The Lady of Elche – Madrid, Spain - Atlas Obscura

The Lady of Elche

National Archeology Museum of Madrid

An iconic and controversial ancient Iberian funerary urn with a hauntingly penetrating gaze. 


In the muted galleries of the National Archeology Museum of Madrid you can witness the eerily penetrating gaze and haughty expression of this ancient sculpture, which seems to radiate authority and be imbued with a uniquely commanding presence. Discovered by accident in Valencia in 1897, the bewitching and inscrutable Lady of Elche has puzzled archeologists and been the subject of fierce debate for over a century. 

There have been many theories over the years as to what this mysterious limestone bust represents. She’s been called a Moorish queen, a witch, and stranger still, an “extraterrestrial visitor from another planet.” But archeologists believe the bust is actually a uniquely Iberian portrayal of the Carthaginian mother goddess, Tanit, used as a funerary urn in antiquity.

There have always been rumors of forgery surrounding the discovery and debate about the authenticity of the Lady of Elche. But in 2011 research carried out using electron microscopy and x-ray technology found that the piece is an original, and confirmed its use as an ancient urn. Traces of ashes containing fragments of human bone were detected in the study and carbon-dated to be more than 2,500 years old, making it contemporaneous with the ancient Iberian epoch. Today you can visit the artifact in Madrid’s excellent National Archaeological Museum. 

Know Before You Go

Look for the sculpture in the "Protohistoria" gallery of the museum, located on floor 1. The museum is open from Tuesday to Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. and on Sundays from 9:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. The entrance fee is €3 if you are a foreign national or € 1 if you are a Spaniard.

An exact replica, created by a sophisticated 3D scanning system by the Archaeological Museum of Alicante in 2002, can be seen in the Elche Archaeological Museum with the statement being made that it is a temporary provision until the original is returned to its home city.

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October 30, 2018

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