Tuesday, December 27, 2011

0067 - Ditches are spreading to Central/North Portugal

Plan of Gonçalvinhos (Mafra, Lisbon) small ditch segment (after Sousa, A.C., 2010, O PENEDO DO LEXIM E A SEQUÊNCIA DO NEOLÍTICO FINAL E CALCOLÍTICO DA PENINSULA DE LISBOA, PhD thesis presented to FLUL.)

If the last decade and a half revealed a concentration of ditched enclosures and ditched structures in South Portugal hinterland (and I believe that some negative structures sectioned by Edia tube lines are yet to be correctly evaluated, probably enlarging the numbers and the “troubles”), the recent years are indicating that those archaeological realities are also present in central and north Portugal, in different topographical contexts. Some of those sites, in present process of excavation, may even be the earliest known in west Iberia with ditches.

Ditches are now emerging in Lisbon peninsula (as the one in the image), in the Mondego basin (just at the “gate” of the Beira Alta hinterland), in the deep hinterland of Beira Interior (East of the central mountains system) or near the coast, in Aveiro or Maia (north of Oporto). The north half of Portugal is revealing what should be expected, if we attend to the general picture (European and Iberian): that, like megalithism (to which they seem to be well connected), ditches structures and ditched enclosures are present and that specific research programmes should be design to detect them (since local topography and land use makes them more difficult to detect than in the southern plains).

I suspect that the near future will bring some surprises about the building of enclosures in the central coast of Portugal and their importance to the so called process of “becoming Neolithic”.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

0066 - Funerary practices in Perdigões

(Click the image)

A meeting for presenting results and debate perspectives of a ongoing project of research on funerary practices at Perdigões ditched enclosure will take place in February 2012.

Monday, November 28, 2011

0065 - Human remains at Zambujal enclosure

Recently, at the Rome conference, Michael Kunst provided an interesting information about the research conducted by DAI at Castro de Zambujal walled enclosure. During the study of faunal remains, about 300 human bone remains were detected.

Until now, only one structure at Leceia and another in Castelo Velho presented human remains in walled enclosures and were interpreted in quite different terms.

This new revelation at Zambujal, still to be contextualized, reinforce the idea that some ditched enclosures have already stressed: human depositions in Western Iberia Chalcolithc are a complex and diversified practice that cannot be restricted to the traditional notion of necropolis.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

0064 – A (fragmented) sequence of ditch 4 of Perdigões

Horizontal and localized depositions of stones, pottery shards and faunal remains, separated by clay deposits. At the bottom, some stone agglomeration, before a layer with calcite precipitation.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

0063 - What's the meaning?

It's not from Portugal and it is not about ditched or walled enclosures, but about a famous henge. It is absolutely hilarious, but... we could do similar stuff about some of our own enclosures.
See here

Friday, November 4, 2011

0062 - Talks about Perdigões (I)


Perdigões enclosure (Reguengos de Monsaraz) is one of the important archaeological contexts of the Iberian Peninsula Recent Prehistory and on that has been researched for more than a decade.

The questions that it rises and allows to developed are of significant relevance for the knowledge of Neolithic and Chalcolithic communities as well to the development of disciplinary theoretical thinking and the social models built to deal with those societies and their historical dynamics.

Several institutions and individual researchers, national and international, participate in this open and enclosing project, known at international level. Now, ERA Arqueologia, through its research unit (NIA), decided to promote the project within the academic student community.

So, a series of talks will be promoted at ERA, regarding the research, results and problems at Perdigões. In summary, trying to present what’s is going on at this magnificent site.

Academic students are the target public, but other interest people can assist if there are available places. Attending is free, submitted to inscriptions send to the email: antoniovalera@era-arqueologia.pt.

The talks can be repeated at other institutions solicitation.

Talks about Perdigões (I)


18th November 2011, from 17 to 19

- Building the Research Global Program of Perdigões
- Geophysics, spatial organization and temporalities at Perdigões
- Digging ditches 1, 3, 4 and 6: problems and interpretations.

25th November 2011, from 17 to 19

- Contexts of Funerary practices at Perdigões: a Eastern Necropolis, pits, ditches and cremation deposits.
- Material culture and interregional interaction
- Perdigões in the context of south Portugal enclosures.

Local: ERA Arqueologia (Cç, Santa Catarina, 9c Cruz Quebrada-Dafundo).
Speaker: António Carlos Valera

Inscriptions (till a maximum of ten) addressed to: antoniovalera@era-arquelogia.pt

Thursday, November 3, 2011

0061 – Ditched enclosures at Alcalar

Alcalar partially geophysical image of a complex of gates and ditches (after Morán, 2010)

Location: Portimão municipality, Faro district, Algarve, South Portugal)
Chronology: Chalcolithic
Bibliographic references: Móran, 2008; 2010.

Alcalar is a large enclosure surrounded by several necropolis, with megalithic tombs, hypogea and huge tholoi.

The general plan of the enclosures is not yet kwon. Difficult to survey, due to ownership section of the local land, some areas have been submitted to geophysical prospection, but only a few parts of the results are published and available.

One of those parts corresponds to a complex system of gates through several ditches, some of them presenting configurations (in form of “hook”) similar to the ones observed in other enclosures.

At the inside there is a concentration of pits. As usually, they were interpreted as “silos and considered to belong to a storage area. Once again, I advert to the need of not assuming pits as silos without evidence. And suggesting a storage area with just a fragment image of a large site is also a risk. If we look to Perdigões global image, and assume that the thousands of pits were silos, then Perdigões we be just a huge warehouse (and excavations are, naturally, showing a quite different situation).

Concentration of stones inside ditched (after Morán, 2008)

As to the ditches, only two segments of a wavy ditch were excavated, that had 2,5m wide at the top. Inside, concentrations of stones and some parts of animals in anatomical connection, including a complete lamb, other disperse and abundant faunal remains of vertebrates and of shells. These deposits, that in different approaches could be seen as structured depositions, were interpreted as garbage dumping from domestic units.

Supported in a materialistic approach, the site is seen by its researchers as a settlement and a political centre of a pristine form of state, from where an elite rule through coercion a vast hierarchical territory.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

0060 – Portuguese ditched enclosures at the IX CIA

A paper and two posters are being presented at the IX Congress of Iberian Archaeometry, held in Lisbon. The paper focus on the results of the project on Cosmological Foundation of Enclosures Architectures analysed through geophysical survey. The posters present the geophysical results at Xancra and Moreiros 2.
A Project of NIA-ERA, financed by Gulbenkian Foundation (that is hosting the conference).

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

0059 – Isn’t quantity a quality?

Hundreds of pits in partial images of Xancra and Perdigões enclosures

Another astonishing difference between ditched and walled enclosures is the association to pits.

Traditionally, even when not excavated, what looks like a pit is designated by “silo”. When they are numerous they became a storage area controlled by an elite. But when excavated, usually became “silos” reused as garbage dumps or graves or something else. But the evidence that they ever stored cereal or any kind of food is rare, when we think about the number of these structures known: thousands of thousands. Maybe we should call them just pits. There is no functional interpretation involved, and then, after research and evidence, decide what else to call them.

But what is interesting, when we compared walled and ditched enclosure (the issue of my conference in Rome), is the fact that at ditched enclosures we usually found tens, hundreds, thousands of pits, and in walled enclosures we found one or two. Well, maybe three.

De difference is striking, once again, and the traditional explanation doesn’t explain. If the ditched enclosures performed the same general function of the walled enclosures, then, why the striking difference? Don´t people in walled enclosures need storing? Aren´t they exploiting the common folks and appropriate the surplus of their work? Are they not producing garbage that needs dumping?

Well, apart from the irony, the remaining fact is that the issue has not been addressed until now. And it must. Because this is a significant difference (amongst others) that suggests that walled and ditched enclosures shouldn’t be treated as simple homologies.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

0058 – Ditch 2 of Porto Torrão and beaker pottery

Beaker pottery in ditch 2 of Porto Torrão after Valera & Filipe, 2004.

As commented in the previous post, beaker pottery is recorded only in the large complexes of ditched enclosures in South Portugal (Perdigões, Porto Torrão and Alcalar)

At Porto Torrão the presence of this pottery is, inside ditch 2, almost from the beginning of sedimentation, but only with International style. The geometric and incise styles only appear in the upper levels of the sedimentation, where both progressively became more representative than the International style, specially the geometric one.

A confirmation of the chronological “décalage” of the different styles. But also a confirmation that, in these large enclosures, some ditches are still functional in the beaker times.

At Perdigões, also in the outside ditch (ditch 1) incised beaker pottery was recorded in the upper half layers of the sedimentation (Lago et al. 1998).

Monday, October 17, 2011

0057 - Beaker and ditched enclosures

Beaker pottery from Porto Torrão (after Valera & Filipe, 2004)

One interesting issue about the Portuguese ditched enclosures is the distribution of Bell Beaker pottery. We have now an inventory of almost thirty ditched enclosures, the great majority located in the Alentejo’s hierterland.

But when we look to the actual distribution of Bell Beaker pottery in ditched enclosures we are striking by one evidence: beaker pottery, characteristic of late Chalcolithic (mainly 2nd half of the 3rd millennium BC), only appears in the ditched enclosures that grow to achieve large areas and extreme structural complexity: Perdigões, Porto Torrão and Alcalar.

That suggests that the smaller enclosures didn´t reach the 2nd half of the millennium or were not permeable to beaker influences. Only the ones that became large complexes did incorporate beaker phenomena. On the other hand, several walled enclosures present beaker pottery (Monte da Tumba; São Brás) or were reoccupied in beaker times (such as Porto das Carretas or Monte do Tosco) reinforcing the differences between these categories of sites.

This is another particularity that needs careful reflexion. Even more if we add the fact (stressed in Valera, 2007 and in the recent publication of the Fronteira meeting proceedings) that there is a tendency for the small sites to present just one specific beaker style (Porto das Carretas, Miguens 3, Monte do Tosco, Barrada do Grilo, etc.) while Porto Torrão or Perdigões (the large enclosures) present influences of the several beaker styles and a significant amount of this kind of materials (especially Porto Torrão).

A circumstance that reinforces the idea that the latter development of larger ditched enclosures represents a transition to a new social dynamic that is progressively alien to the cosmological/ideological frames that generated in the first place the ditched enclosure phenomena in the Neolithic.

The Cathedral’s Era, in fact.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

0056 – Dimension matters

The slide presents Portuguese walled and ditched enclosures at the same scale (the bigger walled enclosure is not Portuguese, but Spanish and near the border – Pijotilla -, used to substitute a similar Portuguese site – Porto Torrão – that doesn´t have yet its integral plan defined). The differences of sizes reached by some ditched enclosures are striking.

At Rome, my presentation was about the connections between walled and ditched enclosures in South Portugal. After established a general spatial and chronological simultaneity, several disparities were stressed. One of them was dimension.

Walled enclosures present small and, let us say, medium sizes (from less than a ha to 2 or 3 ha). Ditched enclosures present equal sizes, but some of them grew bigger, and reached areas from 20 to more than 100 ha (excluding the surrounding necropolis).

This is a striking fact that needs explanation. Why some ditched enclosures did grew so much during the Chalcolithic? Why, in the same region and time, walled enclosures kept small dimensions?

The answer, taking into account other several differences not referred in the present post but stressed at the conference, has to do with different social roles. My suggestion (to be developed in the paper) is that specific social roles of ditched enclosures, such as identity management, control and reproduction of cosmological order through architecture and social activities and funerary and ritualized practices, allowed some of them to grow and became regional centres of social aggregation and living metaphors of the cosmos.

Nevertheless, their size and meanings can somehow be seen as the “singing of the swan” of Neolithic world views. By the end of the 3rd millennium or beginning of the 2nd cal BC they are “dead” and a new social dynamics is already in course.

In a way, they remind us of the Cathedral’s Era.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

0055 – Rome reunion on Chalcolithic (October, 2011)

The research of Portuguese enclosures was represented at the conference STRATEGIE INSEDIATIVE E METALLURGIA. I RAPPORTI TRA ITALIA E LA PENISOLA IBERICA NEL PRIMO CALCOLITICO ,promoted by the German Archaeological Institute, through a presentation made by me (representing NIA-ERA), comparing walled and ditched enclosures and proposing a general different social role for those architectures in the South of Portugal, by a presentation of Rui Parreira and Elena Morán of the ditched enclosure of Alcalar and its regional context from a materialistic point of view, and by a presentation of Michael Kunst about the research on Zambujal.

If the apparent antiquity of the emergency of metallurgy in North Italy was one of the main debated issues, the absent or reduced number of enclosures (walled or ditched) in that region was also a striking surprise when comparing to Iberian dynamics, where metallurgy occurred at least a millennium later.

One thing, though, seems to be shared by both regions: the emergency of metallurgy is not particularly linked to the development of enclosure architectures, for in Iberia enclosures appear before metallurgy, and in Italy metallurgy developed with no connection to enclosures.

Food for thought about the social role of both archaeological realities.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

0054 – Santa Justa walled enclosure

Santa Justa(after Golçalves, 1989)

Location: Alcoutim municipality, Faro district, Algarve, South Portugal)
Chronology: Chalcolithic
Bibliographic references: Gonçalves, 1989.

Excavated during the late seventies and the eighties of the XX century, Santa Justa is a small walled enclosure located on a hilltop. Presenting a general ellipsoidal plan, it roughly measures 20m by 30 m.

Initially, it was an enclosure with to opposite gates, located in the extreme tops of the ellipse. Then, several phases of construction were detected, providing the structures of bastions, wall reinforcements and the closing of one gate and strengthening of the other.

Structures interpreted as huts were detected inside, but also outside the walls.

Metallurgic activities were detected inside and, because of the size, the site was interpreted as a “fortified farm” of farmers and metallurgists of the 3rd millennium BC.

Recently, in a materialistic approach (Morán e Parreira, 2009), the site was seen as a response to a need of protection of an elite interests and products. This elite would control through ideological coercion, and not through violence (the solution that historical materialism found to deal with symbolism), the common people of the community and would present itself as an assurance of social stability. In this context of power display, the walled enclosures such as Santa Justa would, not just reinforce, but also symbolically express that political power and prestige.

Santa Justa became one example of what historical materialistic approach calls “symbolic euphemism”: control, not through direct coercion, but through ideological persuasion and deception. Every symbolic meaning is at the service of a social strategy of power to sustain social inequality.

A theoretical elaboration that, somehow, seems to rises above the available empirical data.

Bibliographic references: Morán, H. e Parreira, R. (2009), “La exhibición del poder en el Megalistismo del Suroeste Peninsular: tres casos de studio en el extreme sur de Portugal”, Cuadernos de Prehistoria de la Universidad de Granada, 19, p.139-162.

Monday, September 26, 2011

0053 – Escoural walled enclosure and the Neolithic-Chalcolithic transition

Rock 6 and Chalcolithic tower above it (after Gomes, 1991)

Location: Montemor-o-Novo municipality, Évora district, Alentejo, South Portugal)
Chronology: Chalcolithic
Bibliographic references: Gomes, 1991.

The excavations in the walled enclosure of Escoural, located over the formation where the famous cave with Paleolithic art and Late Neolithic funerary use is, detected a wall and a tower and two phases of occupation dated from the first half of the 3rd millennium BC.

The interesting thing is that the wall and the tower were built over carved rocks with Late Neolithic “bucrânios” (representation of ox heads and horns) and a (debated) representation of a wheel car. This was considered a sanctuary and the construction of the walled enclosure was seen as a deliberated act of destruction of the previous site and of its meaning and social role. As the author puts it, the situation represents “a confrontation of two socio economic and religious conceptions”, or in another words, a confrontation between semi-nomad shepherds and sedentary farmers.

At the time, ditched enclosures were practically unknown, and for Late Neolithic no “heavy” architectures were known besides the megalithic ones. So, walled enclosures were seen as an indicator of a new social system, based on agriculture. For some, it would have its origins in internal social dynamics, for others it would have been a result of diffusion. In both conceptions, the transition from Late Neolithic to Chalcolithic was seen as an important historical milestone of periodization, a frontier between two different social systems and historical periods.

Escoural walled enclosure was used as an evidence for this perspective.

Today, we know of large architectonic investments in building ditched enclosures in the Late Neolithic (Porto Torrão, Perdigões, Juromenha 1, Ficalho, Torrão, Águas Frias, Malhada das Mimosas, Ponte da Azambuja). More than that, some of those enclosures grow bigger and continued throughout the chalcolithic, during the 3rd millennium, and became large ditched enclosures (Perdigões or Porto Torrão). Some are related to megalithic cromlechs and to funerary practices and present symbolic items that, in the overall picture, clearly reveal continuity and not rupture.

On the contrary, this can be seen in all subsystems. And as to the world views, the recent research of the symbolic foundations of some ditched enclosures suggests that the same general Neolithic cosmological system is framing chaolcolithic communities. In other words, Chalcolithic (at least untill the middle of the 3rd millennium) is the real Late Neolithic.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

0052 - Torrão ditched enclosure

Location: Elvas municipality, Portalegre district, Alentejo, South Portugal)
Chronology: Late Neolithic
Bibliographic references: Lago & Albergaria, 2001.

Plan of Torrão and view of the ditch, after Lago & Albergaria, 2001)

Located in a small hill, Torrão revealed a little ditched enclosure. Excavated in a part of the ditch's route, it has apparently an ellipsoidal or oval shape, with a maximum length of about 50 meters.

The ditch is also small. With a general profile in a “V” shape, it has 1,5 meters wide and 1 meter deep. Inside and outside, pits were detected and excavated, revealing deposits with pottery, grinding stones and some lithic materials. Practically nothing was detected outside te negative structures.

But another interesting circumstance of Torrão is the fact that the enclosure is not exactly at the top of the hill. In fact, it only occupies the NE half of hilltop and the beginning of the slope in that side, sharing the other half with a (previous?) cromlech of also small menhirs. This cromlech was already very destroyed, but the distribution of the monoliths shows that both enclosures didn’t overlapped, a circumstance that could reflect, if not a contemporaneous function, knowledge and a respect for previous symbolic structures. In this context, it is also meaningful the proximity of a small (again) megalithic tomb (proto megalithic by Portuguese typological standards), located just some tens of meters way, in a lower platform of the hill.

Ten years ago, in Portugal, ditched enclosures were steel just settlements. It was in that context that Torrão was first published. But the evident proximity and relation to megalithic structures led the authors to consider the importance of symbolic meanings and ritual practices as main questions to put to the site in future research. Identity and ancestors were issues that emerged in the text at the end.

Today, facing the recent data and the different theoretical approaches, Torrão is a striking example of the limitations (not to say inaccuracy) of the undemanding interpretation of a significant number of these complex sites as simple fortified settlements (in a village sense).

Monday, September 19, 2011

0051 - Fraga da Pena’s job

As I have put it several times, heritage only exists when is socially activated and lived. Archaeology, like other sciences in general, has its social justification in the social recurrence that provides.

Prehistoric enclosures have a double emblematic role in this issue. In one hand they are a kind of heritage that needs to be known, comprehended and valued by people, as a main archaeological phenomenology to understand prehistoric communities of Neolithic and Chalcolithic. Second, as so many of them did in the past, they can be used to bring people together, generating aggregation, reinforcing identities and a general common sense of heritage preservation and recognition of its social values and roles.

This happed last Saturday at the walled enclosure of Fraga da Pena (Fornos de Algodres) for the 3rd time in six years.

As the scientific research saw it, this huge and magnificent granitic tor must have had stories, myths, associated to its existent and majestic domain over the local landscape. When the two walled enclosure were built, some 4200 years ago, this was already a “place”: a local with a name and a history (not a modern geological one, but a mythological one), part of the local landscape semantics.

How to pass this view of a group of rocks and stone walls to common rural local people and general public?

In the absence of a real one, a legend was created and published in 2005, using other local myths and the scientific discourse displayed about the site. The legend, in a more pleasant way, makes people understand that this was a special place for special social practices and important for past world views.

In that year the legend was theatrically played at Fraga da Pena, for local community. Last Saturday another show based on it was performed there, bringing more than 300 persons to the place and, in a way, restoring its earliest social function: aggregating people in social practices that reinforce identities and a sense of territoriality, developing a consciousness of common memories and senses of belonging and, in summary, making heritage doing its job.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

0050 – Castelo Velho walled enclosure: a milestone.

Location: Vila Nova de Foz Côa municipality, Guarda district, North Portugal)
Chronology: Chalcolithic
Bibliographic references: Jorge, 1993; 1998; 2002a; 2002b; 2003.

Castelo Velho de Freixo de Romão. Image taken from here.

This walled enclosure, located in a hill top, was used as an instrument for a theoretical drift and for one of the first attempts (if not the first) to introduce a post processual approach in Portuguese Recent Prehistory and in the problematic of enclosures.

As the author puts it: “At first was interpreted along classic lines, as a fortified settlement (...).” (Jorge, 2002a, quoting Jorge, 1993). The next years would be of reinterpretation, questioning the traditional notion of fortified settlement and creating the notion of monuments for these kind of sites. Discussing the arguments, the empirical evidence, the theoretical coherence and fragilities of the framework or the academic contextual environment of this change, all of this would be too much for just a post in a blog. I will be doing it in future posts, as time goes by.

And analyse the consequences of this drift to the disciplinary debate would be no lesser problem. It would be so, if a natural debate happened. But in general, everyone fortified in their one theoretical frameworks (inclusive the newcomers); debate was avoided and substituted by sarcastic comments or back stage gossip; students were (and still are) formatted in the axioms of each “school” and invited to avoided heretical thoughts or practices.

In fact, if the new approach to enclosures, through a clear Anglo Saxon influence, tend to present them as places of social aggregation and identity management, as places intended to bring people together for social interaction, what happen in their contexts of research was a “theoretical fortification” of the different research schools. They enclosed themselves as “real” fortified settlements”, with purpose of defence and control (of their territory and respective inhabitants).

But as I recently put it, “Walls are built and walls fall down. For long, the approach to South Portugal Recent Prehistory was enclosed and protected from “wicked” European influences by high walls of strict empiricism or theoretical radicalism. Those walls stand, but they no longer enclose.”

As some other walled enclosures in the seventies and eighties, used to question cultural and diffusionists explanations in the light of functionalism and historical materialism, Castelo Velho was another milestone in the research of Portuguese enclosures. Not without “sin”, of course, for scientific practices are made by humans living in “sinful” human social contexts (and not by gods in Olympic laboratories).

Monday, September 12, 2011

0049 – The first wood henges in Iberia?

Well known in Europe, wood heges seem to be missing in Iberia. But just like ditched enclosures some years ago, I believe this is just a problem of research rather than a real circumstance.

A couple of years ago I came across with a context in Beira Alta (Central Portugal) in the Quinta da Assentada site that had a sequence of post holes and small ditches with several directions, sometimes cutting each other. This was overlapped by another sequence of alignments of rectangular pits. Unfortunately, the extent of the excavations didn´t allow a full comprehension of the plans suggested by those structures, but an essay of the eventual type of super structures was attempted.

Quinta da Assentada. View of the several small ditches and post holes, inclusively inside the ditches, and possible reconstitution (Valera, 2007)

More recently, the geophysical research done in several ditched enclosures and the reinterpretation of a excavated context, seem to reveal the presence of circular timber henges. This can be seen at Moreiros 2 and Outeiro Alto 2. In the later a possible wood henge was surrounded by three funerary hypogea and a pit grave. This context and interpretation will soon be published.

Circle of large post holes of a possible henge. The pits are equal to the ones that can be seen in the alignment of a possible palisade at the left, in Moreiros 2 (Becker, Valera & Boaventura, in print).

In fact, more situations like those will exist, but they can only be detected with open area excavation or good geophysics (and, of course, with a mind open to this possibility).


Becker, H., Valera, A.C. and Boaventura, R. (in print), “Moreiros 2 (Arronches, Évora): magnetometry of a complex ditch and palisade enclosure”, poster to be presented at the IXIberian Congress of Archaeometry, Lisbon, 2011.

Valera, António Carlos (2007), Dinâmicas locais de identidade: estruturação de um espaço de tradição no 3º milenio AC (Fornos de Algodres, Guarda), Braga, CMFA/TA.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

0048 – Portuguese Enclosures in International Congresses

In the following times and in the beginning of next year, Portuguese enclosures will be presented and discussed in international meetings.

At the next Annual Meeting of The European Association of Archaeologists, in a session dedicated to the problems of ditch filling, Cláudia Costa will present a paper based on the analysis of the faunal remains of the excavations of ditches 3 and 4 of Perdigões, in their contributions to the interpretation of the processes of the filling of those ditches. The title is: “Filling the ditches; faunal analysis based inferences on the stratigraphic sequence of Ditches 3 and 4 of Perdigões enclosure (Southern Portugal)”

Next month, in Rome, three communications will be presented that involve reflexion on Portuguese enclosures. Here is the programme:


Convegno Internazionale 6-7 ottobre 2011, Museo Nazionale Romano, Palazzo Massimo, Roma

Giovedì 6. 10. 2011
09:15 – H. von Hesberg, D. Marzoli, P. Petitti, M. Kunst, D. Steiniger: Discorso di saluto
I. Italia
10:00 – Daniela Cocchi Genick (Verona): L’Eneolitico in Italia: stato della ricerca, problematiche e prospettive
10:30 – Alberto Cazzella (Roma): Rapporti tra modelli di insediamento e metallurgia nella penisola italiana
11:30 – Patrizia Petitti (Roma): Necropoli e insediamenti nel Lazio settentrionale: la differenza delle fonti archeologiche
12:00 – Andrea Dolfini (Newcastle upon Tyne): La prima metallurgia in Italia centrale: nuove datazioni e interpretazioni
12:30 – Lucia Sarti – Fabio Martini (Siena/Firenze): Sesto Fiorentino: un “centro insediativo” nel Calcolitico
14:30 – Roberto Maggi – Marc Pearce (Genova/Nottingham): Transumanza, tecnica mineraria e metallurgia in Liguria
15:00 – Franco Nicolis (Trento): Strategie di insediamento e miniere in Italia settentrionale
II. Francia meridionale
16:00 – Marie Laroche – Paul Ambert (Sète): Découvertes du Programme Collectif International de Recherches (1996-2011) dans le district minier-métallurgique de Cabrières-Péret (Hérault, Sud de la France)
16:30 – Laurent Carozza (Toulouse): Tecnologia mineraria, metallurgia e strategie di insediamento nella Francia meridionale
17:00 – Luc Jallot (Montpellier): Insediamenti fortificati con metallurgia nella Languedoc
III. La penisola iberica
09:15 – Michael Kunst (Madrid): Stato della ricerca e cronologia nella penisola iberica
09:45 – Salvador Rovira (Valencia): La prima metallurgia nella penisola iberica
10:15 – Gert Goldenberg (Innsbruck): Copper ore deposits of southern Portugal and their relevance for the development of the region`s early metallurgy?
10:45 – José Enrique Martínez Romero (Málaga): Fossi circolari e insediamenti fortificati in Andalusia
11:30 – António Carlos Valera (Lissabon): Fossi circolari e insediamenti fortificati in Portogallo
12:00 –
Rui Parreira – Elena Morán (Faro/Lagos): Alcalar e poblados fortificados no sul de Portugal
12:30 –
Michael Kunst (Madrid): Zambujal e insediamenti fortificati in Portogallo centrale
IV. Il mediterraneo occidentale – uno spazio comunicativo
14:30 – Christian Strahm (Freiburg): The West-Mediterranean metallurgical drift
15:00 – Daniel Steiniger (Roma): L’interpretazione di modelli di distribuzione nel Calcolitico italiano
16:00 – Claudio Giardino (Roma): Relazioni nella metallurgia italiana e iberica
16:30 – Thomas Schuhmacher (Madrid): Scambio d’avorio nel Mediterraneo occidentale durante il Calcolitico
17:00 – Jean Guilaine (Carcassonne): Il Mediterraneo occidentale nel Calcolitico
17:30 – Discussione e sintesi

Next year, 23-25 March, at Oxford, a conference will be held having as issue:

Director of Studies: Dr Alex Gibson, University of Bradford and Jim Leary, English Heritage

8.00 pm An introduction to the study of henges: Time for a change, Alex Gibson
9.00 am Josh Pollard - Avebury
10.00 am Jim Leary - Marden
11.30 am Kenny Brophy - Henging and mounding: the Forteviot henges
2.00 pm Keith Parfitt - Ringlemere
3.00 pm Wolfgang Neubauer - Kreisgrabenanlagen – Middle Neolithic ritual enclosures on the continent: 4800-4500BC
4.30 pm António Valera - Mind the gap: Neolithic and Chalcolithic enclosures of South Portugal
8.15 pm Jan Harding - Yorks henges
9.15 am Muiris O’Sullivan - Irish Henges
10.15 am Nick Card - Orkney Enclosures
11.45 pm Richard Bradley - The later history of henges: the view from Northern Britain

Thursday, September 8, 2011

0047 – Alto do Outeiro ditched enclosure

Location: Beja municipality, Beja district, Alentejo, South Portugal)
Chronology: Chalcolithic
Bibliographic references: Grilo, 2007

Located in a small hill, Alto do Outeiro was partially surveyed in an emergency context in 2005. Several pits and two ditches were identified. Ditch 1 had a “V” section with 2,20m wide and, 1,5 to 1,3m deep. It was filled with several deposits in a bowed way.

Section of ditch 1 (after Grilo, 2007)

Ditch 2 presented a wavy plan in the area excavated, and the filling was more complex than in ditch 1: stone drops and pits excavated in previous filling deposits were recorded.

Ditch 2 (after Grilo, 2007)

Geophysical prospection was done, but the results were relatively poor. Some pit area were detected and the plan of ditch 2 was interpreted as a sub rectangular shape of 20x18 m.

Part of the geophysical image (ditches area). (after Grilo, 2007)

The shape in the published image is not clear though, and the fact that the quality of the image is not the best associated to the wavy layout of the ditch might induce in error about the real plan of the enclosure. I have my doubts about a sub rectangular shape.

On the other hand, in the lower part of the image, two possible wavy ditches seem to be present, inclusively with and entrance.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

0046 – Geophysics and archaeoastronomy of prehistoric ditched enclosures

This project developed by NIA-ERA and financed by Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian is reaching its final steps (it’s a two years project – 2010-2011).

The main goal was to analyse and establish the astronomic foundations of the architectonic design of several Portuguese Neolithic and Chalcolithic enclosures through their plans obtained by geophysics. The project, led by me, counted with the participation of Helmut Becker (as responsible for the geophysics) and Gracia Rodriguez e Javier Mejuto from Madrid Complutense University (responsible for the astronomic research). This general approach is absolutely new in Iberia regarding enclosures.

The ditched enclosures submitted to geophysics were: Moreiros 2; Xancra; Monte do Olival 1; Pombal; Luz 20. To these five sites three other were added: Perdigões (with its integral geophysics) and Santa Vitória and Outeiro Alto 2 (with their plans known through excavation). The preliminary results of the project will be soon presented in two meetings.

At the IX Iberian Congress of Archaeometry (ICA), to be held in Lisbon next October, in the section dedicated to geophysics, a communication and two posters will be presented:

“Magnetometry of Recent Prehistory ditch enclosures and Archaeoastronomy: results of a ongoing project” (António Carlos Valer, Helmut Becker, Javier Mejuto & Gracia Rodriguez)

“Moreiros 2 (Arronches, Évora): magnetometry of a complex ditch and palisade enclosure” (Helmut Becker, António Carlos Valera & Rui Boaventura) - Poster

“Xancra (Cuba, Beja): magnetometry of a possible prehistoric calendar” (Helmut Becker & António Carlos Valera) - Poster.

At the “Star and Stones” meeting dedicated to archaeoastronomy, to be held in Évora this September, we will present a paper:

“Ditcehd enclosures in Southern Portugal: an archaeoastronomical point of view of portuguese Neolithic and Chalcolithic (J. Mejuto, A. Valera, G. Rodríguez-Caderot & Helmut Becker)

Next year a monographic publication will be edited. But some papers are already available:

VALERA, António Carlos e BECKER, Helmut (2011), “Cosmologia e recintos de fossos da Pré-História Recente: resultados da prospecção geofísica em Xancra (Cuba, Beja)”, Apontamentos de Arqueologia e Património, 7, Lisboa, NIA-ERA, p.23-32.

Valera, A. Carlos e Becker, Helmut (in print), “Arqueoastronomia, geofísica e recintos de
fossos da Pré-História Recente no Sul de Portugal”, Xelb. Actas do 8º Encontro de Arqueologia
do Algarve, Silves, C.M.S.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

0045 – Monte do Olival 1: a preliminary glimpse into the inside enclosures.

Here is a preliminary geophysical image obtained by Helmut Becker at Monte do Olival 1, in the context of the NIA-ERA project on archaeoastronomy of ditched enclosures directed by me and financed by Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian. The image reflects only the two inside ditches. There are at list more two.
There is still work to be done to improve the image (Helmut will be working on it), since geological interference is strong. But, once again, results are very good. Sinuous wavy ditches are present once more and the similarity to Xancra, Outeiro Alto 2 or Santa Vitória is striking, reinforcing the idea that the design of these particular wavy enclosures has specific patterns and meanings, responding to particular goals.
And the already stressed tendency for circularity and concentricity of these complexes of enclosures is also confirmed.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

0044 - Enclosures and funerary contexts: Perdigões recent evidence

The association of ditched enclosures to funerary practices and contexts is increasing. A workshop on the matter is starting to be designed.

In the mean time, in Sector Q of Perdigões, the excavations of this Summer provided more evidences about cremations. Several deposits revealed several hundred (not to say thousands) fragments of scattered human burned bones, associated to burned artefacts, mainly harrow heads and ivory idols (or other ivory artefacts not identifiable).

Two interesting aspects of those contexts can be stressed. One is the presence of small human burned bones: phalanges, for instance, are numerous. This reflects a particular careful on the translation of the burned remains from the original cremation place.

Deposit of burned human bones with ivory idols.

The other is the particular association of these remains to specific idols: limestone decorated idols (with the eyes and facial tattoos) and ivory anthropomorphic idols, known in South Spain, but until now absent in Portugal. I’m talking about: idols with a head with ears, nose, eyebrows, eyes, facial tattoos; hair going down the back; harms with hands crossing over the belly, sometimes holding a symbolic tool; sexual indication; well defined legs and buttocks. Some can reach an outstanding level of perfection and aesthetic significance.

Ivory anthropomorphic idols.

Food for thought. Not just about Chalcolithic funerary practices (where cremation starts to get some importance), but also about the social role of some ditched enclosures, especially in their relations to funerary practices.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

0043 – Moita da Ladra walled enclosure

Location: Vila Franca de Xira municipality, Lisboa district, Estremadura, Central Portugal)
Chronology: Chalcolithic (with a previous occupation of Early Neolithic)
Bibliographic references: Cardoso, 2010.

The hill where the site is, with the Tagus River valley behind (after Cardoso, 2010)

Located on a hilltop that dominates the lower Tagus river valley, this site presents a walled enclosure dated from plain/final Chalcolithic. The chronology is deduced by the presence of the locally characteristic decorated pottery (“Folha de Acácia” type), bell beaker vessels and copper and gold artefacts (Palmela point, gold decorated plate and object related to metallurgical work).

The stone wall is considered to represent a unique built phase, defining an ellipsoidal enclosure (44m x 80m), with an entrance in the South side (facing the Tagus River). It was built with local basalt rocks, but also with limestone, brought uphill from the bottom of the mount. Those limestone blocks were especially used in the wall faces (the middle was filled in basaltic rocks). The white of the limestone walls would have generated a strong visual contrast in the top of the dark volcanic hill.

Plan of the enclosure (after Cardoso, 2010)

That strategy of visibility is stressed by the author in the context of a territorial and circulation control between the Tagus valley and the hinterland of Lisbon Peninsula (as would represent the Zambujal walled enclosure in the other side of the Peninsula – the sea side). A settlement-fortress of a regional strategy of occupation, defence and control.

Nearby is the Verdelha dos Ruivos cave, used for Bell Beaker funerary depositions and related with the enclosure as its possible necropolis. The same hypothesis is developed for some local megalithic tombs (as Casal do Penedo ).

Thursday, August 25, 2011

0042 – Where have all the flowers gone?

Carrascal (Porto Torrão) ditch excavated by ERA Arqueologia (responsibility of Helena Santos)

I frequently remember the name of this song when I think about all of the geological material that was extracted in the processes of building ditches. Where have all the tons of geological material gone?

As I’ve said before, we completed this year a cross section in Ditch 6 of Perdigões, dated from Late Neolithic. This, combined with the plan obtain by geophysics, allows us to estimate the volume of bedrock extracted. Assuming similar shape and measures (sometimes they change along the ditches) of Ditch 6, that has almost a two hundred meters perimeter, the building process implied the excavation and removing of about 745 m3 of geological material (I will also calculate the weight).

I will deal later with the questions of logistics, labour and technical problems. For now I just renew the question: where is it?

Traditionally is assumed, I repeat assumed, that bank walls were built with that material, later eroded. The problem is that there are no evidences of that erosion in any of the already surveyed ditches at Perdigões (as in other Portuguese enclosures). They simply are filled with different materials (with exceptions for small erosion of ditch walls, as we can observe in a specific point of Ditch 6).

But the geological is also not outside the ditches, not even in Perdigões, that is topographically an amphitheatre, with the pendent orientated to the inside and East. Ditch 6 is in the centre of the natural amphitheatre. If there was a bank by the inside of the ditch built with the geological material there should be evidences of it. There are not.

If we think that at Perdigões are at least 11 ditches, progressively bigger than Ditch 6, we start to have an idea of the quantity of geological material removed there over time. Thousands of cubic meters; thousands of tons (it is now possible to also estimate the volumes for ditches 1, 3 and 4).

Where is it?

Monday, August 22, 2011

0041 – Late Neolithic ditch at Perdigões enclosure

In this year campaign we reach the base of Ditch 6 (the inner one) of the complex of ditched enclosures of Perdigões. It is 3 meters wide at the top, 2 meters deep and has a “u” section.
From bottom to top provide mainly faunal remains and pottery, addressed to Late Neolithic (second half of the 3rd millennium BC).

The processes of ditch filling of this section is different from the ones observed in Sector I, in Ditches 3 and 4, dated from plane Chalcolithic. As in Ditch 3 a significant change has been observe in the first half of the ditch, regarding the second (upper) half, separated by a moment of local erosion of the western wall of the ditch (not extendable to the entire surveyed area). In the lower part we have basically horizontal layers, with a moment of organized depositions of stones. After the wall erosion period, we have diagonal sedimentation pending from west (from the outside of the enclosure), including moments of formation of stone layers with the same pending.

The interpretation of this filling is still yet to be done (excavation just finished). But it is clear that the process had different phases (with different conditions) and doesn´t present clear structured depositions as can be observed in Ditches 3 and 4 (Mind that we are talking about small section of long ditches). Nevertheless, is a big ditch by Late Neolithic standards, only overcame in Portugal by one of the ditches excavated at Porto Torrão (Valera & Filipe, 2004).

Friday, July 15, 2011

0040 - Perdigões 2011 excavations

Follow here:

0039 - Burning rituals

“Conical” deposit of burned material inside pit; burned arrow heads; burned human bones.

In several European ditched enclosures evidences of (intentional?) burning wood structures are known. Those evidences were not yet directly documented in Portuguese enclosures of Eecent Prehistory, but some of the images obtain by geophysics (burned material gives a strong magnetic signal) suggest that the same happen here.

But not only structures were burned. Human bodies also.
In Perdigões a pit was excavated containing the remains of human cremations (burned human bones submitted to different temperatures; burned pottery; burned flint materials; lost of charcoal and ashes sediments). Next to this pit, another structure with burned human bones is going be excavated this season (starting next Monday).

In fact, Perdigões presents several different funerary practices, like secondary depositions in tholoi type monuments in a necropolis, primary depositions in pits, scattered bones inside ditches and now cremation.

At Carrascal (a necropolis of Porto Torrão), in a ditch used as atrium for several hypogea, accumulation of burned human bones were also recorded. But also at Valencina enclosure (South Spain), partially burned human bodies were found in a ditch.

The use of fire is well known also in several megalithic monuments, traditionally interpreted as sanitation practices. As Vale de Ambrona (in Ebro high basin) cases are revealing though, burning is a ritual ideological practice used since the Neolithic and Chalcolithic.In the context of the practices occurring inside ditched enclosures they could have played roles much more important than we initially suspected. Let’s see what Perdigões give us this year.

Monday, July 11, 2011

0038 - Castanheiro do Vento walled enclosure

Plan of Castanheiro do Vento walled enclosures (after Vale, 2008-9, adapted)

Location: Vila Nova de Foz Côa municipality, Guarda district, Beira Alta, North Portugal)
Chronology: Chalcolithic
Bibliographic references: (see W.E. Bibliography )

Castanheiro do Vento has been excavated for several years now and has already a long list of published papers. The research leading team is from Oporto University, basically the same that excavated Castelo Velho de Freixo de Numão, just a few kilometres away.
Castelo Velho was used to question the traditional interpretation of these sites as fortified settlements of sedentary agrarian communities and to introduce interpretations that were long developed for ditched enclosures in Europe in the context of post processual approaches. Castanheiro do Vento is being used to developed further a “deconstructive archaeology”.

Functionalism is considered absolutely inadequate to address the architecture of the site, seen as a form of permanent writing and completely involved with human experiences, practices and paths that help to structure.

We could say that these approaches tend to considerer more important the action of permanent building and rebuilding, experiences and pathways than the actual built structure. As if the sites were living beings in action. As if they were members of the groups and cement to their identity, through bringing them together in a place.

Some of the same ideas were also developed by me at Fraga da Pena and Castro de Santiago. And most of them have a great potential for the hermeneutics of these sites (walled or ditched). But if strict functionalism might not be the most adequate approach to deal with these places, that doesn’t imply that function should be put out of the equation and that we substitute one homology by another. Enclosures shared ideas and goals, but also were certainly diversified in purposes.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

0037 - Salgada enclosures

Ditch and wall from Salgada (after Manuel Calado, http://crookscape.blogspot.com/).

Location: Borba municipality, Évora district, Alentejo, South Portugal)
Chronology: Chalcolithic
Bibliographic references: (Calado &Rocha, 2007)

From Salgada just a few references are available, since the excavations are still to be published. The public notes speak of a site with a ditch, but also with two rows of stone walls. That makes Salgada the second Portuguese site that has ditched and walled enclosures (the other is Monte da Ponte), but information is scarce, so we don’t know if these structures are contemporaneous or just followed in time.

One interesting aspect, though, is the description of the ditch: “a poligonal ditch, with an entrance, facing eastwards, some 5 m large, where, in a late moment, it has been cut a narrow channel, connecting both ends of the ditch. The ditch itself has been cut in independent portions, recalling the british causewayed enclosures, though in this case, those parts are connected in sequence.” (CALADO, M. (2006), “Digging up a monument”, Gema Blog, (http://crookscape.blogspot.com/).

Apart from the eastern orientation of the gate (important in the context of my project on astronomic orientation of enclosures), the “independent cutting” of parts of the ditch seems to support the idea of a modular architecture (see here).

Salagada is, therefore, an important site for several issues regarding enclosures in South Portugal. We will be waiting with expectation for the publication of the results of the excavations.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

0036 – Geophysics at Monte do Olival 1

A first glimpse into the results obtained by the NIA-ERA project directed by me and with Helmut Becker responsible for the geophysics.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

0035 – Porto das Carretas walled enclosure

Plan of Porto das Carretas after Soares & Silva, 2010.

Location: Mourão municipality, Évora district, Alentejo, South Portugal)
Chronology: Chalcolithic
Bibliographic references: (Soares & Silva, 2010)

Located on the top of a small hill in the left bank of the Guadiana river, the site is today totally submerged by the Alqueva dam.

Two phases of occupation were detected, separated by a period of abandonment. The first phase was related with a construction of a walled enclosure, with three rows of stone (and possibly also earth) walls interpreted as fortifications. Only the plan of the interior one is partially available, and is composed by strait walls suggesting a polygonal shape, with a bastion in one corner. This phase is dated from the first half of the 3rd millennium BC.

The second phase is related to the construction of several connected circular stone structures. A central one (with entrances to three of the others) is considered a “tower”, while the rest (some of them of the same size) are considered huts. This reoccupation of the site is made over the ruins and abandonment levels of the first phase, is dated from the second half of the 3rd millennium BC and associated to the presence of bell beaker pottery (International style) and copper metallurgical work.

On the other side of the river, just 15 kms away, stands the large set of enclosures of Perdigões, older than Porto das Carretas (started at Late Neolithic) and contemporaneous of its both phases of occupation.
Nevertheless, a “world of differences” separates the two sites. Architecture, dimension, duration, topography of location, relation with funerary practices, evidences of connection with distant regions, etc. And another “world of differences” occurs today in the interpretation of those dissimilarities.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

0034 - Summer solstice

Summer solstice, seen from the chalcolithic ditched enclosure of Monte do Olival 1. Geophysical prospection of this set of enclosures started precisely at 21 of June and the ongoing research will determinate if this important annual moment was significant for the architecture, location and orientation of the ditches.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

0033 - Horta do Albardão 3 ditched enclosure

Excavation area (after Santos et al. 2009)

Location: Évora municipality, Évora district, Alentejo, South Portugal)
Chronology: Chalcolithic
Bibliographic references: (Santos et al. 2009)

Horta do Albardão 3 is a recently detected enclosure defined by, at least, one ditch.
The ditch is 2,2 meters wide and 2 meters deep, with a section in a slightly asymmetric “V” with a strait base forming a rectangular segment, similar to ditch 4 of Perdigões. It was excavated by Arqueohoje Lda in the context of rescue Archaeology. As usual in Portugal, the excavation and research done was restricted to the affected area. So, just a very small section of the ditch was excavated and no further work was required to determine or infer the size or shape of the enclosure. Nevertheless, the segment excavated seems to indicate a sinuous smoothly wavy ditch, like the one of Perdigões and others.

The ditch was dated from the second half of the 3rd millennium BC (Middle/Late Chalcolithic). Next to the ditch, a funerary pit with a human inhumation was dated from the Bronze Age.

In Iberia, the building of ditched enclosures seems to have stopped during the Chalcolitic, precisely during the second half of the 3rd millennium BC. Nevertheless, some evidences are slowly starting to appear, showing the presence of materials or specific contexts of Bronze Age in some of these sites. The same is happening in Perdigões and in Outeiro Alto 2. Except for the later, data is quite scarce yet to allow any consistent interpretation of those presences. But it is gradually becoming clear that at least some ditched enclosures, deactivated and “abandoned”, still mark the landscapes and the social memory with significant capacity of attracting the Bronze Age communities, namely to burying their death.

I called this circumstance a symbolic extend (Valera, 2003) that makes a site socially active after the abandonment related to its original context of function and meaning. A memory is not simply a passive bank of data, but one of the most active “tools” that frames human action. And sites like enclosures, ditched or walled, have the potential to be what the cognitive sciences call external memory and develop powerful means of attraction. I will be back to this issue.

Valera, António Carlos, (2003), "O abandono de povoados fortificados calcolíticos no Ocidente Peninsular", ERA Arqueologia, 5, Lisboa, Colibri/ERA Arqueologia S.A., p.126-148

Friday, June 17, 2011

0032 - Making them visible

Helmut Becker at Moreiros 2.

In the archaeoastronomy of enclosures project in course, we have been using geophysical prospection to obtain the complete (or almost complete) plans of enclosures. Helmut Becker is the responsible for that survey. He is using Caesium-magnetometry.

To do his ultra-high sensitive cs-magnetometry, he is using Geometrics cs-magnetometer G-858G in the so-called duo-sensor configuration for total field measurements. The sensitivity of the magnetometer is 20 Picotesla (0.02 nT). The spacing of the 2 sensors was set to 0.5 m – with the measuring cycle of 10 Hz (10 measurements per second) the resolution was 50 x 10 cm (50 cm distance of the profiles in the 40m-grids and 10 cm samples on the profile). This is the fastest and most sensitive method for archaeological prospecting on large areas. Almost one hectare per day could be measured with this high resolution. Measuring the geomagnetic total field rather than only the gradient of the vertical component with fluxgate-gradiometry allows a much deeper penetration into the ground (major archaeological structures can be made visible to a depth of 4 to 5 meter).

Preliminary data processing is done every night directly after the fieldwork – therefore any new ideas about the continuation of the prospecting could be immediately realized.

The results have been quite remarkable, as we can see by the examples of Xancra, Perdigões or Moreiros 2.

Next week we will be starting Monte do Olival 1 and expectations are high.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

0031 - Models and enclosures (1)

Walled enclosure of Zambujal (image from here). One of the classic sites in the debate of walled enclosures in Portugal.

During the seventies of the XX century, Carlos Tavares da Silva and Joaquina Soares undertook an approach that was based on localism and on a materialistic theoretical background. The emergence of Chalcolithic societies in South Portugal was seen as the consequence of labor development and production intensification, framed by a Secondary Product Revolution dynamic. This social-economic development would support segmented political structures, characterized by autonomic communities, basically equalitarian, organized at a local scale. Localism was seen as a reinforcement of social relations based on sedentary residence and in territorial contraction, generating a social, economic and political autonomous environment, according to the model of “one site / one fortification / one territory / one community”. Autarchy and competition for strategic resources would have generated a condition of “global war”, responsible for the fortification of settlements present for the first time in the archaeological record. War would export conflict and tension to inter-community relationships and preserve the internal unit of the group on an equalitarian basis. Finally, equalitarianism and political autarchy were seen as reaction to a centralist and hierarchic process, allegedly emerging in the late Neolithic. This was the theoretical background to explain the Chalcolithic walled enclosures.

Theoretical disputes apart, this model suffered from problems of scale and data. At the time, few Neolithic and Chalcolithic enclosures were known and fewer were excavated in Alentejo. It was pioneering times. Discourse was built on a reduced number of isolated sites, scarcely excavated in the majority, and quite distant from each other, extracted from their unknown settlement networks context and landscapes. A more realistic density and diversity of territorial occupation was yet to be disclosed, and the situation was propitious to localism and to interpretation centered on the site regardless its context: the site was the scale of analysis and then, by a generalization process, discourse was extending to a regional scale (Southwest Iberia). A uniform pattern of chacolithic settlements location was establish: high places, with good visual control of landscape and fine natural defense conditions.

Naturally, today this picture is no longer empirically sustainable and is also questionable theoretically. But, at the time, it was the first attempt to introduce historical materialism in the Portuguese Recent Prehistory. And, in the context of an Archaeology dominated by Cultural Historical perspectives, based on diffusion as the major mechanism to explain social change, that regarded the walled enclosures (first) as colonies and (after) as trading posts, this materialistic approach became quite refreshing at theoretical level in those days.

Silva, C.T. e Soares, J. (1976-77), "Contribuição para o conhecimento dos povoados calcolíticos do Baixo Alentejo e Algarve", Setúbal Arqueológica, II-III, Setúbal, MAEDS, p.179-272.
Valera, A.C. 2009, “Cosmological bonds and settlement aggregation processes during Late Neolithic and Copper Age in South Portugal.”, Thurston, Tina L. and Salisbury, Roderick B.(eds). 2009. Reimagining Regional Analyses: The Archaeology of Spatial and Social. Dynamics. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

0030 - A long way from home

Some of the imported objects and raw materials at Perdigões enclosure: “green stone” beads; recipients and idols in limestone; gold; long blades of flint; objects in ivory.

One thing in common to the large ditched enclosures, but that seems to be less significant or totally absent in the smaller ones, is the present of a lot of exogenous raw materials and artefacts. In some cases, the local of origin can be traced back to far away regions.

At Perdigões set of enclosures, and in Chalcolithic times, we have elements coming from several regions of Spain, others from Portuguese Estremadura or Alentejo´s coast and even from North Africa, like the ivory from bush elephant.

This kind of objects are absent or extremely rare in the surrounding settlements, enclosed or not, revealing that the site locally catalyzed the relations with the outside. Those relations were probably not direct, especially with the far regions, but intermediated by others. Large enclosures, then, seem to play a leading role in inter regional interaction.

In fact, several archaeometric studies (of pottery, beads, metal, ivory) in course at Perdigões are being used to built an image of those interactions, identifying potential origin places and suggesting relations whit other large enclosures, like Pijotilla and San Blás, also in the Middle Guadiana basin, but in Spain.

But because things don´t move along by themselves and because of the fact that all of those large ditched enclosures were also places where funerary practices were intensively present, we are now starting to look into the human remains (through DNA and other methods, such as teeth morphology) hopping to go further in mapping those relations.

How to value this in terms of social organization? Well, we have a couple of models available in the theoretical market. But that is food for future posts.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

0029 - Porto Torrão ditched enclosure

Late Neolithic ditch (left) and Chalcolithic ditch (right)

Location: Ferreira do Alentejo municipality, Beja district, Alentejo, South Portugal)
Chronology: Late Neolithic and Chalcolithic
Bibliographic references: (Arnaud, 1993; Valera & Filipe, 2004; Valera, 2010; Valera et.al. in press)

Porto Torrão is known as a large Chalcolithic site since the eighties of the last century (Arnaud, 1983), but only in 2002 it became clear it corresponded to a complex set of ditched enclosures.

The excavations that detected the presence of ditches for the first time were conducted in a context of emergency Archaeology (Valera & Filipe, 2004), related to the building of a high voltage electricity line. The excavation of the area of one of the pillars of the line revealed two parallel ditches, separated only by eight meters (a space where some pits were also identified and excavated).

Although the ditches were close to each other, they were from different chronologies. The inner one was filled almost to the top by sediments with Late Neolithic materials and the outer one with materials from Chalcolithic, with the presence of Bell Beaker almost from the beginning of sedimentation.

The Late Neolithic ditch is 3,5 meters wide and 3 meters deep and the Chalcolithic one 5,9 meters wide and 3,4 meters deep. In the first one, some pits were identified inside the ditch, opened along the filling sediments.

More recently, again in a context of emergency Archaeology, other ditches were identified, and several necropolis of tholoi and hypogea were detected around the enclosures (Valera, 2010; Valera et al., in press). The limits and the design of the enclosures and necropolis are not yet known, but the general image points to a large complex and one of the biggest of Iberia.

Peripheral necropolis of tholoi and hypogea (a particular structure is a ditch function as an atrium of access to several the funerary chambers through passages excavated in the ditch wall. Inside the ditch, several pavements of circulation were identified). (Image published in Valera, in press,in, Michael Kunst, Roland Gauβ, Martin Bartelheim eds., Vom Erz zum Kupferartefakt. Metallurgie des 3. Jahrtausends in Zambujal und im Südwesten der Iberischen Halbinsel, DAI, Madrid.)

Monday, June 13, 2011

0028 - Walls, walls and walls

Walled enclosure of Monte do Tosco, with walls less than a meter thick (left); walled enclosure of Fraga da Pena, with walls 3 meters thick (right).

In English there are “walls”, “walls” and “walls”. In Portuguese there are “muros”, “paredes” and “muralhas”. “Muros” are short and thin walls; “paredes” are high and thin walls; “muralhas” are high and thick walls. So, whatever is the structure, in English there is no big problem with the designation walled enclosure. But in Portuguese the generalized expression is “fortified settlement” (and the structures usually designated by “muralhas”) and that raises problems.

The main problem is that the expressions “fortified settlement” and “muralhas”, on the contrary of walled enclosure, are not “neutral”: they already imply a specific intention and functionality related to defence in a context of human vs human violence. And the expressions have been traditionally used without careful, regardless available data... and theory.

In fact, and regardless everything else related to context, a wall 0,80cm thick (a “muro” or “parede”) is quite different, in a lot of aspects (labour involved, available raw material, sustainability, resistance, visual impact, meaning, function, etc.) from a wall 2,5 or 3 meters thick (a “muralha”). Just like a ditch of 1,5 meter wide and a meter deep is quite different from a ditch 10 meters wide and 5 or 6 meters deep.

So, if we want to designate this general type of enclosures, it would be better to do it with a designation not compromised with specific functions and meanings. Easyer to do it in English than in Portuguese. It is an example of the difficulties generated by the available vocabulary of a language. And we all know how language is structural to our rationalization of the world and to our knowledge production. People tend to forget that, sometimes, a name is a synthesis, an arriving point and not a starting one (or that they must run the race before reaching the goal).

Saturday, June 11, 2011

0027 - Drying the enclosures

Lots of things can happen inside a ditch, like discussions between archaeologists, for instance.

The data coming out of ditches, when conveniently published, ravels that many actions took place inside, some of natural origin, most of human initiative. Along the filling layers we can detect organized depositions, pits dug in previous layers, stone structures, human burials, etc. In Portuguese enclosures, we can observe this in several sites where excavations are larger than a small section: Perdigões, Santa Vitória, Porto Torrão are some examples.

Structured deposition inside ditch 3 of Perdigões.

This is not very consistence with the idea that those ditches were built to be water canals or drains, a justification that continues to be too easily adopted in some discourses. And another inconsistence is the topography (which I already classified as very important in enclosures interpretation). Most of those enclosures are in slopes, with significant differences of altitude between the several sections of the ditches. Because of the water levelling, this topographical situation implied that water would concentrate in lower sections, living large parts of the ditches dry when the water was less, overflowing the ditches when the water was too much.

But of course water run inside ditches in rainy days. That is inherent. And when it rained hard, erosion took place, just like ditch 3 of Perdigões shows at middle depth. This could be an argument for the drainage theory. But in sites with the topography of Perdigões, an amphitheatre, the water would run rapidly to East and concentrate in the upper side of the entrances that interrupt the ditch, generating a pull and overflow the entrance. At Xancra and Monte do Olival, located in slops orientated to East and with their entrances also in the eastern parts of the enclosure, this would mean a permanent flooding of the doors and of the low parts of the enclosures. This would be very inconvenient and, mostly, would have left evidences in the strata sequence that was not yet recorded in the excavated sites.

A drain should not be interrupted and should be proportional to the draining needs. So why built drains of 7 meters wide and 3,5 meters deep? That’s a canal of the Industrial Revolution. Why built wavy drains of 2,5 meters wide and 1,5 deep to drain an area of 20m diameter at Santa Vitória or Outeiro Alto 2?

For all those reasons, water canals and reservoirs or draining structures are not very consistent primary functions to explain the building of the most part of ditched enclosures. Water flows inside them. But as intrinsic circumstance that comes along with this kind of structures. Not as an intended one for the building decision. And if there are exceptions, they must be empirically demonstrated by evidence from strata sequences inside ditches and by topography consistence and not simply assumed.

Reconstruction of the set of enclosures of Los Marroquiés Bajos (Jaén, Spain), assuming the ditches as water canals