Friday, July 15, 2011

0040 - Perdigões 2011 excavations

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0039 - Burning rituals

“Conical” deposit of burned material inside pit; burned arrow heads; burned human bones.

In several European ditched enclosures evidences of (intentional?) burning wood structures are known. Those evidences were not yet directly documented in Portuguese enclosures of Eecent Prehistory, but some of the images obtain by geophysics (burned material gives a strong magnetic signal) suggest that the same happen here.

But not only structures were burned. Human bodies also.
In Perdigões a pit was excavated containing the remains of human cremations (burned human bones submitted to different temperatures; burned pottery; burned flint materials; lost of charcoal and ashes sediments). Next to this pit, another structure with burned human bones is going be excavated this season (starting next Monday).

In fact, Perdigões presents several different funerary practices, like secondary depositions in tholoi type monuments in a necropolis, primary depositions in pits, scattered bones inside ditches and now cremation.

At Carrascal (a necropolis of Porto Torrão), in a ditch used as atrium for several hypogea, accumulation of burned human bones were also recorded. But also at Valencina enclosure (South Spain), partially burned human bodies were found in a ditch.

The use of fire is well known also in several megalithic monuments, traditionally interpreted as sanitation practices. As Vale de Ambrona (in Ebro high basin) cases are revealing though, burning is a ritual ideological practice used since the Neolithic and Chalcolithic.In the context of the practices occurring inside ditched enclosures they could have played roles much more important than we initially suspected. Let’s see what Perdigões give us this year.

Monday, July 11, 2011

0038 - Castanheiro do Vento walled enclosure

Plan of Castanheiro do Vento walled enclosures (after Vale, 2008-9, adapted)

Location: Vila Nova de Foz Côa municipality, Guarda district, Beira Alta, North Portugal)
Chronology: Chalcolithic
Bibliographic references: (see W.E. Bibliography )

Castanheiro do Vento has been excavated for several years now and has already a long list of published papers. The research leading team is from Oporto University, basically the same that excavated Castelo Velho de Freixo de Numão, just a few kilometres away.
Castelo Velho was used to question the traditional interpretation of these sites as fortified settlements of sedentary agrarian communities and to introduce interpretations that were long developed for ditched enclosures in Europe in the context of post processual approaches. Castanheiro do Vento is being used to developed further a “deconstructive archaeology”.

Functionalism is considered absolutely inadequate to address the architecture of the site, seen as a form of permanent writing and completely involved with human experiences, practices and paths that help to structure.

We could say that these approaches tend to considerer more important the action of permanent building and rebuilding, experiences and pathways than the actual built structure. As if the sites were living beings in action. As if they were members of the groups and cement to their identity, through bringing them together in a place.

Some of the same ideas were also developed by me at Fraga da Pena and Castro de Santiago. And most of them have a great potential for the hermeneutics of these sites (walled or ditched). But if strict functionalism might not be the most adequate approach to deal with these places, that doesn’t imply that function should be put out of the equation and that we substitute one homology by another. Enclosures shared ideas and goals, but also were certainly diversified in purposes.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

0037 - Salgada enclosures

Ditch and wall from Salgada (after Manuel Calado,

Location: Borba municipality, Évora district, Alentejo, South Portugal)
Chronology: Chalcolithic
Bibliographic references: (Calado &Rocha, 2007)

From Salgada just a few references are available, since the excavations are still to be published. The public notes speak of a site with a ditch, but also with two rows of stone walls. That makes Salgada the second Portuguese site that has ditched and walled enclosures (the other is Monte da Ponte), but information is scarce, so we don’t know if these structures are contemporaneous or just followed in time.

One interesting aspect, though, is the description of the ditch: “a poligonal ditch, with an entrance, facing eastwards, some 5 m large, where, in a late moment, it has been cut a narrow channel, connecting both ends of the ditch. The ditch itself has been cut in independent portions, recalling the british causewayed enclosures, though in this case, those parts are connected in sequence.” (CALADO, M. (2006), “Digging up a monument”, Gema Blog, (

Apart from the eastern orientation of the gate (important in the context of my project on astronomic orientation of enclosures), the “independent cutting” of parts of the ditch seems to support the idea of a modular architecture (see here).

Salagada is, therefore, an important site for several issues regarding enclosures in South Portugal. We will be waiting with expectation for the publication of the results of the excavations.