Tuesday, January 10, 2012

0070 - Neolithic ditches and rectangular houses

Senhora da Alegria is a surprising and important site, by the combination of its location, structures and chronologies.

It is located in central Portugal, where the littoral platform gives way to the central mountains and in one of the pathways to the hinterland of Beira Alta central Portugal, where no ditched/palisade enclosures were known until now.

A sequence of occupations dating from Early Neolithic (with “cardial” decorated pottery) to Late Neolithic is being excavated by the Omniknos company (scientific coordination of António Valera and field direction of Tiago do Pereiro and Rui Ramos) in a context of archaeological emergency intervention.

The site presents several ditches, some of them probably corresponding to palisades, that form more than one enclosure, with several moments of construction with structures cutting other structures.

One of the ditches of the eastern side of the site.

Those ditches cut previous early Neolithic layers and some of them may be also from the same period and others from a middle Neolithic phase. These ditches are then covered by layers with positive stone structures, dating from middle/late Neolithic.

One of the ditches of the western side of the site, going under Late Neolithic layers.

It is, therefore, the earliest site with this kind of structures known in Portugal (and in this area of Portugal), revealing that also in western Iberia this architectures are present at the early stages of the Neolithic (as was already documented in eastern Iberia).

But it also present one (at the moment) rectangular house. Rectangular Neolithic houses are quite rare in Western Europe. In Portugal, for the recently excavated and published site of Castelo Belinho in Algarve (by Mário Varela Gomes), post holes were argued to be evidences of the presence of rectangular houses. Nevertheless, some scepticism has been revealed by some scholars relating those interpretations, because of the large and scattered number of post holes. But at the present site the image of the structure is striking and leaves no doubts: a sub-rectangular house (with slightly rounded corners), with central posts aligned with the entrance (facing east), with 10,5 x 5,5 meters.

Image of the house post holes.

One of the post holes of the entrance (left) and one of the central ones, reaveling two construction moments (right) .

So, this archaeological context also presents for the first time in Iberia the “association” of rectangular houses with ditches at a same site and gives strength to the interpretations developed for the Algarve’s site.

Located at in a hinterland transitional point, this site is already fundamental to the research of Neolithic process of West Iberia, to the emerging of the surrounding megalithism (and the Beira Alta one) and to the problems concerning the appearance of ditches/palisades enclosure architectures in the peninsula.

Not everything is bad news in this new year of 2012.


  1. Great article; [love the site]
    For me the importance of this building lies in it's structure, not simply it's shape [I would like to see a plan], as it appears to differ from N European examples in several key technical respects.

    I wish I had the time and resources to look at Portuguese neolithic architecture more fully, as I suspect that the timber architecture of Neolithic Britain & Ireland is related to Iberia, as much as it is to areas like the Rhineland. From my structural archaeologist's perspective, It is in the detail of the timber structures, rather than in ditch digging, megalithism, and monuments, that cultural influences and relationships should be sought.

    Keep up the good work

  2. Victor Jimenez JaimezJanuary 11, 2012 at 7:52 PM

    Congratulations, António! Looks like you're doing a great job up there! This is really very good news, the name of the site "Senhora da Alegria" is very appropriate, indeed.

    To me, this seems to strengthen the idea that older, Early Neolithic enclosures, that we called "first generation", tend to have some kind of relationship with houses and settlements, as we can see in Central Europe and the Mediterranean area (Mas d'Is, amongst others, comes to mind), while later enclosures such as Perdigoes ("second generation") remain house-free, at least so far.

    Keep up the great work!

  3. Thanks Geoff. When I have a plan available I’ll send it to you. Maybe you can propose a possible reconstruction of the superstructure.
    Victor, gracias, and indeed is a great name. But it is a good team work of all the people and institutions involved, not just of the archaeological company, but also of the construction promoters and of the state heritage institution. As to the enclosures, you could be right, if we leave aside the discussion of the famous “pit houses”. But I advert that at Perdigões, in the latter phases, there are stone structures (like parts of small walls) outside the ditches in the central area. It is not clear at the moment, though, that they can be considered as houses.

  4. Spectacular results, great work! Congratulations!