New archaeological surprise in the heart of Barcelona

Today it is a square and also functions as a playground for the Àngel Baixeras school on Calle Sotstinent Navarro, in the Gothic quarter. From this place, named in honor of the teacher Carme Simó, relevant ones have emerged historical findings that allow us to know in more detail the Barcelona ancestors and the fauna with which they lived. This is where the remains of a very special animal come from, considered exceptional for different reasons.

In this space, the oldest bones of a peacock from the Iberian Peninsula have been located and dated in an archaeological excavation. In addition, it is one of the most complete of its kind to date in a deposit in Europe. The animal corresponds to a female specimen from medieval times, from the 13th century. In total, 14 remains belonging to 13 bones have been recovered.

Peacock bones found in the site of Calle Sotstinent Navarro, in the Gothic

Ramon Alvarez

The absence of cuts or bites and its “remarkable anatomical integrity” suggest that the bird was not intended for human consumption, which does not mean that the species was eaten in medieval Catalonia, as stated in some cookbooks from The time. These circumstances make archaeologists think that the most plausible interpretation would be that of an animal kept in captivity as an “expression of luxury and ostentation.” The results of this finding have recently been published in a study.

“The remains appeared in what would be the gardens of a Gothic palace, attached to the Roman wall, possibly belonging to a noble family that could afford an animal with this idea of ​​ostentation,” explains archaeologist Marina Fernández, coordinator of the study. framed within the thesis that he carried out on the fauna in the city between the Roman and medieval periods.

“Despite the fact that there is knowledge of the Greek and Roman world about the peacock, this species continues to have this category of exotic and linked to a certain luxury in medieval times, unlike other birds such as chickens, which also arrived from the Far East. The peacock is also not frequent in the remains of fauna in European archaeological sites. Between the ancient and the middle ages, there are around thirty in Europe and in the Peninsula we did not have any”, highlights Jordi Nadal, tenured professor of the prehistory and archeology section of the University of Barcelona (UB), one of the participants on the research.

As an element of ostentation

The remains of the animal are from medieval times and would have belonged to a noble family

As for its origin, a mystery. “It’s not necessarily an animal that came from the Near East and could have been raised here. We know that in the Middle Ages there were parks or houses for beasts, so it is possible that it was reproduced in Barcelona, ​​but it was also often exchanged as gifts between royalty and the nobility”, points out Nadal. Once the peacock was dead, his corpse was abandoned. Today, his remains rest in a warehouse of the city’s history museum.

On the other hand, the research analyzes the symbology of this bird and its iconographic representation since ancient times. In Catalonia, one of the first representations dates back to the 5th century in the episcopal complex of Ègara, in Terrassa. In Barcelona city, there have been detected peacocks decorating the coffered ceilings of medieval palaces, preserved in the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya. From a gastronomic point of view, this animal was more of a delicacy for royalty or nobility and required a very elaborate presentation, with the head still feathered and the tail feathers open, as described in the recipes. medieval.

picture of a peacock

picture of a peacock

Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Another 117 bird bones have been recovered from the Sotstinent Navarro street site, the most numerous being chicken. To a lesser extent, there are other notable species. For example, the remains of a hawk, whose use for falconry is not ruled out, and those of a crane, highly valued gastronomically among the wealthy classes of the Middle Ages, explains the study. It is not the only fauna found in this corner of Ciutat Vella. There are also mammals, the most frequent being sheep, goats, pigs and cows. In smaller quantities, bones of horses, dogs and cats have been found, as well as shells and oysters.


The remains of a crane and a hawk have also been found at the site

The archaeological excavation concluded in 2017 and was preventive, that is, as a result of the urbanization works of this space. Subsequently, the skeletal remains were documented, identified and dated by the radiocarbon method.

The company Atics, author of the archaeological excavation and supervised by the Barcelona City Council’s archeology service, has participated in the research, as well as the Pla Barcino and PaleoBarcino projects, which analyze the historical evolution of the city’s landscape, and Monbones, an initiative focused on the study of the diets of monastic communities and the population in general.


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