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.