August 28, 2012

Bronze Age rock art in Azores

The claim, even if very unexpected, seems legitimate enough to have been made by the President of the Portuguese Association of Archaelogical Research (APIA), Dr. Nuno Ribeiro, within a conference titled "pre-Portuguese human presence in Azores, myth or reality?"

Among the findings cataloged in the last few years Ribeiro mentioned building remains that seem prehistorical, a Roman era inscription, a rock art site in Terceira island and several megalithic structures. Only in the last year, five tombs of the hypogeum kind and three sanctuaries also dug in the rock were located. All the findings are still pending radiocarbon dating however but the style of the rock art is similar to Bronze Age ones from Iberia. 

However red tape by the regional government is blocking further research: in 2011 for lack of financing and in 2012 for not being withing the frame of a legal decree.  The archaeologist denounced that all these extraordinary findings are therefore in state of abandonment. In one case, works in the local airport, carried without the corresponding archaeological survey, may have damage a site.

These findings strongly suggest that the navigation skills of Bronze Age peoples of the Eastern North Atlantic (Western Europe, NW Africa) were much more advanced than we usually admit.

Source: RTP[por] (h/t Pileta).

See also these articles in English language at the Portuguese American Journal: art1, art2.

Azores are located far away into the North Atlantic Ocean (CC by Tyk)


  1. Great find!

    The Azores - or some part of them - probably correspond to the island that Saint Brendan the Navigator listed on his 6th century maps as "Ui Breasail" - which he named after the clan/family of the same name. Brendan reached this place by in a Currach (small Irish boat) made of a timber frame covered in oxhide. Later European maps based off of his discoveries showed some island to the extreme South West of Europe and labelled it "Hy Brasil" - a rendition of the same name. When the NE coast of South America was later discovered it was thought to be Hy Brasil, and that's how Brazil (aka Brasil) gets its name.

    But the point being that a simple boat that had been in existence for thousands of years could make the journey almost half way across the Atlantic, almost 1,000 years before Columbus did. Therefore the island could certainly have been visited before that time, or after too.

    Ui Breasail

  2. Navigation to the Azores that early, by a population sufficient sophisticated that the navigation must have been planned rather than merely a ship set adrift in a storm whose crew gets lucky, also suggests that Bronze Age maritime trade with West Africa sounds a lot more plausible than it would have in the absence of this evidence.

  3. The connection with Hy Brasil is quite plausible but who knows... really.

    As for West African Bronze Age trade, I'm not aware it was ever claimed before. North African trade was enough to provide ivory and ostrich eggshells (ostriches existed in Southern Morocco and parts of Egypt), while the amber probably came from Northern Europe.

    Arrival of Megalithic influences to West Africa (Senegal) only seems to exist since the Iron Age, more in line with other late Megalithic scatters to India or Korea. Without Megalithism it seems less likely that there was Copper Age trade and hence Bronze Age one (which in the Atlantic is the decadent heir of Megalithism and Bell Beaker).

  4. "These findings strongly suggest that the navigation skills of Bronze Age peoples of the Eastern North Atlantic (Western Europe, NW Africa) were much more advanced than we usually admit".

    I presume that remark was directed at me. I have never doubted the Bronze Age sailing ability of the Mediterranean and nearby people. What I continue to question is the effectiveness of Paleolithic Mediterranean peoples' boating ability.

    1. No, mr. Narcissist, the remark was not directed at you. The World and this blog do not rotate around you.

    2. It is assumed by many people that only coastal navigation, cabotage, was possible before the navigational advances of the Middle Ages. That's probably wrong.

  5. Replies
    1. ..."only coastal navigation, cabotage, was possible before the navigational advances of the Middle Ages."

      Established trade routes differ from navigational success over unknown waters. If you are using middle age mariners as the baseline, then of course earlier voyagers would not compare well. But there were certainly voyagers traveling overseas before that, and every survivor was a successful navigator.

    2. I meant that IMO it is perfectly possible that some ships could travel from Iberia to Ireland or Cornwall, or from Scotland to Denmark, etc. without coasting at all. I think that happened often enough in the Chalcolithic - even if it is not strictly necessary to explain known findings.

      I think that with the collapse of the last Atlantic European civilizations after the Bronze Age (Celtic invasions, c. 700 in Iberia, c. 300 in the Atlantic Islands; destruction of Tartessos by the Phoenicians), oceanic navigation became less common and well known. Phoenicians still sailed those waters but with the Romans and the Dark Ages navigation must have receded (excepted the Vikings).

      In a sense, in the late Middle Ages navigation had to be reinvented. It took some 1500 years to be able to do again what Hanno the Navigator had done in his time.

      So I think that in some aspects earlier Western sailors compared favorably to Medieval ones, at least until the Portuguese took to the seas (and with the already mentioned Viking exception).

  6. A late comment, but these claims about the Azores have been done for a very long time - centuries really. It's not terribly unlikely that some ancient coastal shipfarers could have been blown off course, ending up on the Azores, but after all the previous claims have ended up unconfirmed, I wouldn't hold my breath than these will be end up confirmed either.


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