Friday, May 31, 2013

0188 - The importance of gates

Gates (or doors) are extraordinary important in any architecture or space organization. Being a building (with gates or doors), being a landscape (with its locals of passage that tradition preserved as “Portelas”, a Latin word, or “Alvalade”, an Arab one). They are that specific point where people cross borders between different meaningful scenarios, places of transition, elements of orientation for pathways and mental reference in construction of space, places to be defended or to be decorated or monumentalized. They are so in the present and they were so in the past. 

To ditched enclosures gates are a special issue, for they can provide us with important information about the ideological background that informed the construction of these sites. Namely, the gates show, in several cases, in Portugal as in Europe, that these enclosures were built with astronomic specific orientations, where gates played an important role: they are facing important astronomic events, like the solstices or equinoxes.

We do not have in Portugal many enclosures where we have information about the gates. We have that information for Perdigões, for the sites of the project of geophysics that I developed in the context of my NIA-ERA activity, for Santa Vitória, Outeiro Alto 2 and for a section of Alcalar. I presented some of the architecture of those gates in an earlier post, where the above image was posted.

Recintos de Bela Vista 5

Recently, in Senhora da Alegria was excavated another strange gate (posted here) and after, in Bela Vista 5, three new gates could be recorded. And although this is a latter enclosure, built in the last quarter of the 3rd millennium, it seems to use gates in a way that we can track to earlier moments in Chalcolithic: one is orientated to the sunset in the equinoxes, and the two others are orientated to Summer solstice. And one has a semicircular development by the outside (the “pinças de carangueijo”) similar to several solutions we can observe in Perdigões, Moreiros 2 or Xancra, but at the same time different: coming out of the ditch before the entrance interruption, it stops exactly where the gate begins, not blocking a front entrance or visibility and does not create a lateral entrance as it happens in the other quoted examples.

It’s a clear example that these outside elements of gates respond to intentions that are not easy to understand in their specific motivations. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

0187 - Castro de Santiago also at the museum

Castro de Santiago walled enclosure was the first site I excavated in Fornos de Algodres, from 1988 to 1996 and in 2006. As Fraga da Pena, the site is displayed in the local archaeological museum. Here are the posters that can be seen there.

I call your attention to the last one. To a specific situation, where Santiago is an interesting case: the presence of all “chaine operatoire” for the production, use and reuse of polished stone tools.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

0186 – Fraga da Pena in the museum

These are the posters referring Fraga da Pena presented at the small museum of archaeology in Fornos de Algodres, the municipality of the site.

There, some archaeological materials from this walled enclosure are shown and the architecture of the site is explained.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

0185 – “Structured depositions” in pits and ditches

Porto Torrão ditched enclosure. Exacavation of ERA Arqueologia in 2002 (Valera & Filipe, 2004)

This is an issue present in every ditched enclosure, not only related to the ditch fillings, but also to the pit ones.

There, we can frequently find totally articulated bodies, articulated parts of bodies or scattered bones of animals (or humans). The question, for some time now is always the same: “Is it ritual or rubbish?” (Hill, 1996)

An example is the depositions of some animal bones in a pit between two ditches at Porto Torrão (Valera & Filipe, 2004). There some jaws of different animals and part of a horse limb in anatomical connection were recorded between several small stones. “Is it ritual or rubbish?”

Porto Torrão ditched enclosure. Exacavation of ERA Arqueologia in 2002 (Valera & Filipe, 2004)

The problem here is the traditional difficulty of dealing with human intention in Prehistoric Archaeology and the debate around the expression “structured depositions”.

This expression has been used to fill a semantic emptiness that results from the critics to the use of the modern concept of garbage applied to these contexts. That criticism is supported in the idea that what is today not sacred and understood as waste in a mechanical negligible way, without meaning, might, in different social contexts be of profound significance. Then, structure deposition is a concept that emerges to avoid an impetuous projection of modern reference systems to the past, allowing other reasons to emerge. Nevertheless, as Olsen (2000) stresses, it tells us little about those reasons.

The questions remains; what means an articulated limb of a horse in a pit, associated to two jaws (of a pig and of a possible sheep)?

Recently, taking into consideration the association of animal limbs to human funerary contexts, I and a colleague argued around a possible answer (Valera & Costa, in press):  

Because of these particular ontological frames, archaeology should pay equal attention to animal remains as it does to human remains in archaeological survey (Olsen 2000): orientation, position, represented parts of the body, conditions of those parts, individual attributes (e.g. age, gender, size, pathologies) and contextual associations. Only then will it be possible to detect patterns that allow us a glimpse into their world view that are not restricted to simple economics.

In this context the abundance of limbs or parts of limbs stresses the importance of segmentation, also present in practices involving human bodies, certain categories of artefacts and even the communities, so appropriately called segmentary societies.  Segmentation seems to be a social strategy of significant importance to societies in Recent Prehistory (Valera 2010).

The problem of segmentation is related to the problem of the relation between the part and the whole, and to the different value attributed to the degrees of physical integrality developed in different mental frames. As J. Chapman (Chapman 2000; Chapman & Gaydarska 2007) argued for the fragments of artefacts, we consider that the part and the whole may assume the same symbolic role (through an ontological parity), allowing that the part, by participating of the essence of the whole, to play the social role of maintaining connection between people or between people and places or events. When a part is present, that does not necessarily mean the occurrence of post depositional activities that disordered the original context. On contrary, we must consider the possibility of an intentional segmentation and that the part was deposited as so. But because of the principle of psychological participation, that part (a fragment of a pot, a paw of an animal) may be evocative of bonds between persons and events. For instance, to a ceremony involving the burial, to previous events that were important to the group, even to events to happen in the future or maintaining bonds to the social role and power of an object or animal.

As argued elsewhere (Valera 2008), this is a cognitive mechanism where the psychological principle of participation works allowing essential properties of the whole to be participated by the part, establishing a homology between them. It is the principle of the sacred water, where each segment represents the whole body of Christ and not a part of it. Segmentation is a structural process, where the need to segmentation and sharing and redistributing essences plays an important role in renewing and perpetuating the social and cosmological order (Fowler 2004).

In this context, the fragment of a body acquires a quite different social potential and presents challenging problems to our perception of the relations between the part and the whole, and to our concept of unity. To us, those relations are conformed by Cartesian geometry that establishes dichotomies between complete/incomplete; whole/part; orientated/disorientated, valuing and attributing meaning to the first and insignificance to the second.  This would not be the most appropriate mental frame to deal with other mental schemes, based in different categories and world views. Fragments should not be devalued, for they have the potential to establish and maintain bonds, assuming relevant social roles. “ (Valera & Costa, in press)

Bibliographic References
Chapman, J. 2000. - Fragmentation in Archaeology: people, places and broken objects in the Prehistory of South-Eastern Europe, London, Routledge.
Chapman, J. & Gaydarska, G. 2007. - Parts and wholes: fragmentation in prehistoric context Oxbow Books.
Fowler, C. 2004. - The archaeology of personhood. An anthropological approach London, Routledge.
HILL, James D. (1996), “The identification of ritual deposits of animals: a general perspective froam a specific study of ‘special animal deposits’ from the Southern English Iron Age”, (S.Anderson e K. Boyle, Eds.) Ritual treatment of human and animal remains, Oxford, Oxbow Books, p.17-32.
Olsen, S. L. 2000. -The secular and sacred roles of dogs at Botai, North Kazakhstan Crockford, S. (ed) Dogs through time: an archaeological perspective Oxford, Bar International Series : 71-92.
Valera, A. C. 2008 - Mapeando o Cosmos. Uma abordagem cognitiva aos recintos da Pré-História Recente, ERA Arqueologia 8 Lisboa, Era Arqueologia/Colibri : 112-127.
Valera, A.C. & Costa, C. (in press), “Animal limbs in funerary contexts in southern Portugal and the segmentation problem”.
Valera A.C. & Filipe, I. (2004), "O povoado do Porto Torrão (Ferreira do Alentejo): novos dados e novas problemáticas no contexto da calcolitização do Sudoeste peninsular", Era Arqueologia, 6, Lisboa, ERA Arqueologia/Colibri, p.28-61.

Friday, May 17, 2013

0184 - Bell Beakers and ditches

Bell Beaker from ditch 2 of Porto Torrão.

This is an interesting relation to analyze. At the moment the situation is the following one.
In Portugal the smaller ditched enclosures usually don’t have bell beakers (a difference regarding the walled ones). Only the larger enclosures raveled the presence of this type of pottery. This is the case of Perdigões, Porto Torrão and even Alcalar (with an AOC fragment). In all the rest, beakers are still to be recorded. But even this statement has its exception: at Bela Vista 5 we have a “Ferradeira” grave inside the ditches, and even if this kind of assemblage is not exactly a classic beaker one, it shared enough characteristics to be considered a specific expression of the beaker phenomena.

But apart from this, the present rule is that, in ditched enclosures, decorated Bell Beaker pottery is absent except from the larger ones, where can be very well represented, as it happens in Porto Torrão.

But another interesting situation occurs in Alentejo. As I stressed before (Valera e Rebuge, 2011), we can find beakers in several small open sites or walled enclosures in Alentejo, such as Monte do Tosco, Porto das Carretas, Miguens 3, Outeiro de São Bernardo, Barrada do Grilo, etc. But in all cases the beaker style tends to be exclusively monothematic: we have International style (for instance Porto das Carretas) or geometric combed style (for instance Barrada do Grilo) or incised style (for instance Monte do Tosco).

In the large enclosures, however, we have them all. In Porto Torrão, in Perdigões, but also in the near Spanish ones, like Pijotilla.

What does this exactly means?

Some written opinions about Iberian ditched enclosures support the idea that they were no longer built during the late third millennium. But the data is say otherwise.  Not just Bela Vista 5 was built in the last quarter of that millennia (although it is a “Ferradeira” context), but ditch two of Porto Torrão has beaker pottery in the lower layers and the outside ditch of Perdigões is dated from the third quarter of the millennia, clearly in a beaker phase, and have some beaker pottery in its upper half stratigraphy. So, in beaker times some ditches in large complex enclosures might have been opened and were surly active during the second half of the millennia. It is not like the reoccupations of abandoned chalcolithic sites in ruins, like it happens in the walled enclosures of Monte do Tosco or Porto das Carretas, where the walls were not rebuilt, only stone huts were raised and the area reoccupied is much smaller. On the contrary, something was happening in these large enclosures that show they continued active with the same general social meaning during the Late Chalcolithic. That is exactly what we can see at Perdigões, with the outside ditch being dated from this period but respecting the order of the previous enclosures and the organization of space and landscape, reusing older tombs with similar procedures and occupying (and respecting) the amphitheatre were the site was meant to be.  

It seems that what was happening in large ditched enclosures in the second half of the third millennium was different from what was happening in smaller sites, ditched, walled or open.

But this is based on the data we have at the moment. And, as recent times have been showing, everything can change in a “blink of an eye” in Alentejo.

Valera, A.C. e Rebuge, J. (2011), "O Campaniforme no Alentejo: contextos e circulação. Um breve balanço.", Arqueologia do norte alentejano. Comunicações das 3as Jornadas, CMF, p.111-121

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

0183 - Two years of Portuguese Prehistoric Enclosures (PPE)

Today this blog reaches the age of two years. And here is, to commemorate, a possible new ditch enclosure (seen in two different worked satellite images), just detected yesterday.

During 182 posts I tried to display information and ideas about the Portuguese walled and ditched enclosures to a large audience, national and international. Old and recent data, problems and perspectives, many issues were presented here. And the recent new developments were shared almost live.

The reached audience is not astonishing, but it is interesting: almost 44000 visits in two years, an average of 22000 a year, more than 1800 visits a month and about 60 per day. Not entirely bad for such a specific theme, unknown to the general public. 

One of the goals was to make available information about PPE to an international audience. The statistics say that half of the visits were from Portugal and the other half was from foreign countries. So, even that is not too bad. Here are the top ten countries where visitors came from:

United States
United Kingdom

In face of this, I think Portuguese enclosures and their research is a little beet more known outside Portuguese borders. And, I believe, to the surprise of some.

So I feel stimulated to continue. The only absolute failure was my inability to bring more Portuguese archaeologists to collaborate in this initiative, as the “wish to enclose you” statement aimed. The comments are also few. However, these circumstances are not quite surprising, since the Portuguese archaeology always had a difficult relationship with the need of displaying knowledge to the general public (or even to a specialized one). So, I have to work a little beet more this area in the next few years.

Nevertheless, the blog goes into its third year “in shape”. And the months to come until the end of this year are quite promising, with expected new information and publications and so much to debate about these sites. I try to continue to make an echo of that in this page.

And thanks to the regular and irregular visitors. 

Sunday, May 12, 2013

0182 - Olelas walled enclosure

Olelas plan, after Gonçalves, 1997.

Location: Sintra municipality, Lisbon, Estremadura, Central Portugal.
Chronology: Chalcolithic
Bibliographic references: Serrão & Vicente, 1958; 1959; Gonçalves, 1997; Sousa, 2010.

The quite small Olelas walled enclosure is one of the most interesting enclosures of the Portuguese Estremadura, although it is also one of the most problematic regarding the quality of its information.

It was discovered in the XIX century, but the excavation started only in the fifties of the XX century. Then, two circular stone structures were identified and, based on the material, interpreted as funerary monuments: they provide artifacts that were associated to the sacred dimension of life and some human remains. But some stone walls between these structures were also identified and that raised an ambiguous position of the excavators between the settlement and the funerary interpretation, giving a certain privilege to the symbolic and sacred side of the equation.

Later, in the late eighties/early nineties, new excavations were developed there, a more complete plan published, some radiocarbon dates obtained and the “fortified settlement” interpretation established.

Since then, Olelas has been just so: a fortified settlement, just like so many others in the region.

However, I think it would be interesting to come back to Olelas with some new questions in mind, supported in different theoretical backgrounds. 

The material collected in Olelas shows at least two previous moments of occupation before the wall was built. One from Early Neolithic and another from Late Neolithic. The walls and the three circular structures (I wander if they can be interpreted as Boussargues – see here) were presumably built in the third millennium (the radiocarbon dating doesn’t specifically date the construction of these structures), so we do not know exactly when they were built. There are some decorated pottery of “folha de Ácacia” in small numbers and more numerous assemblages of bell beaker pottery (Sousa, 2010). This means that the walled structures and towers might have been built in a latter phase inside Chalcolithic and not necessarily in the earlier phases of the millennium. I mean, although we have previous occupations (even in Chalcolithic), the enclosure itself might be relatively late.

It is a small enclosure, only of 0,1 ha, defined by the wall structures and by a natural cliff (just like Liceia, but much, much smaller). And it reminds me a lot Fraga da Pena, also defined by a wall with bastions in one side and a natural feature by the other, also very, very small, built in the late third millennium and also with a dominant beaker occupation. At Olelas, the size, the presence of specific exceptional materials, the presence of human remains, the preponderance of bell beaker pottery, and all of these taken in relation suggests a context similar to Fraga da Pena, which clearly isn’t a fortified village.

It is clear now in Portugal that enclosures were diversified contexts, that they did not all perform the same social roles or respond all to the same social needs. I suspect that the available poor information of Olelas is telling us that this particular site cannot be just submitted to an homology with other larger walled enclosures of the region. But it is just a suspicion, based on the theoretical frames and empirical data that show the diversity of these sites and their cosmological bonds.

The site should be revisited, but with new theoretical frameworks that allow confrontation of a diversity of possible interpretations. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

0181 – Luz 20 ditched enclosure

Location: Mourão municipality, Évora district, Alentejo, South Portugal.
Chronology: Chalcolithic
Bibliographic references: Valera, 2006; Becker & Valera, 2012.

Surveyed by Era company in 2004, in the context of the construction of Alqueva dam, Luz 20 is a double ditched enclosure with stone structures inside. Those works will be published next month included in a monographic study of several interventions done there in the same process.

Later, in 2010, it was submitted to geophysical survey (caesium magnetometry) in the context of NIA’s research project “Plans of ditched enclosures and Neolithic cosmologies: a landscape, archaeoastronomical and geophysical approach” financed by Calouste Gulbenkian Foudation.

The results confirmed the existence of the two ditched enclosures, of circular and concentric tendency, several circular pits and a large perfectly circular chamber of a possible tholoi structure.

Above is the magnetogram with the survey areas overlaid, showing the inside ditch and part of the outside, matching the areas were they were identified in the archaeological excavation.

However, in Portugal, geophysics continues not to be use as a regular tool in these kinds of infrastructure projects.  And they keep bumping into enclosures.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

0180 – Perdigões – Sertor I

This is a detail of the magnetogram of Perdigões enclosure, focused on Sector I, located in an intermediate area of the site, with the highlight of the sinuous ditches 3 (the outside one) and 4 (the inside one) and with the plan of the survey done in the area in 2007 and 2008. There, sections were made in the two ditches and an assemblage of pits were identified and excavated.

Radiocarbon dating revealed (in coherence with the material culture) that both ditches belong to Chalcolithic, but also that the outside one (Ditch 3) was probably open earlier than the inside one (Ditch 4). When Ditch 4 started to be filled, Ditch 3 was already partially, but not completely, filled. They date from the second quarter and middle 3rd millennium BC.

The fillings reveal structure depositions of stones, pottery, faunal and human remains in the bottom half parts of the ditches and a change of the filling processes in the upper levels. These filling processes, their nature and material present,  the sinuous design of the ditches, their proximity and the fact that the inside one was open later but so near to the earlier outside one and when it was still not totally filled, all point to intentional human practices of structured depositions inside ditches, at least in their bottom half. 

The pits are in general also Chalcolithic, except the pink ones in the plan. Those have primary funerary human depositions from Late Neolithic (second half of the 4th / beginning of the 3rd millennium BC)

Several papers have already been published referring to these contexts:

COELHO, Manuela (2008), “A fauna malacológica proveniente do Sector I do recinto calcolítico dos Perdigões”, Apontamentos de Arqueologia e Património, 3, Lisboa, NIA-ERA, p.35-40. 
COSTA, Cláudia (2010), "Os restos faunísticos de animais vertebrados do Sector I dos Perdigões (fossas e fossos 3 e 4)", Apontamentos de Arqueologia e Património, 6, Lisboa, NIA-ERA Arqueologia, p.53-74.
COSTA, C. (2010) – Os restos faunísticos de animais vertebrados do sector I dos Perdigões (Fossos 3 e 4 e Fossas)” Apontamentos de Arqueologia e Património, 6, pp.53-74.
COSTA, C. (2010) – “Problemática do enchimento dos Fossos 3 e 4 (sector I) dos Perdigões (Reguengos de Monsaraz) com base da análise estratigráfica dos restos faunísticos”, BETTENCOURT, A. M. S., ALVES, M. I. C. e MONTEIRO-RODRIGUES, S. (eds.), Variações Paleoambientais e Evolução Antrópica no Quaternário do Ocidente Peninsular/Palaeoenvironmental Changes and Anthropization in the Quaternary of Western Iberia, Braga, 2010, pp. 113-124.
GODINHO, Ricardo (2008), “Deposições funerárias em fossa nos Perdigões: dados antropológicos do Sector I”, Apontamentos de Arqueologia e Património, 3, Lisboa, NIA-ERA, p.29-34. 
MARTA-MORENO, G. e CABAÇO, N. (2009), “Restos faunísticos em contexto funerário: fossas 7 e 11 dos Perdigões (Reguengos de Monsaraz)”, Apontamentos de Arqueologia e Património, 4, Lisboa, NIA-Era Arqueologia, p.11-14
VALERA, António Carlos (2008), “Intervenção arqueológica de 2007 no interior do recinto pré-histórico dos Perdigões (Reguengos de Monsaraz)”, Apontamentos de Arqueologia e Património, 1, NIA-ERA, p. 15-22. 
VALERA, António Carlos (2008), “O recinto calcolítico dos Perdigões: fossos e fossas do Sector I.”, Apontamentos de Arqueologia e Património, 3, Lisboa, NIA-ERA, p.19-27. 
VALERA, António Carlos e GODINHO, Ricardo (2009), "A gestão da morte nos Perdigões (Reguengos de Monsaraz): novos dados, novos problemas", Estudos Arqueológicos de Oeiras, 17, Oeiras, Câmara Municipal, p.371-387.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

0179 - Ditch Sections

Here are some ditch sections from Portuguese enclosures. Diversity is the word. Diversity of shapes and of sizes. Even in the same site. Even in the same ditch.

Image taken from Valera, A.C. (in press), “Recintos de fossos da Pré-História Recente em Portugal: investigação, discursos, salvaguarda e divulgação”, Almadan, 18, CAA.