The ancient Iberian society of Tartessos, which flourished between the ninth and fifth centuries before the present, is shrouded in mystery and legend. But new information about the culture is being revealed by digs and technology.

Although Tartessos has been mentioned in Greek and Roman texts for millennia, it has been difficult for modern historians and archaeologists to determine what Tartessos actually was. Was it a city, a kingdom, or a river? Today, it is generally accepted that Tartessos was an Iberian Peninsula civilization that developed from a confluence of native inhabitants and Greek and Phoenician colonizers. It was also wealthy as a result of abundant metal resources and a thriving trading economy. Early finds led historians to believe that the Tartessos civilization was centered in and around the Guadalquivir Valley in Andaluca, but more recent discoveries in the Guadiana Valley, further to the west and close to Portugal’s border with Spain, have caused archaeologists to reconsider how widespread the Tartessos civilization actually was. A peculiar palindromic script that dates to roughly the eighth century BCE was found and is based on the Phoenician alphabet. It can be read either way, from right to left, albeit it’s still unclear what sounds each symbol denotes.

Even while it’s crucial to understand why the civilization vanished, the Tartessos’ social and cultural effects are the subject of most recent studies. Sebastián Celestino Pérez, a scientific investigator at the Institute of Archaeology in Merida, said that “the so-called Tartessian tombs of the Guadiana seem to have the key to know this culture better.”