Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Twilight of Enclosures (Valera, 2015)

This is from a group of papers from a German conference about what you might call the Copper Age collapse, explosion, whatever.  None endorse any theory, but rather discuss changes taking place around Europe at this time.

Antonio Valera lays out this narrative in a way that is a little more understandable than I've seen previously.  The period in question for simplicity's sake nominally begins sometime at the end of the Middle Neolithic in which a great acceleration in economic complexity, social inequality, and monumentalism begin in the region.

This process peaks in the Chalcolithic with some of Europe's first stone fortresses and intense, long-distance trade, but then it is rather abruptly followed by a strange period of monumental silence.  Since this paper is still not yet available, I'll condense to what I think is the most important take-aways below.

Outeiro Alto Sinuous Ditched Enclosure
Across Portugal, but especially in the Alentejo region (the southern third of the country), there is a great concentration of ditched enclosures that become increasingly large and complex.  From the earliest Neolithic they are thought to have been originally foundations for celestially aligned palisades as you would find across Central Europe, but the purpose of these ditches become less clear as enclosures become larger and more numerous, especially when the ditches are quickly infilled with little evidence of timber posts.

As the ditched enclosures become larger they are at some point joined by walled enclosures [here1]
[here2] in the 3rd millennium.  These stone forts are perched on high terrain and have every strategic indication of fortification, both having defensive features and favorable terrain but also a considerable amount of projection on the landscape.  (The builders of these forts were not Beakers or not yet Beakers.)  (Again me: another interesting relationship between the walled enclosures and the large, ditched enclosures of Alentejo, appears to be the fact that copper used in the large forts like Zambujal appear to have come from the Alentejo region)  ((more wild ass speculation))

Things begin changing around the time in which Bell Beaker culture emerges, although it is not clear that it is Bell Beaker that is the reason for these changes.  (It's possible societal collapse preceded the Beaker phenomenon)  Up to this point as Valera describes, much of the structures in the landscape are positive in nature... large monumental structures for burial, for living, for defense, all large, all imposing on the landscape.  You may expect this type of behavior from people continually establishing their entitlement to the land in which they live.

They had many iconographic displays of people, creatures and plants, sometimes in a more schematic format, but other times more naturalistic.  However this society, as understood, comes to an end.  As the monuments fall into disrepair, no others will be built.  The positive tombs and forts in the landscape are replaced by negative structures.. pit graves, cairns, hypogea.  Sometimes a megalith is re-used as a grave for a Beaker person, and even less so is a fort or ditched enclosure maintained for a while, but nothing new is built, and for the most part these great fortresses collapse.  Hillbilly Bell Beakers build huts on the ruins and throw their beer cans in the front yard.  (your's truly)

It is during this period that Valera describes as being almost iconoclastic, rejecting the naturalism and iconography of the megalithic-chalcolithic tradition for a more subtle geometric art, but a continued taste for loud, gaudy materialism.

Why all the ditches?

The purpose of a desert kite is so simple it's stupid.  It could be ditches and cross ditches just keep retarded goats from climbing fences.  Ditches are still to this day one of the simplest and most effective defensive obstacles.  But if these were the case then why did it stop?

"Social change in the late 3rd millennium BC in Portugal: the twilight of enclosures" Valera, Antonio (published 2015)  "2200 BC - A climatic breakdown as a cause for the collapse of the old world?"  Landesamt fur Denkmalpflege und Archaeologie Sachsen-Anhalt:  Mitteldeutscher Archaologentag. 


  1. The Copper -Bronze age tansition appears to have been particularly complex in Iberia; with potentially various competing centres

    What's your prediction about timing and events of genetic flux during this period ?

    1. Thanks for asking. I can't give a short answer. There's really two additional, non-exclusive scenarios in addition to what is already known that could materialize IMO. One is the genetic character of the Western Maritime Impresso farmers in the Atlantic fringe of EN Iberia. I'm curious to know if Torcs and MN Portalon are truly oddballs or the tip of the iceberg.

      The common assumption is that Cardium folk represent a monolithic ethnicity that is similar to LBK. However, it could theoretically be possible that some Cardium-Impresso groups were more directly descended out of Byblos, say Northwest Sudan/North Pontic/Western Iberia and Morocco forming this group (just as an example).

      If we find out in the coming weeks that the Atlantic is full of Neolithic R1b, then it was these people that laid the foundation and the genetic turnover in the bronze Age becomes more of a complex cultural revolution.

      Scenario 2 is more simple although still kooky. If we find out in the coming weeks that Iberia and the Isles are the typical farmers we expect, then I'd expect 'change' to begin slowly festering around 3500 as lithics, loom weights and brachyceros cattle begin making their way from the South of the peninsula along with a period of intense trade with Morocco and through this Beakers 1.0 emerge and begin spreading out across Europe.

      Obviously a major genetic and cultural wave from Eastern Europe crashed on the continent and most Beakers were heir to this from their CWC ancestry, at least.

  2. Thanks
    By "find out in coming weeks" are you being hypothetical, or is there some aDNA paper from iberia that yore expecting ?:)

  3. I believe there are two big studies underway that will look at Atlantic populations (one post in Sep and Oct discuss).
    Davidski might know the inside but I kind of assumed early Spring.?