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. 

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