Tuesday, October 9, 2012

0114 - What to do with them

This is a question that should be asked more often. There are too many enclosures excavated and neglected, with their structures exposed to the natural elements and anthropic ones. This is not a specificity of prehistoric enclosures, but it is a major problem in their communication. Difficult to interpret and to communicate to the general public, the conditions of the few that are available for public visiting in Portugal are depressing, and definitely not concurring for public awareness of the importance of this kind of heritage and public mobilization for its value, defence and preservation.

When we follow a sign and find this...

Walled enclosure of Monte da Tumba (Torrão), visited two weeks ago.

... what really should we think? If we cannot afford the preservation of an enclosure for public visiting in positive conditions, than we should be aware that presenting them in unacceptable conditions is just stupid, for we will be sending all the wrong messages I can imagine.  This situation is generalized. Sometimes we can see that local authorities take some care of this heritage, but generally with local resources, not using experts on the matter. But even that is rare. Abandonment is the norm.

If the country doesn’t have the means for keeping these sites presentable, because there is no money, because there is not enough cultural market for archaeological heritage, then maybe it is better to cover some of them: the ones that don’t have any kind of regular concern.
Maybe confronted with that, local, regional and national spirits would have a different attitude to find the means or assume that is just impossible.


  1. Of course there are many problems with conservation, more so in these horrible times of austerity for some things considered prescindible (but not for others).

    However there could be a much greater "market" (cultural tourism) if the relevance of these findings would be better communicated. What I'm actually calling is for more "anglosaxonness", "adventurerism", mediatic hype, in the style that these findings are communicated to the public, with likely impact in potential tourists and therefore local income, which may pay back for the effort of conservation.

    Sometimes you just have some badly preserved ruins but if you have at least a seducing book, website and/or 3D reconstruction. A good story to speculate with around the archaeology, then it can be better "sold" and marketed.

    Portugal, along with Southern Spain, has some of the most fascinating Neolithic and Chalcolithic archaeology of Europe, comparable to what can be found in Greece (Minoans, Mycenaeans) or Britain (Stonehenge, Orkney, etc.) A prehistory that is probably pivotal for the rest of Western Europe and maybe other areas. But while these other phenomenons are well known and exploited in the academic, cultural and tourist spheres (what generally favors their conservation, "exploited" here does not need to be harmful), the Chalcolithic of Southern Iberia is barely known.

    While the early Germanic archaeologists mystified Cnossos, Troy or Mycenae, and their descendants have also managed to magnify and promote the relevance of British archeology (by comparison Breton archaeology, so similar and related, lays almost forgotten), Iberian prehistorians have remained so rigidly academic (and in some cases dependent on even more stiff researchers from mainland Europe, notably Germany) that they totally fail to communicate the importance of what they have in their hands.

    In many cases I feel that they do not really understand it themselves.


  2. ...

    The South Iberian civilizations of Estremadura, Almería and later Tartessos, are the only urban civilizations of Western Europe before the Late Middle Ages (the Roman interlude was not autochthonous), and even the magnificent Megalithic monuments of the two Britains must be understood on light of a phenomenon invented by the first Portuguese farmers: dolmenic megalithism.

    All that is not communicated by talking of "enclosures". Why not "forts" (some of them were probably), "temples", "cities". Why not to evocate the mysterious adventures of Hercules in the Far West or even Atlantis (some of whose described details match very well with Castro do Zambujal, for example the 10km-long silted canal)?

    I know that this may sound non-academic, not too serious (although I do think it is serious enough, these are matters on which I have chewed quite a bit and a major reason why I became fascinated with the Chalcolithic, specially the Portuguese one, and also the Bronze Age) but in our society, if you want resources, financing, you have to sell. Sell truth (I'm not calling for any falsification of prehistory) but sell it minimally inspiring, not just a boring enumeration of fragmented facts that can hardly inspire even the experts.

    Put the stones and bones within a plausible context, a story that makes sense, and present it without any claim to be the only possible truth, but a plausible one... Don't get people to visit an ill-known and barely dug "castro", get them to a tour to "what may well be the ruins of Atlantis". Don't talk of just enclosures and chambered tombs... but of "the cradle of the West". Don't mention by passing Greek influences in El Argar, emphasize them (they link to a better known history) and discuss Hercules and the titan Atlas... and the mysterious three-headed giant Geriones... and wonder if it is somehow related.

    I'm not making up anything: I'm just making sense of the raw data, which is so hard to communicate, in terms of what the ancient said of the semi-mythical Far West (Greek legends) and also of the importance of Southern Portugal must actually had for the Megalithic phenomenon.

    The archaeo-facts must be in that, providing the scientific structure. But with them alone, it all becomes too arid, you need to do actual prehistory: reconstruction of the past into plausible stories, not just technical and arid narration of archaeo-facts. That way you'll get to the media, to the tourists and even to the patriotic heartbeat of neighbors and politicians alike. It's not just some old stones whose meaning s not well known but some old stones with a meaning, which are part of our past very directly and emotively.

  3. In fact, you are not making up anything. Not even for Portuguese enclosures. You can look at the Fraga da Pena posts as an example. Lots of people are doing good communication in everyday’s work. And all of that is being discussed for a long time and the problem is much more complex than just "discourse". I suggest this paper of mine on the issue:
    As to discourse, if you want my opinion, with should be the opposite of what you propose. We should not try to compete with adventure and romantic ideas. The public can get that better elsewhere. We should give them knowledge experiences they never had, that really transform their way of thinking and seeing things, not fairy tales.
    Knowledge, when well communicated, makes learning a pleasure.

  4. I get a 404 error for your paper, so I cannot comment.

  5. Aqui está um link alternativo:


    1. I may be missing something in translation but it leaves me quite cold, mostly because it's mostly a reference to some other materials apparently subsequent in the original publication but absent here.

      But it seems anyhow that you're putting as example of good praxis, the ill-fated Archaeological Park of Côa. But then you also vaguely mention Évora and the fortified town of Cossourado (about which I must express my total ignorance at this point).

      I'm probably missing the cultural clues that an academy-immersed Portuguese archaeologist like you does have, and I only vaguely know of in the best case. Definitively not a case of popularization of archaeological communication in any case.

  6. Unfortunatly, the link of the web page is not correct. That is not my paper. Is just the editorial of the journal. But, in fact, I think that is no need for you to read it. Sorry for the inconviniance.