Thursday, December 27, 2012

0138 - Ditches and pollen

The pollen record is one of the documents available for the knowledge of ancient landscapes and environments. The approach to these “documents” is always problematic, for post depositional events of taphonomic origin can be of significant interference.

Well ditches, as a receptor, can be an important kind of context to provide good results in this kind of approach to ancient landscapes and to human interaction with them. Naturally, as all contexts, ditches have their problems. Natural problems, like the fact that they are drains (intended or not) or recipients of erosion, but also cultural ones, such as the intentional nature of the fillings, interfere in the “construction” of the pollen record. But, nevertheless, these “negative contexts” are particular important for their particular conditions of sedimentation and preservation.          

So, in Perdigões, after a first test (Wheeler, 2010), we initiated a project, in the context of the program of IGESPAR for “Archaeosciences” (2012), to use these “documents” in the reconstruction of local and regional flora landscapes, to infer about the human strategies regarding the exploitation of that environment and start to have a notion of the human impact in it.

Sample in ditch 6
The Perdigões site is particular interesting for this kind of approach, since have ditch structures dating from a time span of almost 1500 years. That could provide an important record of the evolution of local and regional landscapes and of human strategies of use of those territories.

The systematic sample collection started this year: in ditches 6, 8 and 12.

Bibliographic References:
Wheeler, Jane (2010), "Paleoenvironmental assessment of two archaeological sediments from Perdigões, Alentejo region, Portugal", Apontamentos de Arqueologia e Património, 6, Lisboa, NIA-ERA Arqueologia, p.41-45. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

0137 – Enclosing is also "protecting" the outside

This is an approach that hasn’t have the sufficient attention by the approaches to Iberian (and in the case of this blog, Portuguese) ditched enclosures.

The term enclosure tends to compel the idea of keeping something protected, saved, restricted inside a boundary. This perception became almost an axiomatic approach to enclosures. By default, when we see a boundary, we tend to assume that someone is trying to protect something inside from dangers or practices from outside.

Well, Richard Bradley came out with an interesting perspective to British henges. This kind of enclosures have an inside ditched surrounded by an outside bank. Bradley noticed the inversion of the “defensive” strategy: the bank, that should be inside of the ditch to defend the inside space, was, in fact, outside the ditch. He, then, suggests that henges are not trying to keep something out, but trying to keep something in. Whatever was occurring there, was supposed to be restrain in that inner space and not affect the wider outside.

This is an interesting perspective to apply to Portuguese ditched enclosures, although they differ a lot from the British henges.

Let’s look at the image of Xancra, for instance. The small inside enclosure, except for a possible central pit, seems to be clean. In the middle enclosures we have already several pits, especially four big ones that seem to form a square.  And in the outside enclosure there is an amount of pits. This suggests that enclosures have a double function: preserve some things inside and keep others outside.

But usually we tend to look at this and value more the idea of preservation inside as a protection of what happens there. But the inversion of this way of reasoning alert us to the possibility that the purpose could be to keep something restricted inside, kipping the outside free from it.

Let’s think about the actual cemetery walls. Who do they protect?  Those inside or those outside?

This perspective about British henges has a lot of potential and should be added to the inquiry and to the hermeneutic tools we use to deal with the phenomenon of enclosures in Iberia in general, and to some of those enclosures in particular.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

0136 – Enclosures as funerary chambers ?

That seems to be the case of the inside small ditched enclosure of Bela Vista 5. The small enclosure has inside just one pit used to bury a woman, together with three pots, a pricker and a “Palmela” arrow head (so much for the “male worrier” theory for “Ferradeira horizon” graves). It is dated from the last quarter of the third millennium BC, contemporaneous of the process of the filling of the ditch.

It is interesting to notice that the pit grave is not at the centre of this small enclosure, just with 6/7 m diameter, but in a side, like it frequently happens in megalithic chambers. In fact, the all context, announcing a new world with new perspectives regarding individuality, steel suggests a memory of Neolithic times, inclusive with evidences of body manipulation after the first deposition. The inner enclosure seems to have been built to receive this grave, and the outside ditch reveals practices that can only be understood in the context of a highly ceremonial activity (see previous post on Bela Vista 5).

All of this for one woman? If so, she was an important one, no doubt.

PS – The data from this sites and reflexions on the problems that it raises will be presented next February, in ERA annual meeting. Monographic publication will follow.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

0135 - Temporalities

This is one of the most important issues in the approaches to ditched enclosures, especially to the big ones, that present a large time span.

At Perdigões, a set of 34 radiocarbon dates will be soon published, showing that the site lived for almost 1500 years and that its area and layout has changed through that period of time.

These kinds of programs are needed to deal with sites that have long duration, avoiding the traps of dealing with them as a whole. Did Perdigões started as a small Neolithic enclosure that gradually grew? Well, the actual data seems to suggest so. But that suggestion needs confirmation, because outer ditches still to be excavated and dated.

Nevertheless, the actual available radiocarbon and archaeological data clearly shows that there is a long biography of Perdigões. To understand the site’s social role (or social roles) is to understand that biography.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

0134 – European flavour

The continuous discovery of ditched enclosures in South Portugal brings the region closer to the standards of some European regions: in numbers (at the moment, 35 confirmed just at South of Tagus river) but also in some morphologies. In fact, until recently, the known Portuguese ditched enclosures (those with plans well known) presented designs quite particular to the region (especially the sinuous patterned ones). But, like in Central Europe or Britain, exact geometric circles started to appear and now what seems to be a perfect ellipse.

Here is this new Chalcolithic context, named Montoito because is near Montoito village, Évora district (discovered in Google by Tiago do Pereiro and confirmed by me), compared with the perfect ellipse of Meisternthal in Germany (magnetogram from Helmut Becker).

Saturday, December 8, 2012

0133 – Murteira 6

Ditch A from Murteira 6 (after Porfírio et al, 2012)

Location: Beja municipality, Beja district, Alentejo, South Portugal)
Chronology: Chalcolithic

Bibliographic references: Porfírio et al. 2012.

At Murteira 6 four sections of small ditches (0,40 to 0,70 m deep by 0,80 to 1,20m wide) were surveyed. At least two ditch sections are crossing, with one overlapping the other. No general plan is available yet, so the layouts of the ditches are not known. Archaeological materials point to a Chalcolithic chronology, probably of the first half of the third millennium BC.

Enclosures defined by small ditches (some can be infrastructures of palisades) are known in several other sites, like Torrão, the ditches 5 and 12 of Perdigões, the ditch 2 of Ponte da azambuja, or some of the ditches of Senhora da Alegria. All of these examples, though, date from Neolithic. Murteira 6 apparently shows, for the first time, very small ditches dating from Chalcolithic.    

Plan of the ditches at Murteira 6 (after Porfírio et al, 2012)

Thursday, December 6, 2012

0131 - Enclosures in meetings

The enclosures of Senhora da Alegria (left) and Bela Vista 5 (right) will have their first public presentations next February, in the annual meeting of ERA Arqueologia. The first site have an important sequence from Early Neolithic to Late Neolithic (and some punctual occupations afterwards); the second is from the beginning of Bronze Age and presents a ceremonial context in the Neolithic and Chalcolithic tradition.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

0130 - And another new big one

It is almost a Christmas present. Thanks Tiago.

This is another find of a relatively large ditched enclosure (about 350 meters diameter) in Beja District. By South Iberia standards, it is of medium size, a little bit smaller than Perdigões and Salvada. Of course, we do not know yet if it is prehistoric, but it looks so.

To confirm all these new possible ditched enclosures we just presented a project for field prospection and, after a selection (and fund raising), geophysical survey. This will enlarge, in a great number, the known prehistoric ditched enclosures in South Portugal and provide a base for further research. It will be a project of ERA, opened to all willing to participate.