in the Casa de Apero, a beautiful 17th-century building which also serves as the tourist office and Casa de Cultura.
Cerillo de las Sombras is unlike any other site in Andalucía and probably even in Europe, so be sure to visit the Casa del Apero to learn more about the necropolis and see the archaeological findings.
(You can't visit the site itself, as explained above.)
Casa de Apero
Calle la Cuesta Del Apero, s/n
Tel: 952 53 42 61