Monday, June 18, 2012

0099 - Ditched enclosures in the Portuguese north hinterland

Ditched enclosures in central/north Portugal (Yellow circles). Santa Bárbara is number 30.

The actual distribution of ditched enclosures in Portugal shows a clear concentration in Alentejo region, in the Guadiana and Sado basins. But some enclosures with ditches also started to appear in the north part of the country. First in the littoral. But in the last years they were detected also in the hinterland, in Beira Interior.

Is the case of the ditched enclosure of Santa Bárbara, Sabugal (Peresterlo & Osório, 2005). Unfortunately there is not much information published about the site and its negative structures. Through some newspapers articles we know that there are pits and a ditch (25 meters long and 3 meters wide), apparently dating from the Chalcolithic.

The site is very near the Spanish border and that region of Portugal is part of the western traditional pathway between the two Iberian central Mesetas and a natural extension of the central territories, both north and south of the Central Mountain System. Well, in both areas, the Madrid region and the Douro valley, the last decades have revealed a significant density of ditched enclosures. Besides, the Beira Interior region is also well connected to the South, being part of that north-south route that links three mains river valleys: the Douro, the Tagus and the Guadiana.

It is a linking region, well marked in several historical periods (such as in the Bronze Age through stelae distribution), connected to areas where ditched enclosures are very well represented. So, it was just a matter of time before they started to appear here too. And more are expected for the near future.  


  1. "The actual distribution of ditched enclosures in Portugal shows a clear concentration in Alentejo region"...

    According to my manual of "Spanish Prehistory" (which includes peninsular Portugal rather shamelessly) the Alentejo is also:

    1. The origin of the Megalithic phenomenon (Dolmenic Megalithism, I understand), which according to the dates I have read is the oldest not just of Iberia but of all Earth.

    2. The region where (later, in the Chalcolithic) the burial in tholoi is most common (it pre-dates Greek tholos burials, which may have been a conceptual import from Iberia in the Bronze Age, although the construction style has precedents in Syria and Cyprus but with a huge chronological hiatus that makes any connection with Iberia unlikely at the least).

    Do you think that the ditched enclosures have any relation with these other cultural phenomena? And, if so, how?

  2. The relation of ditched enclosures with megalithism, intended as a system of funerary practices, is extremely strong. Several ditched enclosures have strong links not just to megalithic landscape, but to megalithic monuments themselves (like Perdigões, Alcalar, Torrão) or to the hypogea variant (like Porto Torrão, Cortes 2, Outeiro Alto 2, Bela Vista 5). Some of them, especially the biggest ones (Perdigões, Porto Torrão), have huge evidences of a diversified range of funerary practices inside, showing that, at list in the 3rd millennium, the megalithic solution is just one part of the “death management”.
    So yes, I have been defending a strong connection between ditched enclosures and megalithism, not in terms of grave/settlement relation, but in terms of elements that express (and contributed to build) a same Neolithic way of being in the world.
    And that is why I am organizing a meeting clled "Prehistoric enclosures and funerary practices" (see below).

    1. I am just an amateur with shallow pockets, so I will not go to the meeting myself but, as you mention it and seems quite interesting, I'm going to re-blog that announcement entry at
      "For what they were..." I'll also send it to some Megalithomaniacs I know who are active online, so they can echo it even further.

      Otherwise, excuse my ignorance of your theories (I have only been following this blog for few months now), do you imply that the powerful were buried in megaliths and commoners just dumped in ditches with all kind of rubbish? Does this apply only to the Chalcolithic or was already happening in the Neolithic proper? Thanks in advance.

  3. Thanks Maju.
    As regarding the funerary practices, I don’t exactly imply what you refer. By the contrary, I think we must be very careful in taking social conclusions out of funerary contexts. What evidence is suggesting is that body manipulations and funerary practices in Late Neolithic and Chalcolithic are much more diversified and complex than we used to think, probably related to quite different world views and even different ontological perspectives of the human, and of human body, and not just reflecting the social structure in a simple and direct way. It is not just about laying bodies in chambers with votive materials. There are ritual post mortem manipulations of the bodies; segmentation of bodies; movements of bodies or parts of bodies from one place to another, primary depositions, secondary depositions, cremations, scattering of human bones, etc., and some enclosures played an important role in this complex process of dealing with death (and life).

  4. The conference is to be held in the Calouste-Gubelkian Foundation, right? And this one is in Lisbon, right? It is not fully clear in the program, although it looks a very beautiful frame.

    "There are ritual post mortem manipulations of the bodies"...

    I see. Thanks. I wish I could understand better how the ancestors considered all these matters.

  5. Yes, it will be held in Gulbenkian in Lisbon.