Friday, November 16, 2012

0125 - And now, for something completely different...

... the walled enclosure of  Vila Nova de São Pedro. It is an “icon” of Iberian Recent Prehistory. Or should I say an icon of a “certain” and “old” Iberian Recent Prehistory?

Discovered in 1936, it was excavated in different times, by different people. After the (methodologically poor) excavations of Afonso do Paço (between 1941 and 1967) the site became a reference and would be marking the Portuguese (and non Portuguese) archaeologist’s fantasies for decades. Excavate there became a sort of “alternativa” (the ritual consecration to became a bullfighter). Several felt compelled to put their tools into the ground there, but few published the results. Savory’s section still provides the best information. VNSP didn’t have the best of timings. It suffered at the hands of archaeologist because it became a “star” too soon. Scientifically, it is almost irrelevant nowadays. And when debate occurs, other more reliable contexts are called to the dispute. Just the Cultural Historical culture of VNSP (together with Los Millares) survives from those times, in the discourses of some, as a memory.
And that irrelevance to the discipline may be (part of) the explanation to the fact that this site, classified as National Monument since 1971, has been completely abandoned. Today this is the image: an amount of stones covered by vegetation, where a wall, frequently in ruin, can be perceived here and there. No local information, no notion of the plant, chronology or notice of the fact that the site is considered an important one for the National Heritage (and why).

A visit to VNSP is depressing. We are confronted with the deplorable way the country treats its relevant heritage; with the way some archaeologists have abused that heritage; with the way people with responsibilities just look in other directions. It is difficult to go there with someone who is not an archaeologist (or an archaeologist less than forty years old) and try to show the importance of the site.

VNSP, being famous abroad, was a victim of the processes of Portuguese archaeology until the late nineties of the last century. Now, it is a monument, not to the chalcolithic people that built it but to the way modern society deals with heritage.

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