Thursday, December 21, 2017

0384 - A sad Christmas present in winter solstice

Today was the winter solstice. And important day in many prehistoric enclosures, namely in the ones that had their gates aligned with the sunrise in this day.
Not a fortune day, though, to visit one of the larger and most complex of the Portuguese Prehistoric Enclosures: Monte da Contenda.

Today I discovered that this is another large and complex ditched enclosure (with the higher number of ditches known in Portugal) that was affected by the ongoing agricultural transformations in Alentejo region. It was known, the geophysics published (Valera et al. 2014), but the institutions responsible for the Portuguese heritage just can’t handle this problem.

The important concentration of ditched enclosures in Alentejo region is of recent discovery (last two decades). It is one of the most important in Iberia. But at this rhythm, they soon will be all (or almost all) deeply affected, while the minister of culture does nothing (if in fact there is one or, if so, if he knows Archaeological heritage is of his political responsibility), and the minister of agriculture says it is nothing with him.

 Here is the site when geophysics was done in 2013.

Here the site today. A deeply ploughed field of almond trees with a mechanical water system embedded in the soil.

Bibliographic Reference
Valera, A.C., Becker, H., Costa, C. (2014), Os recintos de fossos Pré-Históricos de Monte da Contenda (Arronches) e Montoito (Redondo), Estudos Arqueologicos de Oeiras, 21: 195-216.

PS – The Montoito enclosure, also published in this paper was also deeply ploughed recently, and again no action.

Monday, December 4, 2017

0383 - Interaction a Perdigões (2)

And in the sequence of the previous post, here is the recently published paper about the exogenous materials present at Perdigões ditched enclosures.
Available for download here

Friday, October 27, 2017

0382 - Perdigões and interaction

The exogenous large blades from Perdigões tomb 3 are finally organized, so they may be easily seen.
The boxes are 40cm wide. The largest blade is around 32cm

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

0381 - Project about mobility in Perdigões enclosure

Collecting plants at the Late Neolithic and Chalcolithic site of Moinho de Valadares, in Mourão municipality. They will be used for Sr 87/86 isotopic analysis in the context of the research project on human and animal mobility at Perdigões ditched enclosure.

The project, financed by the Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT), reached the middle and the preliminary results obtained so far will be publicly presented in the institutions that are part of the project. So a session will be organized in Faro at October 25, other in Lisbon at November 13 and another in Évora at December 7. We aim to debate the results with interested colleagues, students and general public, in order to obtain feedback that can be useful for the rest of the project.  

Friday, September 15, 2017

0380 - Part of a shaman's mask?

Perdigões ditched enclosures present several evidences of social practices embedded in rituality and symbolism. This can be seen in the location of the site, in its architectonic design, it many of its contexts and in several of the recorded materials. We are now starting to deal with a specific object, recovered in a Late Neolithic context that has also other specific circumstances and materials that point to such a kid of social practices.

It is a deer pair of antlers still attached to part of the cranium that was cut. So the animal was killed and its skull cut in a specific way in order to maintain the two antlers.

It is known that these “objects” were associated to masks used in shamanic ceremonies since ancient times (some art interpretations take these practices back to Upper Paleolithic).

Depiction of an Evenki shaman wearing antler headdress (after Witsen 1785, 655).
Taken from Little et al. 2016, PLOS ONE | DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0152136 April 13, 2016

At Perdigões, some other signs of possible shamanic practices exist. But this one will be the next to be explored in a forthcoming paper.

Friday, September 1, 2017

0379 - Perdigões mobility at the EAA meeting in Maastricht

Today, Perdigões enclosure was present in a session of the Annual Meeting of the European Association of Archaeologists held in Maastricht. The available results of former and ongoing projects on mobility were presented and discussed. So far, the general image that we are getting is of significant presence of outsiders (the majority) in the enclosures, both humans and animals, with Sr values that do not match what is being defined as local range (the granite area of the Alamo valley, Reguengos de Monsaraz). And is interesting to note that the different funerary contexts have different ranges, suggesting that they are being used by groups with different provenances. This reinforces the idea that those different, but contemporaneous, funerary contexts were involve in identity management processes, what the differences in material culture, architecture and body treatment already stressed (some of the recent publications on Perdigões deal with this issue). However, the analysis will continue, to enlarge the sample and to get a better control of the geological signatures in order to test the actual image that is quite complex and still rises some intriguing questions.

We also consider to present this same paper, more detailed, in Portugal in a conference to be organized in October or November, as part of the program for public display and debate of the ongoing results of this FCT project.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

0377 - Perdigões 2017

The July 2017 campaign at the ditched enclosures of Perdigões has ended. It was focused in the central area of this large site, where structures from the earliest to the latest occupations were recorded. At least three ditches and some pits from the Late Middle Neolithic, a large pit (still to finish) and two ditches from Late Neolithic, several deposits, and stone structures from the Chalcolithic (just next to funerary features with depositions of cremated remains of hundreds of individuals) and deposits and a cairn structure from the transition/early Bronze age.
A very complex area to excavate, but also an interesting one to approach the biography and the rhythms of occupation of Perdigões.

In September, we will be back for a short period of time, to do some drone flights to get data for 3D records and to do the first field approach to a new line of research at Perdigões, establishing a new partnership.

This new line of research will focus of the acoustics conditions of the natural theatre where Perdigões are and on the roles those conditions might have played in the occupation of the site and in the practices and activities that were taken place there.

Friday, June 30, 2017

0376 - Ditched enclosures, salt and interaction

A. Areas with salt in central and eastern Iberia; B. Two possible alternative models for Alentejo salt supplying during the Chalcolithic. (Valera, 2017).

I have just published a paper about the production and circulation of salt in the Neolithic/Chalcolithic Portugal. Is there anything in this issue that might be related to Portuguese ditched enclosures, namely those in inner Alenejo? I believe so.

The complex social dynamics that we can appreciate in the inner Alentejo region during the Late Neolithic and especially during the Chalcolithic, with an intensive consume of animals in large ditched enclosures and in others not so large, with the presence of some estuarine molluscs that might have been consumed, and intensive food processing and storage, would have generated a significant demand for salt.

That would reinforce a relation with coastal regions where some sites with evidences for salt production are known. But, as I stressed in the paper, these sites are all from Late Neolithic / Early Chalcolithic. So, where are the production sites from the middle / late 3rd millennium BC, the period when the Neo-Chalcolithic social dynamics in inner Alentejo were reaching their pick? I suggest that they may have been in the salt resources of central Iberia. The geological history of the Peninsula provided those interior areas with strong reservoirs of salt. The end of the sites that were producing salt in the Atlantic facade in the early chalcolithic, precisely when the most important area of demanding was developing, could represent a shift in the directions of interaction. The provenance studies show that Alentejo’s enclosures were involve in exchanges with coastal and more interior areas of the Peninsula. And those networks of interaction were dynamic and changes in predominant fluxes would be expectable.

The actual data on salt is suggestive. Concerning the salt, the inner Alentejo demand had two “coasts”: the Atlantic one and the central Iberian one. So, as the large ditched enclosure were involved in those large networks of relations, they might be decisive in the balance of those networks, stimulating some areas and depressing others through time.

Because they were involved in large networks of interactions, Alentejo large enclosures must have had a large range of influence in peripheral social dynamics. Not yet in a centre/periphery deterministic model, but in one more coincident with the Pear Polity Interaction proposal (still very useful).

Thursday, June 29, 2017

0375 - National Monument

The ditched enclosures are a relatively recent issue in Portuguese Archaeology and Portuguese Heritage. They came late, but they came in strength. But they came at a time where agricultural changes in the area where they have their major concentration are seriously threatening them.

So far, though, only in March 2016 a ditched enclosure was classified as Site of Public Interest. It was Santa Vitória, the first identified and excavated ditched enclosure in the eighties of the last century.
But this week, after 20 years of continued research coordinated by the private company Era Arqueologia, Perdigões set of ditched enclosures was classified as National Monument, the top category for Portuguese Heritage.

It was not just Perdigões that was recognized here. It was also shown that the evaluation of public service and research must focus on the quality of the service and of the research, and not on the institutional nature of who does it.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

0373 - Updating phalanx idols at Perdigões

During the coming summer solstice (not exactly, but in Sunday) the Era team will be observing the sun rise in the alignment of gate 1 again at Perdigões. During Saturday we will be at Esporão farm to guide visitors (of the Big Day event) to the exhibition of Perdigões in the medieval tower of the farm and to the deposit of materials.
I am using part of today’s holyday to prepare some materials to be shown in the deposit. Taking the phalanx idols form the plastic bags and arrange then in a box, so they can be easily appreciated.
And when I was doing this I noticed the similarity between the fracture in a phalanx collected at the surface of tomb 2 and another fragment collected at the surface of tomb 3, recently excavated and just 10 meters away.
They fit. They were both considered as different elements in my paper about the phalanx idols of Perdigões (the drawing of the top part was even presented). Now that they are reunited a new object emerged: the zig-zag hair in the back (although horizontal and not vertical like the other peace from tomb 2 – see publication) and the eyes and the arms (possibly holding something) in the front. Very similar to the other one already published, but with arms. It needs to be better cleaned now.

I always argued that keeping things in site has its benefits for trained visual memories.

The paper (see here), that addressed the phalanges but also the horse domestication problem, can now be updated. Well, not entirely: there are some more new phalanges from recent excavations that enlarge the already impressive numbers of these items at Perdigões enclosure.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

0372 - Molluscs and shells at Perdigões enclosure

New paper on Perdigões enclosure. This one about the social role of molluscs and mollusc shells in the site. The main conclusion is that the consumption of molluscs and shells is mainly an issue of ideology, rather than subsistence, in the context of transregional interaction and use of exogenous materials. The majority are sea or estuarine species and, of those, it was the shell (not the mollusc) that circulated the most. Pecten maximus is one of the main presences, but in different contexts according to chronology: in depositions in ditches and pits in the Neolithic Perdigões, and a lot in funerary contexts during the chalcolithic. These and some other interesting aspects of molluscs use at a local and regional scales are discussed in the paper (in Portuguese), where large ditched enclosures show differences regarding smaller open or walled sites.

Friday, June 2, 2017

0371 - Workshop on Prehistoric deposition and fragmentation practices

Depositions and fragmentation, as intentional and meaningful social practices, are common in many European prehistoric enclosures. The same happens in Iberian ones, although not always perceived, conceptualized, and questioned as so.

To encourage the debate and research of such subjects in Portuguese archaeology the following workshop was organized and will take place in Lisbon, in 14 October. We have chosen a small auditorium of a public book store to do this. We also want to encourage the public interest.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

0370 - Perdigões: 20 years of research

The Perdigões Research Program completes, in 2017, twenty years of continuous activity. Directed by Era Arqueologia, a private company, the program has established many collaborations with researchers and institutions at a national and international level, and continues to do so. This policy of open collaboration has turned Perdigões in a central context in Portuguese archaeology of Prehistory, with significant international projection. It is an emblematic project of the Portuguese Prehistoric Enclosures. Two decades of research of a site that lived for at least 1500 years gives a good idea of what remains to be done. The project is sound, though, so an interesting future is to be expected. Perdigões has a lot to give. The ability to "extract" it depends entirely on us (collectivelly)

Thursday, April 27, 2017

0369 - Back to Perdigões

The excavations return to Perdigões ditched enclosure next week. The 20th campaign is about to begin. The work will be focus in the excavation of Tomb 3, in the eastern limits of the enclosure, and in the central area, continuing the excavation of the contexts detected there last season.
As usually, the results may be followed in a daily basis in here

Sunday, April 23, 2017

0368 - Salvada in the press

The impact in the large enclosure of Salvada, that was discussed here some posts ago, is in the front page of a national paper and has a significant report inside. As it happens in many other things in life, only when some bad happens things get to the front page. That is the criteria of the media, maybe because that is the criteria of the majority of the public.

Nevertheless, it is an important report for the Portuguese Prehistoric Enclosures, for they dramatically need this public exposure to be known, protected and start to be socially active as the important heritage and economic and cultural resource they are.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

0367 - In fact, they are TWO

Just side by side. A closer look, with some colour control, shows another smaller enclosure just next to the bigger one (that show 4 and not just 3 diches). This is another important site to deal with the problem of the temporalities of enclosures and their periodic rhythms.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

0366 - A new one: number 75

A new ditched enclosure (Monte de Corte Ribas 5) was identified in the context of a Master thesis (Silva, 2015). It presents at list 3 concentric ditches. It is of Chalcolithic chronology. It is number 75 in my inventory.


Silva, C. (2015), O povoado do Monte das Cabeceiras 2. O estudo dos interfaces negativos e análise da componente artefactual das Fossas 13, 16 e 54. Tomar.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

0365 - Dramatic and continued

Salvada. 2/3 afected by a deep ploughing.

The partial destruction of prehistoric enclosures in Portugual continues. The large enclosure of Salvada (around 18 ha) is the later victim. In Alentejo region, after the construction of the large dam of Alqueva, a water supply network is being built. Many archaeological sites have been identified in the context of the assessment programs of that project that dramatically changed the knowledge about the Prehistory of inner Alentejo.

But a new problem emerged. One that has not an adequate response from the responsible institutions. The supply of water is generating a profound change in the agriculture in Alentejo. The region is being invaded by vineyards and especially by olive tries fields that have a huge impact in the soil, because the ploughing is deep and very destructive.  

But if the water supply channels, or highways, or high voltage powerlines, have to do impact assessment studies (and assume mitigating measures for heritage), these agricultural transformations have not. And the municipality plans for territorial management (PDM) are not being attended. The result is obvious. Heritage is being destroyed at an increasing rhythm, and prehistoric enclosures are one of the main victims.

An example of the absurd ways of a “law state” (Estado de Direito) or of the hypocrisy of the modern times. Meanwhile, sites after sites are being destroyed. Small cerebral veins shutting down until the final collapse of memory.  

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

0364 - They keep appearing.

At Perdigões enclosure we are now studying the several funerary structures in the context of the project “Mobility and Interaction in South Portugal RecentPrehistory: the role of aggregation centers”. One of the structures is Pit 40, where cremated human remains were deposited. There are thousands of small fragments of burned bones that are being studied in anthropological terms, and among them fragments of ivory items, also burned, keep appearing.
Several represent parts of anthropomorphic figurines like the ones from the same general context already studied and published (Valera & Evangelista, 2014).
Here is the head of one that lost its face. It presents the hair, the ears and even the final traces of the facial tattoos.

A head like the best preserved one, only smaller.

Number of these figurines is now higher than what it was published and will probably grow as the study of the bone fragments progress. The figurines, like the human bodies, are all in small fragments and burned. Would have this analogy been intentional?

On the contrary, the exception above, when deposited, was intentionally completed in a broken leg with a burned white bone (see publication). Body segmentation and body integrity, parts and wholes. Or windows to the Neolithic mind. Something to be discussed in a coming workshop in Lisbon.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

0363 - Astronomic orientation of gates: also documented in Spain

Orientation of NE gate at Camino de las Yeseras (After Liesau 2013-2104).

The cosmological and astronomic bond of ditched enclosures architectures in Iberia was first addressed in Portugal (Valera 2008; Valera, Becker 2011, Valera 2013). In the context of that research, it was noted that several ditched enclosures present topographical locations towards East and that several of them have their gates aligned with the solstices and/or equinoxes at sunrise and/or sunset. Those are the cases of Perdigões, Santa Vitória, Outeiro Alto 2, Xancra or Bela Vista 5 (see issues in the lateral bar).

These perspectives and analysis have now also been developed for a ditched enclosure in Central Iberia. At Camino de las Yeseras a NE gate seems to be orientated to the Summer solstice at sunrise, and the sections of the ditches that define that entrance show evidences of intentional depositions interpreted as foundation rituals (Liesau et al., 2013-2014).

Something that will become more frequent, once we have access to more complete plans of enclosures and have in mind that architecture tends to be holistic
Bibliographic Referece:

Liesau, C.; Vega, J., Daza, A.,  Rios, P., Menduiña, R., Blasco, C. (2013-2014), Manifestaciones simbólicas en el acceso Noreste del Recinto 4 de Foso en Camino de las Yeseras (San Fernando de Henares, Madrid), SALDVIE, 13-14: 53-69. 

Valera, A.C., (2008), “Mapeando o Cosmos. Uma abordagem cognitiva aos recintos da Pré-História Recente”, Era Arqueologia, 8, Lisboa, p.112-127.

Valera, A.C. e Becker, H. (2011), “Cosmologia e recintos de fossos da Pré-História Recente: resultados da prospecção geofísica em Xancra (Cuba, Beja)”, Apontamentos de Arqueologia e Património, 7, Lisboa, NIA-ERA Arqueologia, p.23-32

Valera, António Carlos (2013), “Breve apontamento sobre a dimensão cosmogónica dos recintos de fossos da Pré-História Recente no Interior Alentejano”, Cadernos do Endovélico, Nº1, Colibri/CMA, p.51-63

Friday, February 24, 2017

0362 - Ditch of Carrascal 2 presentation

Ditches do not always enclose. At May 15th it will be presented the study of a ditch that was used as an atrium to access several funerary hypogea and was itself used for secondary depositions of human remains, some cremated and some don’t. It is dated from the Chalcolithic and is located next to the large complex of enclosures of Porto Torrão (South Portugal).

Friday, February 10, 2017

0361 - A new possible ditched site in Lisbon

In excavation by ERA Arqueologia, there is a new prehistoric site in the center of Lisbon, possibly Neolithic, that shows a small irregular ditch, very similar to the ones excavated in the Neolithic site of Senhora da Alegria (Combra, central Portugal).

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Saturday, January 14, 2017

0359 - Addressing interaction at Perdigões – the shells (1).

Patella candei (Lapa Mansa) proveniente do Sepulcro 1 dos Perdigões

The Portuguese large Prehistoric enclosures present many differences regarding the smaller ones: apart from size, they have longer and more complex biographies, evidences of a multitude of social practices (including manipulation of human and animal remains and funerary practices) and show that they were engaged in large interregional networks of circulation of people, animals and exotic goods.

Perdigões is a good example of this large scale interaction developing from the second half of the 4th millennium BC and increasing during the 3rd. A paper addressing the exogenous at Perdigoes is about to get published, but another is being written specifically about one item: the shells. A significant number are shells from salty water molluscs, with probable provenance in the coast of Alentejo and the estuaries of the Tagus and Sado rivers.

Though, this shell of Patella candei, with 8,4x6,7cm, is not from those areas. This species is from warmer waters of Madeira and Canarias islands and the coast of Magreb. Like the ivory already analysed, its origin is probably in Northwest of Africa, documenting that at Perdigões enclosure exogenous items of extra peninsular origin were arrinving.

PS – Last week we just found out that there is also Amber at Perdigões, reinforcing this picture.