January 21, 2012

'Portuguese Prehistoric Enclosures' blog: what a great find!

I just stumbled, lead by a note at Pileta, with a most fascinating archaeological blog that goes by the name of Portuguese Prehistoric Enclosures. Where the term enclosure may be a cattle pen... but it may well mean a big city or more commonly a walled village of some size.

I'm almost drooling like a Pavlov's dog before the huge amount of information that this Portuguese archaeologist, A.C. Valera, is sharing with the World... and in English! As he mentions in his post #13, the phenomenon of enclosures in the Iberian peninsula has remained largely a local concern having almost no international projection.

Just yesterday, he produced a wonderful map of the known enclosures of Portugal, which is located in a separate page (and will be updated as needed).

I will probably use that blog in the future as source for my own posts but by the moment I am overwhelmed by the large amount of information that has been published and that I knew nothing or almost nothing about until now. So I'll just list by the moment some eye candy for you to follow the corresponding link (in the caption) if that's what you wish:

004 - Fraga da Pena walled enclosure

008 - Santa Vitória ditched enclosure

009 - Leceia walled enclosure
016 - Castro de Santiago walled enclosure
030 - A long way from home (imports)
039 - Burning rituals
044 - Enclosures and funerary context: Perdigões recent evidence

049 - The first wood henges in Iberia
050 - Castelo Velho walled enclosure: a milestone
054 - Santa Justa walled enclosure

057 - Beaker and ditched enclosures
068 - Plurality of funerary practices in ditched enclosures

070 - Neolithic ditches and rectangular houses
072 - Águas Frias ditched enclosure

Also very interesting (although in Spanish language) is this video on the archaeological findings of Marroquíes Bajos, Jaén (from 028 - Going public on large enclosures):

Remember: Portuguese Prehistoric Enclosures blog.


  1. very cool. the big site in the spanish clip - you could easily imagine that as a major trade centre.

  2. Sure, I love it!

    You know what term they use to describe the Marroquíes Bajos town? "Macro-aldea", where "aldea" means "hamlet"!

    Macro-hamlet? Oxymoronic! Why are they so shy about saying "town" or even "city"?

  3. Yes. It's hard in a way to change mentality. Previously my view of those times and places was not far away from cavemen with things like Stonehenge as a weird anomaly but i'm getting a feeling now that it might have been more like a pre-classical Atlantic edge mini-Mayans or something which is a big mental jump.

  4. The civilizations of Pre-Columbian America were all in the Chalcolithic technological period: soft metals' metallurgy (only the beginnings of Bronze in some peripheral Mexican groups AFAIK), long distance trade (confirmed trade between Mexico and Peru for example), growing social stratification and complexity, etc. Ancient Egypt was also mostly of the Chalcolithic and later Bronze era (Iron age meant its doom).

    However the West European (apparently illiterate) civilizations were their own kind also: certainly they did not build pyramids at least, although, depending on who you read, they had indeed advanced calendar and astronomical knowledge. Sadly they did not leave anything written and their oral traditions were mostly lost with the Indoeuropean invasions. We have very little to judge them other than the often frustrating stones and bones and then a handful of Greek myths on Herakles in the Far West or (controversially) the original Plato's legend of Atlantis (not the romantic steampunk junk Donelly and others made out of it).

  5. Excellent site! A great find. It provides lots of evidence regarding the Neolithic to Chalcolithic transition, and raises lots of questions. For example, one of the posts identifies four different sets of funerary practices. It also seems as if ancient wooden construction allowed for structures more sophisticated than the stone structures that survive would imply. A post linking Bell Beaker pottery to larger but not smaller enclosures is interesting, and the comments about the influence of language bias on how we interpret those rocks and bones is also notable.

    One could imagine some small set of Western European scrolls somehow discovered and revealed a la the Dead Sea scrolls that survived the purge of pagan materials in the late Roman Empire (which had laws punishing people who used and traded in pagan materials much like the anti-drug laws today) suddenly making sense of most of it in one sudden revelation. But, maybe we'll never be so lucky.

  6. You have devoured it, it seems. Really fascinating indeed.

    However all this is from long long long before the Romans: the type sites of Zambujal or Los Millares begin c. 2600 BCE (as fortified towns), what is farther away from Caesar as we are now.

    The end of this age probably happened c. 1200 BCE, more or less coincident with or more probably a bit earlier than the Sea Peoples' crisis of the Eastern Med (Troy, Ugarit, Hittite collapse and plunder by the Greeks and allies).

    And they may be related because one of the main interests of Eastern Mediterraneans like Greeks here was tin for their bronze weapons and the collapse of, for example, El Argar (a Greek ally in the Far West) at this date surely implies that Greeks lost access to Galician (and maybe Cornish) tin or had more difficulties obtaining it at the very least. This scarcity of tin, almost without doubt, triggered the refining of steel-making techniques and initiated the Iron Age.

    It was also in that critical time of c. 1200 BCE when (for reasons unknown but maybe related to all these crisis, you know: "hey Celts, we need some mercenaries over Vesperia"... "Sure, it'll be X gold and some of that excellent hallucinogenic Greek wine" - or whatever) that proto-Celtic peoples of the Urnfield Culture arrived to Languedoc and Catalonia, initiating probably the indoeuropeization of Western Europe.

    So I do not think that any of all this arrived to the Basque era, except very modified. After all this in the 1st millennium, it were the Phoenicians and further Hallstattic Celtic expansions that destroyed the rest of the ancient Iberian civilizations, of which only the name Tartessos remains. Later La Tène Celts would invade the rest of Gaul, Britain and Ireland.

    We'd need pre-Celtic documents. We may have them in a way because there's a sizable number of Tartessian and Iberian texts (although from pre-Roman times) but I have yet to read a credible translation.

    It was not the Romans in any case the main destructors of that World but surely, internal strife, the Celts and surely also the Phoenicians and maybe to some extent (Heracles' legends talk of war and plunder) Mycenaean Greeks as well.

  7. The end of this age probably happened c. 1200 BCE, more or less coincident with or more probably a bit earlier than the Sea Peoples'...tin for their bronze weapons and the collapse of, for example, El Argar (a Greek ally in the Far West)...This scarcity of tin, almost without doubt, triggered the refining of steel-making techniques and initiated the Iron Age...."hey Celts, we need some mercenaries over Vesperia"... "...initiating probably the indoeuropeization of Western Europe."

    Very interesting. Complex society built on a widescale trading network and all the constituent parts crumbling at once when the trade is blocked.

  8. Hello, I just found this interesting site. I am working on a project that links megalithic sites with ancient trade routes and mining activities. Any more insight or information about this would be greatly appreciated.

  9. @Drusin: I'll take a look at your site (the first page is impressive) but unless you're more specific, I have no idea how to help you.

  10. @Grey: It is fascinating indeed.

    I think that the chain of events began in the Far West, with the collapse of El Argar state (a close ally of Mycenaean Greece, judging by their adoption of Greek burial practices) and maybe of its possible rival Zambujal, in what is now Portugal (I used to think it collapsed at that same age but now the DAINST page says Bronze-Iron Age transition, what locally is 700 BCE only - the arrival of Celto-Ligurians. Maybe there's been a review of dates or maybe someone introduced an error or maybe there's difference of opinions).

    In any case, I imagine that this Western disruption caused scarcity of tin in the East, leading to the technical perfecting of steel as result, initiating the Iron Age (in the Eastern Mediterranean only AFAIK). Why in these circumstances the Greeks and maybe other seagoing peoples decided to go on rampage and plunder all the major coastal cities of West Asia? Beats me, but that's what they did.

    The closest to a historical account we have in the Iliad but it's not really historical enough to quench our thirst for knowledge.

  11. Thank you for responding at all!! I am looking for more evidence of mining and trade routes in particular, but also evidence of technological advances in warfare. The great wall of china is obviously a functional megalithic site and I think the other sites were too ie: Carnca, Stonehenge, the ones everywhere else in the world westerners seem to ignore. 30,000 in Korea alone... I think they were part of a larger global structure of trade and travel and the security of those routes inspired the building of some of these places. I propose the were utilitarian and not some cult worship manifestation. The folks in the middle east at about the same time were burying their dead under their beds and floors. Navigation seems an obvious use of all those aligned sites that mark solstices; think big permanent indestructible astrolabes here. All the established ivy tower types are so busy compartmentalizing and labeling everything till it's so esoteric they don't even know what they're talking about anymore, in an attempt to maintain this weird hegemony for research funding. I just want someone in the know to research the idea a bit further

  12. By the way I think tin played heavily in the construction of stonehenge. I usually stay away form the well known ones cause they're so steeped in their own mystique. It's like telling someone their god isn't real. Any way there's an old road that leads from stonehenge to about the region of Grime's Graves (aka Grim's quarry) the road is called Eiknield (SP?) which by some accounts translates to "tin port". Put the link at the bottom. Identically they are dated to about the same time. I usually get a knee jerk dismissal from anyone who hasn't actually read the info i'm compiling. Thanks for being open to even having a dialogue about it

  13. btw, funny comment bout oxymoron. It was my dad's endearment for my brothers and me. My mother is asian and he is not and therefore we were neither occidental nor oriental making us oxymorons

  14. Drop me a line for whatever I may be of help (lialdamizDELETETHIS@gmail.com - and remove the DELETETHIS, pls).

    Megalithism is a catch all term (although it's the first time I see the Great Wall described as such). The main or archetypal or (initially) West European type of Megalithism I call Dolmenic Megalithism because it is the dolmen or trilithon which is the defining monument. Other types of monuments associated with Megalithism need their own analysis: henges are for example what in Europe call rondels/camps and hence a Danubian type of monument, non-dolmenic mounds (kurgans) are often of late indoeuropean origin, stone circles may have originated in Egypt (Nabta Playa), while other elements like the Karnac alignments are truly unique.

    I'd personally focus on Dolmenic Megalithism which originated in early Neolithic SW Iberia surely, spread through much of West Europe in Chalcolithic, scattered to parts of West Asia (Caucasus, Jordan Yemen...) in the Bronze Age and would eventually reach India and even as far as Korea in the Iron Age, long after it had vanished in the West. I think it's a religious phenomenon of some sort.

    But you must understand that the timing is different: (1) West Europe and North Africa, (2) Ethiopia, Caucasus, West Asia, (3) India and Korea. Unsure about the few Siberian sites that I have heard about on occasion.

    I would speculate that the religion(s) associated to this funerary tradition would be focused on these items:

    1. Ancestor veneration (obviously clannic tombs were important).

    2. Yin-Yang, Shakti-Shiva, Mari-Sugaar kind of ctonic (underworld) divine couple or manifestation. Each locally surviving tradition obviously has different variants but also common elements.

    3. Probably also some emphasis on Astronomy/Astrology, although the particulars of this are largely lost.

    I can't say much more for the rest. I fail to understand how being of multiethnic heritage is "oxymoron" as well. Most people do not have an overly simple ancestry and, if they do, they are surely inbred and that's not good.

  15. It was a joke...My dad would put the emphasis on the 'moron' bit to tease us. I'm half Vietnamese and have a father of German stock. My theory about the megaliths is that they are FUNCTIONAL therefore they spread much like agriculture,also at differing times, as opposed to religion. yes, it was a religion of sorts, they were just praying to the god of commerce. If we remove any context of worship and sacrifice it's easier to see the whole picture. We actually DON"T know what they were up to. Some guy from the last millennium called them 'tombs' and it's skewed our interpretation ever since. Thank you for you thoughts and time i like your site

  16. Dolmens are tombs. There's no doubt about it. Tombs are functional, if you wish to see things that way: people has to be buried (or their ashes where cremation was dominant, as in South India).

    Religions can also be socially functional: they create an ideology for social cohesion and patterns of behavior, rituals, meeting places and occasions, provide emergency support, etc. They organize society in many ways and attend to emotional needs of the individuals, even if irrational.

    Additionally super-ethnic religions can bring together people above their ethnic affiliation, supporting potentially larger political entities or alliances.

  17. But what of the recent findings at Catalhuyuk that show people actually living on the tombs of their deceased loved ones. They could have served as a religious centers and homes and trading centers. Best wishes

  18. That practice is common in that context. Not just Çcatalhöyuk but many other peoples from West Asia and, at least occasionally, SE Europe, buried their loved ones under the homes. They also had the temples in their homes but their cultural practices overall are distinct from those of Western Europe, beginning by the fact that in the dolmenic tradition burial is usually in extended position (as in the Paleolithic, a tradition also preserved in Eastern European Neolithic of the Dniepr-Don culture, where they even preserved the use of ochre, lost in the West AFAIK), while in the West Asian Neolithic tradition (and Balcanic and derived in Europe) the burial is normally in flexed (fetal) position.

    There is no evidence anyhow for dolmens being used as homes anywhere. They are invariably tombs: here and in Korea.

    A different story could be something like the tholos or beehive tomb, first apparently used as home or functional building in Kurdistan (Tell Halaf) and then Cyprus but later reinvented as tomb in Iberia, format that would be later copied by the Greeks, who give it the name. Yet the same kind of structural design of "false dome" was also used for the military buildings in La Mancha (motillas) or Sardinia (nuraghe).

    Simplistic unilateral views are of no use. One needs to look at the matter in depth. Mixing the Great Wall with Karnac will probably bring you nowhere but to total confusion.

  19. But most of them don't have any remains.....Why build so many tombs and not use them? myopia can be a result of extreme esotericsm Why is it that we only focus on the spiritual aspects of these sites to the exclusion of all other possibilities when we actually don't know? It is easy and to view the present as a Darwinian culmination of previous events as opposed to a continuation. Thank you for considering my thoughts on the matter.

  20. Dolmens do have remains, except where the soil is very acidic, as in Portugal, and has destroyed them. Your typical dolmen has one last burial and an accumulation of bones from previous burials.

    I don't know where you get that idea that dolmens do not have remains.

  21. No reason, just cool.


  22. Yes, cool. It's from that same period (2600-1800 BCE, being then replaced by the more powerful and Hellenophile El Argar) Some 200 homes inside the walls, roughly a thousand people.

    Today almost any village has that size but in the Middle Ages that would still make a small town. And more so for the Chalcolithic, when these cities (Los Millares, Zambujal and other smaller ones) were the first of their kind in the area. A thousand non-farmers meant other ten thousand farmers providing for them (again extrapolation based in medieval data).

  23. "A thousand non-farmers meant other ten thousand farmers providing for them"

    Yes, that's what i was thinking.


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