March 12, 2014

Iberian Chalcolithic: Perdigões ditch enclosure seen in its temporal context

The Perdigões Research Program blog mentions a new study where the structure is dissected through time, revealing it as a meeting area (with whatever ritual implications) for the Neolithic and Chalcolithic peoples of that area of the Alentejo near the Guadiana river.

A.C. Valera, A.M. Silva & J.E. Martínez Romero, THE TEMPORALITY OF PERDIGÕES ENCLOSURES: ABSOLUTE CHRONOLOGY OF THE STRUCTURES AND SOCIAL PRACTICES. SPAL Revista de Prehistoria y Arqueología, nº23, 2014. Freely accessibleLINK [doi:10.12795/spal.2014i23.01]
Abstract: Thirty five radiocarbon dates for the Neolithic and Chalcolithic ditched enclosure of Perdigões (Reguengos de Monsaraz, Portugal) are presented. After a discussion of some of the problems of dating negative structures, a chronological sequence is presented for the ditch structures and for the social practices related to funerary behaviours and the manipulation of human remains. A clear Neolithic phase is identified, well separated chronologically from the Chalcolithic one. The possibility of the gradual and eventually interrupted development of the site, is discussed. Funerary contexts and the manipulation of human remains are present from the earliest phase of the site, but the practices became significantly diverse during the 3rd millennium by the end of which the site seems to decay and significant activity seems to stop. 

Fig. 5 (red highlights are mine)
To the right we can see fig. 5 of the paper ("Representation of the actual understanding of the chronological development of Perdigões"), just that I have highlighted with red paint the elements known to be active in each period, because I felt that black vs grey was not visible enough. 

Regarding the cromlech (stone ring, represented as a circle to the right), lead author Antonio Valera commented at the Perdigões Research Program blog that they are not yet 100% certain of its age, although he does believe it is from the earliest context. That's what I marked it with a dotted line instead of a continuous one.

This cromlech was one of the items that interested me the most because in other contexts, as happens with Pyrenean ones, they are historically known in some cases to have been reference sites for community meetings (the local constituent power), but here they are from the Iron Age. 

It is notable that, in the historical cases from the Pyrenees, the meetings did not take place inside the cromlechs themselves (usually too small and occasionally burial sites) but near them. Similarly in this case of Perdigões the meeting (and possibly ritual) area defined by the ditches is located by the cromlech, west of it specifically. 

Later on two tholoi (beehive tombs, typical of Chalcolithic South Iberia) were built near the cromlech, being eventually enclosed by the last and largest ditch.

The chronological pattern also suggests the idea of growth: if the structure was being made bigger and bigger, it seems logical to think that it was because the community using it was also growing, what should not be any surprise. 

The site was abandoned at the end of the 3rd millennium BCE. At that time SW Iberia was experiencing significant changes with the abandonment of urban centers and other traditions like these Megalithic ones, and being replaced by a sequence of (seemingly intrusive) Bronze Age "horizons" dominated by burials in cist with a triangular bronze knife as most characteristic grave good and occasional "grabsystem" tombs, probably of princely character. These Bronze Age "horizons" expanded from the Algarve to the North and Northeast up to approximately the Tagus river at their apogee, being maybe ancestral to the mysterious Tartessian language, which spanned approximately the same area in the Iron Age.


  1. Are there similarities between the Vinca script and the Tartessian one?

    1. Not that I know. Tartessian and Iberian scripts are approximately the same one, with minor variants but as for their more remote origins, I can't say. Visual inspection does not show any obvious similitude beyond the occasional coincidence like the character "X" (TA/DA in Iberian).

      The Iron Age Iberian/Tartessian script expansion probably relates to the wider Tartessian Orientalizing Culture, which, while loosely related to the "myth" of Tartessos developed almost certainly under important Phoenician influence. However the Iberian script, in spite of some opinions, does not seem particularly connected to the Phoenician abjad and some evidence may point to a local Chalcolithic origin instead.

      It is not too likely that it was a wholly spontaneous development so I often speculate with a very remote "seed influence" of the Eteocypriot syllabary or something in that line. Mostly because the Cypriot connection seems the most steady one between Iberia and the Near East (at the very least in the Bronze Age but possibly also before) but also because I do see similitude in the characters (although they probably spell different syllabes in each area). See:


    2. PS- The "similitude" with Eteocypriot becomes maybe more evident when we compare with a possible other candidate such as Eteocretan, be it linear A or linear B, where any appearance of similitude with the Iberian script just vanishes. See:

      Vinca script does not look similar either, although it can be argued, I guess, that it has some sort of very generic and diffuse connection to other early scripts from the Eastern Mediterranean:

    3. "It is not too likely that it was a wholly spontaneous development so I often speculate with a very remote "seed influence" of the Eteocypriot syllabary or something in that line."

      Yes, that's what I was wondering.

      Ty for those links I'll check them out.

    4. Someone in another blog just brought my attention to the Dispilio text, which seems the oldest known worldwide. The most interesting aspect is that, taken alone and not within the wider "Vinca script" collection, I find more coincidence with the Iberian script characters, what is potentially interesting. The dates of Dispilio are anyhow much much older than anything proto-Iberian either in script or in civilization, but it is not impossible that either Dispilio influenced the old Cypriot script or that it arrived to Iberia (after due transformations) by some other unknown route.

      In any case, one of the characteristic of the Iberian proto-civilization stage is the burial in tholos (beehive tomb), whose use for burial is oldest in Iberia (it seems). However the tholos has precedents as home and other lifetime uses in Cyprus and the Halafian culture of Syria/Kurdistan and the Vinca-Dimini cultural complex also seems to be rooted in the Halafian. So there may well be some sort of obscure connection between all them after all.

      But let's not forget that the use of tholoi in West Asia ended about 1000 years before it began in Iberia as burial. These kind of chronological gaps can't but cause a lot of perplexity and all kind of doubts about any possible connection. The same happens with the Dispilio text.

  2. Hi Luis,

    I haven't been following papers on the Neolithic much recently, but I had a look at this paper. I like the dating methodology they used. I'm looking forward to reading this more closely over the weekend. I had a look online and it looks like they created their own temporary blogs for this site:

    Thanks for posting it.


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