May 25, 2011

Neolithic of Nerja and the "almagra" pottery mystery

I take this occasion to introduce this excellent Spanish-language academic blog dedicated to the Iberian Neolithic: Neolítico de la Península Ibérica. You may have already spotted it in the blogroll (they recently discussed Northern Moroccan Neolithic for example) but I imagine they will feature more and more in entries like this one.

location of Nerja cave

Today they discuss García Borja 2010 (Zephyrus), which deals with the important Andalusian site of Nerja cave. According to García, the reference C14 dates (uncalibrated) are:
  • 10860 ± 160 BP and 10040 ± 40 for Epipaleolithic (microlaminar or Azilian, NV-4)
  • 7610 ± 90 and 7240 BP for a transitional phase (NV-3), dominated by a hunter economy
  • 6590±40 BP in a sheep bone from NV-2 (but intruding by means of digging into the NV-3 zone) 

Of particular interest is the lack of Cardial pottery as such and the existence instead of an impressed one with burnished decoration known in Spanish as "a la almagra". There has been a lot of confusion on this matter of non-Cardial, notably because the ages appear to be at least several centuries older than the earliest Cardial Neolithic and there is no known precedent. 

In this particular case of Nerja at least, the pottery displays very variable patterns of impressions and incisions (none with the Cardium edulis shell) with strong importance of red coloring (Cardial is usually colorless) both in incrustations as in burnishing (almagra).

The ages, as already mentioned, do not allow for this, as other earliest Iberian Neolithic sites to be part of the expansive process of Cardial culture. In another case (Mas d'Is, Alacant, Valencian Country), they argue for a Ligurian Neolithic arrival (and then: what did this Ligurian Neolithic arose from?) but in the case of Nerja, they know of no precedent, so they speculate about an arrival from North Africa and Sicily (with weak typological basis). 

They are anyhow trapped in the idea of "colonization", when numerous caves from the area have clear continuity sequences from Epipaleolithic, showing how lithic industries are retained from that period. A good example is La Pileta cave, discussed here.

Still, the paper has interest in that it totally dilutes the meaning of Mediterranean Neolithic: from a more or less monolithic Cardial culture as only vector to a much more plural and diverse array of cultures as illustrated in this map:

However the full understanding of what these diverse cultures mean may have to wait a bit.

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