Monday, August 25, 2014

A Late (and telling) Almerian Culture Tomb

The chronology of megalithic funerary practices: a Bayesian approach to Grave 11 At El Barranquete necropolis (Almería, Spain) Aranda & Lozando, 2014 [Link]

Tholus 11 at the El Barranquete necropolis (#1 pictured) demonstrates the coexistence and continuation of the Almeria Megalithic tradition much later than has been proven before (at least according to the authors).  The Tholos of tomb 11 was built hundreds of years after Tholoi were apparently discontinued, and with improved resolution in this region, it may turn out that rather than a sequential evolution of tradition,  that we actually have co-existing traditions of diverse ethnic groups over long periods of time.  Again, this was possible to the number and layering of the bodies.

This tomb, like other Megalithic tombs, appears to have had use and re-use periods.  At least one Beaker man and probably others in his family were buried there in later times.  Because the tomb is so well stratified, it would be nice to see some DNA out from the original Tholos burials, especially given that they were so late.  This could indicate 'who' the Tholos builders were.  I suspect that they were a distinct and late group of Near Easterners, or at least some of them were.

One last interesting note; with the number of individuals dated that the authors were able to obtain, they seem to suggest that individuals in these collective tombs were probably always buried whole, some apparently in the flexed template.  It was only decades or centuries later that people were disarticulated and re-organized to make room for new people. 

This new understanding could really strain the view of how Megalithic people buried their dead and challenge the current notions of individuality ascribed to Megalithic peoples.  The current view is one that stresses the group and continuity.  However, like the emptying of the Tholos at Perdigoes, if they were simply shoveling out bones to make room for new flexed burials, then that seems to be a somewhat different worldview than previously thought.

For the first time on the southern Iberian Peninsula it is possible to determine the timescale and funerary span of a single megalithic grave, as all the Minimum Number of Individuals identified by anthropological study have been dated. Thirteen radiocarbon measurements are now available from Grave 11 at El Barranquete necropolis. Two Bayesian models have been built on the basis of archaeological interpretations of the mortuary depositions. The results stress the late construction of the monument, probably in 2452e2316 cal BC, and the short, but intensive ritual use during the Chalcolithic period of between three and nine generations. The funerary reuse of the monument is one the most remarkable features of this tomb. According to the Bayesian models, these ritual practices began in 2154e2022 cal BC and spans a long period of at least half a millennium. The results are also discussed in the context of the megalithic phenomenon on the southern Iberian Peninsula.


  1. An interesting finding indeed.

    However I must (again?) disagree on your hypothesis of tholos builders being foreigners. As we see in many areas like Alentejo, tholoi were built where dolmens had been built previously, integrated in the very same wider structures as happens in Perdigoes, strongly suggesting continuity with previous dolmen builders. But also because what we see in the genetic change in Iberia (and many other areas of Europe) after Neolithic is not further Oriental inputs but rather the opposite: loss by strong dilution of the affinity of Neolithic farmers had with the Eastern Mediterranean, what indicates flows from the west. The architectural concept may still have been borrowed from the East (although there is a big chronological gap) but I would not expect any significant genetic inputs to have arrived with them.

    "The current view is one that stresses the group and continuity. However, like the emptying of the Tholos at Perdigoes, if they were simply shoveling out bones to make room for new flexed burials, then that seems to be a somewhat different worldview than previously thought".

    I do not understand this either. Pushing out older bones to make room for new burials is exactly what indicates continuity and it is almost exactly what is still done in many family tombs, although nowadays there is a specific space for those old bones known as ossuary. Although today burials are done in extended position, as was often common in dolmens and "collective" burials in caves, and not flexed position, more typical of the first (largely immigrant) farmers, detail no doubt with an Oriental origin but a well documented Neolithic one in fact.

  2. I apologize in advance for the brief comment.

    I think its possible that the last phases of Atlantic and North Atlantic Dolmen Megalithism saw the infiltration of a foreign group (of ME or NE origin). I'm not really dogmatic about that, BTW. I have some graphics I hope to put in another post concerning oculos Which I think illustrates more clearly the cultural connections if non
    E else.

    As to the second comment, I agree that they are collective burial in general. It is mainly a nuance of how corpses were interred originally. One in which the corpse has a primary burial or decomposition period followed by storage of the bones. The scenario described in the paper sounds more like a simple burial that usually got moved, but not for ritual purposes. Still both collective.

    1. I do not really discard that the "neo-Megalithic" tomb styles such as the tholos are Mediterranean imports. You have explained in some other occasion that you have some reasons to think so, although the details were not fully clear (other than a few Portuguese-like slabs found in West Asia in an apparent out-of-context reality). What I would rather think most unlikely would be new significant migration from East to West in the Mediterranean after the Neolithic or meaningful cultural discontinuity between classical and late Megalithic cultures.

      Naturally, I could be wrong, and I agree that genetic sequencing of old remains can only produce important information regarding the nature of these ancient societies and is always desirable.

      As for the term "collective", it is somewhat misleading. It was probably conceived as a "neutral" technical term but personally I'd think of them as family or clan tombs. Later fashions, as well as many older Neolithic ones of more-or-less Oriental roots, were instead "individual", what somehow seems to imply some degree of transference in the social ideology from ancestors to individuals.

      I wonder if there are "collective" burials in West Asia at all (before the dolmenic fashion arrived there from the West).