Tuesday, December 8, 2015

0322 – Architectures of shared cosmological principals

In 2011 Era Company made an excavation of a large area of the construction of a residue treatment facility near Vila Nova de Mil Fontes, where a chalcolithic occupation was already known. There, amongst several archaeological evidences (fire places, pits, deposits of shells, post holes), a chalcolithic circular hut with a diameter of about 10 meters was discovered. It had a large entrance (4 meters wide) with a post in the middle. This large entrance was facing SW with the alignment of the entrance post and the two central posts that sustained the hut’s roof oriented at 121º, that is to say, basically to the winter solstice.

This is suggesting that the place was visited during the winter (which the main consumed mollusk, Monodonta lineata, also suggests). Ideotechnic items (such betil idols and stone vessels) were also identified, showing that ritual practices were associated to this space, reinforcing the possible symbolic meaning of the orientation of the hut, possibly used in periodically collective ceremonies where the consume of certain mollusks would be relevant).

This unusual hut, certainly unique in shell midden contexts of the Portuguese coast, shows how different architectures, like megalithic passage graves, megalithic cromlechs, ditched enclosures, and now a hut may share similar cosmological principles during the Neolithic and Chalcolithic. And it also underlines that the segmentation of the social phenomena in subsystems, with well compartmentalized scenarios and architectures, is not the best approach to these prehistoric communities.

A paper regarding the results of this work has just been delivered for publication in the proceedings of the meeting Encontro de Arqueologia do Sudoeste Peninsular.

Friday, December 4, 2015

0321 – Timings of discover. Do they really matter?

The real nature and dimension of Perdigões was discovered in 1996 after a field of olive trees was converted, by the removal of the trees and a deep ploughing, into a field prepared to receive a vineyard. It was then that thousands of archaeological materials came to the surface and several ditches became visible in the ground and especially in the aerial image taken in that year.

At the time, the Portuguese archaeology was just awaking to the phenomena of ditched enclosures, and looking for them was not a practice. Portuguese scholars never really questioned the oddness of Santa Vitória (de first ditched enclosure being excavated in Portugal) and the oddness of the apparent isolation of Iberia from a relevant European phenomena in Recent Prehistory. Only in the last decade that work has been done, with success I might had (and this blog shows it), using the available aerial and satellite images, namely the ones provided by Google Earth.

Google Earth was not available in the nineties, but other aerial images were. And if there was the expectation for this kind of contexts to appear and the practice of looking for them, Perdigões could have been identified before the site was ploughed, for the outside double ditches were quite visible in an image of 1995 (just in the lower area of the image).

The question is: could have this prevented the ploughing?

It probably wouldn’t. It was in 1997 that the Portuguese Institute of Archaeology (IPA) was created, and only then preventive archaeology really developed. But those times were already of higher awareness for archaeology, due to the Côa case. And that made possible the archaeological work that would show the importance of the site and that would start the trajectory of research that is well known for Perdigões.

But since then we would expect that new discoveries would be protected. Well that is not true. Several enclosures that were recently discovered have been affected by intensive agriculture, namely to plant olive trees and vineyards. Some were discovered to late (like this one) while others were recently affected, even after geophysics had been done with very good results that show the presence of an important archaeological site, as it happened with Montoito.

Alentejo is being submitted to a significant change in agriculture. This change is threatening this fantastic heritage of prehistoric ditched enclosures that we are recently aware of. I elected them as one of my main topics of research and I am doing what I can to bring them to the public knowledge and to alert to these problems. It is important that the public institutions responsible for the Portuguese heritage be also aware of this situation and act accordingly.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

0320 - Issues from Porto Torrão

In 2002 two sections in two ditches of Porto Torrão were excavated by Era Arqueologia (Valera, Filipe, 2004; Valera, 2013). In that area the ditches are just 8 meters apart. For the inner one (ditch 1), material culture and radiocarbon dating say that it was open and filled almost to the top during Late Neolithic (end of the 4th millennium BC/transition to the 3rd). The last filling deposits, though, are from Late Chalcolithic. The outside one (ditch 2) was open by the middle of the 3rd millennium BC and the filling went on until the end of the millennium (according to radiocarbon dating). That means that when the outside ditch (ditch 2) was opened the inner one (ditch 1) was visible and not completely filled, what just happened in simultaneity with the later filling of ditch 2. So, why opening a new ditch just 8 meters apart, having to excavate bedrock, when a previous ditch was just there, visible and easier to re-excavate? Well prehistoric communities do not respond to modern principles of effort-profit and this particular situation (together with many others in other ditched enclosures) should make people, at least, wondering.


Valera, António Carlos e Filipe, Iola (2004), "O povoado do Porto Torrão (Ferreira do Alentejo): novos dados e novas problemáticas no contexto da calcolitização do Sudoeste peninsular", Era Arqueologia, 6, Lisboa, ERA Arqueologia/Colibri, p.28-61.

Valera, A.C. (2013), “Cronologia absoluta dos fossos 1 e 2 do Porto Torrão e o problema da datação de estruturas negativas tipo fossos”, Apontamentos de Arqueologia e Património, 9, Lisboa, Nia-Era, p.7-11.