In the summer of 1975 a Spanish gypsy named Virgilio Romero Moreno visited the museum in Jaén, 250 miles south of Madrid, and offered to sell several limestone sculptures. After some negotiation, the museum bought the pieces, which had recently been dug up near the village of Porcuna in the hilly countryside of Andalusia. That site, archaeologists would soon learn, was the repository of dozens of stone carvings and hundreds of sculptural fragments dating to the second half of the fifth century B.C.—the most impressive collection of ancient
Iberian statues ever found.
In one highly dramatic carving, a warrior struggles to fend off a ferocious griffin; even though the beast digs its claws into its adversary’s thighs, the warrior still manages to dislocate the griffin’s jaw, causing the beast’s tongue to dangle from its mouth. Other statues show men fighting against men. One of these depicts a fallen warrior grabbing his opponent by the leg and, presumably, pleading for his life. Another shows a triumphant soldier standing over his foe, while a bird ominously waits to devour the defeated man’s entrails. In yet another carving, a warrior has thrust a spear down his enemy’s mouth with such force that the spear point sticks out the enemy’s back.