Thursday, March 22, 2012

0086 - Perdigões "in tour"

After Bradford and Oxford in March, Perdigões will be “touring” in April through some Portuguese universities. Conferences about the site, its global research program and other similar portuguese enclosures will be held at University of Algarve (12th), Porto (18th) and Coimbra (26th). Information about times and places will be displayed soon.

Monday, March 12, 2012

0085 - Why are they circular?

"It is not the right angle that attracts me neither the strait line, hard, inflexible, created by man. What attracts me is the free and sensual curved line, the curve that I found in the mountains of my country, in the sinuous path of its rivers, in the waves of the sea, in a woman’s body. From curves is made the Universe – the infinite curved universe of Einstein."(Oscar Niemeyer – my translation)

"Não é o ângulo recto que me atrai nem a linha recta, dura, inflexível, criada pelo homem. O que me atrai é a curva livre e sensual, a curva que encontro nas montanhas do meu país, no curso sinuoso dos seus rios, nas ondas do mar, no corpo da mulher amada. De curvas é feito todo o universo – o universo curvo de Einstein."
(Oscar Niemeyer)

That is why I think we cannot understand these sites without an approach from the history of mentalities and cosmogonies. Because architecture materializes mind and world views.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

0084 – Funerary practices in walled enclosures: the case of Leceia.

Structure with human remains at Leceia (after Cardoso, 1994:fig.40)

At the walled enclosure of Leceia, near Lisbon, some human remains were recorded inside a circular structures built with vertical slabs and rows of stones, reminding tholoi architectures.
This structure was interpreted as a garbage dump structure. Here is what the excavator said about this context (my translation):

“In Leceia we may have documented one of these conflict situations, occurred already in Middle Chalcolithic; in one structure of garbage accumulation (...) several uncompleted and scattered human remains (especially teeth) were collected mixed with domestic rubbish; the anthropological study indicated the presence of three adult individuals, males when it was possible established gender. Such results, together with the deposit conditions, related to unburied individuals, gives substance to the hypothesis that those are the remains of attackers that, after being slaughtered, didn’t deserve a grave like the ones from the settlement” (Cardoso, 1994:106).

This statement was produce before other human remains were known in other walled enclosures and, especially, before the striking evidences of funerary practices in ditched enclosures such as Perdigões and Porto Torrão.

Today this statement is questionable. Not just because of the uncritical use of the concept of garbage applied to Prehistory and for most of the so called garbage structures (Hill, 2000), but mainly because the evidences are showing that death management is much more complex during the 3rd millennium BC than we previously suspected and that the “megalithic solution” and primary depositions are just a restricted part of the rituals involved.

According to the recent evidence, characterized by a diversity of funerary practices inside enclosures that show a significant variety of body treatment and post mortem manipulations that can be addressed to ritual practices, this context needs to be reinterpreted in the light of wider empirical evidence and different theoretical backgrounds.

Hill, James D. (2000), "Can we recognise a different european past? A constrastive archaeology of Later Prehistoric Settlements in Southern England", (J. Thomas ed.) Interprettive Archaeology. A reader., London, Leicester University Press, p.431-444.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

0083 - Cutting and re-cutting

Some ditches present evidences of re-cutting. When a previous and larger ditch is totally or partially filled, sometimes another smaller ditch is dug in those deposits. Usually, this is not a total reopening of the first ditch, but simple of a small part. That is the case recently detected at Senhora da Alegria, in a ditch belonging to the Late Neolithic phase.

This means that we cannot look at this reopening as a “maintenance task”, but rather as a new use (even if with similar purposes) of a previous perceived structure. And the argument of saving efforts, by excavating deposits rather than bedrock, is not always an argument. At Senhora da Alegria all ditches are excavated in deposits, being of previous occupations or of weathered sandstones. So, no big difference can be assumed in terms of work invested. So why are there, in the more than a dozen ditches already identified, situations like new ditches using part of previous similar structures?; situations that new ditches are open quite near to others without reopening them?; situations where a new smaller ditch is totally dug inside another?

The answers can be different for all situations and probably related to several dimensions of a living site: changes in space organization; changes in the occupied area; consequences of a seasonal occupation, etc. But what I want to argue is that the reopening of a previous ditch that is filled with stones and archaeological material is not just an economic strategy of those communities or an activity that brings troubles to the archaeologists (because changes and mixes older materials with recent ones): it is an intervention that is strongly conditioned by the earlier structure, in physical terms, but also in meaningful ones. It is a moment when a given community interacts with previous construction and previous materials. What would they think when they dug previous artefacts? Would they just have a “catchment attitude”? Or were those materials seen as a link to ancestors? How would a segment point or an early arrowhead be seen by a person that produces more recent bifacial and all retouched arrowheads? Or a decorated shard in a moment where all pottery was undecorated?

Digging a ditch in previous structures is different from digging a ditch in the bedrock. That is certain, but not only because of the labour involved or because of a similar space organization. It has consequences in other dimensions that are important to understand past decisions and their outcomes.