The earliest record of hominids living in Europe has been found in the Spanish cave of Atapuerca; fossils found there date to roughly 1.2 million years ago. Modern humans in the form of Cro-Magnons began arriving in the Iberian Peninsula from north of the Pyrenees some 35,000 years ago. The most conspicuous sign of prehistoric human settlements are the famous paintings in the northern Spanish cave of Altamira, which were done c. 15,000 BC and are regarded as paramount instances of cave art. Furthermore, archeological evidence in places like Los Millares in Almería and in El Argar in Murcia suggests developed cultures existed in the eastern part of the Iberian Peninsula during the late Neolithic and the Bronze Age.
The seafaring Phoenicians, Greeks and Carthaginians successively settled along the Mediterranean Sea near Tartessos, modern day Cádiz. Regarding Tartessos, it should also be mentioned that according to John Koch Cunliffe, Karl, Wodtko and other highly respected scholars, Celtic culture may well have developed first in far Southern Portugal and Southwestern Spain, approximately 500 years prior to anything recorded in Central Europe. The Tartessian language from the southwest of Spain, written in a version of the Phoenician script in use around 825 BC, has been readily translated by John T. Koch as Celtic and is being accepted by a growing number of philologists and other linguists as the first Celtic language. In the 9th century BC, the first Greek colonies, such as Emporion (modern Empúries), were founded along the Mediterranean coast on the east, leaving the south coast to the Phoenicians. The Greeks are responsible for the name Iberia, apparently after the river Iber (Ebro in Spanish). In the 6th century BC, the Carthaginians arrived in Iberia, struggling first with the Greeks, and shortly after, with the newly arriving Romans for control of the Western Mediterranean. Their most important colony was Carthago Nova (Latin name of modern day Cartagena).
The native peoples whom the Romans met at the time of their invasion in what is now known as Spain were the Iberians, inhabiting from the southwest part of the Peninsula through the northeast part of it, and then the Celts, mostly inhabiting the north and northwest part of the Peninsula. In the inner part of the Peninsula, where both groups were in contact, a mixed, distinctive, culture was present, the one known as Celtiberian. The Celtiberian Wars or Spanish Wars were fought between the advancing legions of the Roman Republic and the Celtiberian tribes of Hispania Citerior from 181 to 133 BC.