‘Dolmens of Antequera’ Site, Spain, dates back to the Neolithic Age

The ATLAS research group from the University of Seville has published a study of a high resolution analysis of one of the most important sections of the Peña de los Enamorados, a natural formation included in the Antequera Dolmens Site, declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

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Specifically, the researchers have studied the site known as the “Abrigo de Matacabras”, which contains cave paintings in the schematic style. This small cave has a first-class visual and symbolic relationship with the Menga dolmen, establishing landscape relationships that are possibly unique in European prehistory.

The Abrigo de Matacabras is set deep in the northern sector of the Peña de los Enamorados, which, due to its shape, is reminiscent of a sleeping woman.

For this investigation, a latest-generation multidisciplinary archaeological method was used, which included a photogrammetric reconstruction of the entire cave, analysis of its graphic motifs by means of digital image processing and colorimetry, uranium-thorium dating of the rock layers that carried the motifs, archaeometric analysis of the ceramics associated with the cave and the neighbouring site of Piedras Blancas I. situated at the foot of the Peña, by means of neutron activation analysis and X-ray diffraction, as well as a complete stylistic analysis of the motifs.

The results obtained indicate the Neolithic chronology of the cave (probably, at least, at the beginning of the 4th millennium BC) and its importance as a place of reference for the Neolithic (and possibly even older) population of the region, which would explain the anomalous orientation of the Menga dolmen. “In addition, the data obtained allows us, for the first time, to consider the Abrigo de Matacabras from the point of view of its future conservation, and diagnosis anything that might threaten or damage the motifs”, says Leonardo García Sanjuán, Professor of Prehistory at the University of Seville.

(Source: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/06/180628120046.htm)

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Abstract The background of this paper is the biographical relationship between the Menga dolmen and La Peña de los Enamorados mountain (a conspicuous and highly-recognisable natural formation), both part of the Antequera megalithic landscape. Our main aim is to provide a high-resolution characterisation of the Matacabras rock art shelter, located on the northern side of La Peña de los Enamorados. This is achieved through a photogrammetric topographic survey, a detailed assessment of the graphic motifs identified through the use of digital image processing and various types of physical and chemical analysis, a geo-chemical characterisation of pottery found on its surface, and a comparative stylistic analysis of its motifs. Our study suggests that Matacabras (and the site of Piedras Blancas I, located just below it), played an important role in the genesis of Menga, which perhaps makes it the most important rock art location of Spanish Late Prehistory.

There is strong evidence suggesting that La Peña de los Enamorados played an important role in the genesis of Menga, which perhaps makes the Matacabras shelter the most important rock art location of Spanish Late Prehistory.

(Source: “Landmark of the past in the Antequera megalithic landscape: A multi-disciplinary approach to the Matacabras rock art shelter”, by Miguel Ángel Rogerio-Candelera et al.)

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NovoScriptorium: Relative information extracted from official publications follows:

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Abstract Menga was discovered for modern science in the 1840s, when Rafael Mitjana carried out excavations that he reported in his Memoria. The booklet soon circulated internationally, giving this great megalith an early fame. Yet, as written accounts dating to the 16th through 18th centuries AD and other pieces of evidence attest, Menga had never been really ‘forgotten’. Archaeological excavations carried out in the late 20th and early 21st centuries have provided evidence suggesting that, since its construction in the Neolithic period, and during later prehistory, Antiquity and the Middle Ages, Menga was used as a sacred building and burial ground. This paper brings together, for the first time, some of the evidence available in order to understand Menga’s outstanding biography, spanning almost 6000 years. The archaeological data currently available is fragmentary and largely unpublished, but taken together, it tells a remarkable story about the inception, design, and long life of what possibly is the most fascinating megalithic monument of Iberia.

(Source: “Menga (Andalusia, Spain): biography of an exceptional megalithic monument”, by Leonardo García Sanjuán and José Antonio Lozano Rodríguez)

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Abstract Many examples are known, in southern Europe in general and in the Iberian Peninsula in particular, of ancient landscapes where the passing of time was marked on rocks with the symbols used by the people who transited by them. However, Andalusia and especially the area around Antequera is one of the regions in which this process can be followed most clearly, through the graphic sequences at some of the decorated sites. Palaeolithic art in caves and the open air, with a better-developed painted version than documented so far in the rest of the Iberian Peninsula, was the basis for the development of engraved and painted sites in the same regions in the post-Palaeolithic period.

(Source: “Images of the Past in the Lands of Antequera, Málaga, Spain. Palaeolithic to Post-Palaeolithic Transition in Southern Europe”, by Rodrigo De Balbin-Behrmann et al.)

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Abstract The study of the Menga and Viera megalithic orthostats has led to the discovery of reused steles and fragments. This has been achieved through specific protocols, focusing on analysing engravings and paintings. The new evidence about the study of the installation, re-installation and insertion of the stones at these two sites situate the Antequeran megaliths within a wider dynamic. The transport and fragmentation of stones is thought to be one of the principal characteristics of the construction of large Atlantic monuments. The chronology of these dolmens demonstrates the continuity of this system as part of the building ritual of these tombs during the whole construction sequence of megalithic monuments. Further evidence is known at emblematic sites along the European Atlantic façade. Menga and Viera are the final outcome of elaborate systems of stone monument transformations, whose initial formula was based on large sculpted anthropomorphic representations.

(Source: “Steles, time and ancestors in the Megaliths of Antequera, Málaga (Spain)”, by Rodrigo De Balbin-Behrmann et al.)

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Abstract A stone hammer found in June 2014 within the infill of Menga’s mound, behind upright R12 (the second on the right as one enters the megalith), is described and studied. This artefact is firstly characterised from a geo-lithological viewpoint, which reveals it is a meta-arenite from the Campo de Gibraltar geological formation. Secondly, a use-wear analysis is carried out, showing that this object presents percussion marks on both its ends. Finally, this item is assessed from a contextual point of view and compared to other percussion tools found at the atrium and in the water well of Menga. As a conclusion, we discuss the possibility that this object was a tool used by a person working in the construction of this great megalith.

(Source: “A meta-arenite hammer found in the mound of Menga: Lithological, Traceological and contextual study”, by José Antonio Lozano Rodríguez et al.)

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Abstract Piedras Blancas I is part of the La Peña de los Enamorados archaeological complex (Antequera, Málaga). This complex presents evidence dating from the Neolithic period to the 20th century AD. Research carried out in 2006 suggested that the northern sector of La Peña de los Enamorados had known significant activity between the Late Neolithic and Copper Age, which is basically materialized in the Matacabras rock shelter, where schematic rock art is found, and the Piedras Blancas I site. Fresh fieldwork and laboratory analysis undertaken between September 2013 and November 2015, including intensive surface survey, magnetometer prospection and geoarchaeological analysis, have provided new and more precise empirical evidence to understand this site. In this paper we present a summary of the results obtained as part of the research carried out at Piedras Blancas I, a site of major relevance given its landscape association with the dolmen of Menga.

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Introduction Located in the Antequera depression approximately halfway between the towns of Antequera and Archidona (Málaga), La Peña de los Enamorados (henceforth La Peña) is both a well known natural formation as well as a major archaeological complex.

From a geological and geographical viewpoint, Piedras Blancas I holds a very strategic position given its location in a natural corridor that connects the Antequera basin with the Granada basin along the reliefs that belong, geologically speaking, to the Sub-Betic System. The intra-orogenic basins are important communication routes within the Betic mountain range as well as key sites for accessing biotic, and particularly abiotic, resources –primarily flint, although ophites and iron oxides as well.

From an archaeological point of view, La Peña is a complex of the greatest interest presenting evidence of occupation not only during the Neolithic period (the purpose of this study) but also, as previous publications have shown, during the Copper Age, the Bronze Age, the Iron Age, Antiquity, the Middle Ages and even the Modern and Contemporary Ages.

Surface field surveys conducted in 2006 in the north sector of La Peña (García Sanjuán and Wheatley, 2009; García Sanjuán et al., 2010), uncovered the Piedras Blancas I site which is situated at the foot of the cliff on the mountain’s northern face. This site is within the 90 minute isochrone from the Menga and Viera dolmens and about four kilometres from El Perezón, a Late Neolithic settlement which was also discovered in 2006. In 2006 abundant knapped flint artefacts, a fragment of a quern and some hand-made pottery fragments were found in connection with a large block of local limestone measuring about three metres in length and roughly parallelepipedic in shape that appears to be associated with other smaller blocks of stone that are located nearby (García Sanjuán et al., 2010: 3721-3722). From a techno-morphological point of view, the knapped lithic artefacts (mostly microlithic, including chipping debris, small blades and geometrics) were characterised as an Neolithic assemblage of Epipaleolithic tradition (García Sanjuán and Wheatley, 2009: 139). Subsequent visits to the site in 2009, during a time of the year when surface visibility conditions were better, allowed for confirmation of the nearby presence, further to the east, of other stones of sizes and shapes similar to the one identified in 2006, as well as a large quantity of surface material including knapped flint, hammers and grinding tools manufactured from hard stones as well as small quantities of hand-made pottery fragments.

Following the survey carried out in 2006 and further observations made therein, interest in the north sector of La Peña to understand the occupation of this region during the Neolithic period has increased substantially. This is especially true if we keep in mind that the projection of Menga’s axis of symmetry does not point to sunrise, as it is common in southern Iberian megalithic monuments, but instead points directly towards Matacabras. Menga’s non-solar axis of symmetry establishes a landscape connection to a place that may have had an ancestral significance before Menga was constructed (García Sanjuán and Wheatley, 2010: 28-31; García Sanjuán and Lozano Rodríguez, forthcoming).

Bearing in mind these precedents, the research project “Societies, Territories and Landscapes in the Prehistory of the Lands of Antequera (Málaga)” (2013-2018), approved by the Ministry of Culture of the Andalusian regional government, has as one of its mains aims to carry out a more precise archaeological characterisation of the Piedras Blancas I site. A new survey was thus conducted in September 2013 at this site, along with a technomorphological and geological characterisation of the materials collected.

Furthermore, a geophysical prospection and a geoarchaeological study on the blocks of stone discovered in 2006 and 2009 were conducted. The purpose of this field study is to more accurately understand the nature of the site prior to beginning excavation work. Naturally, interest in this field study lies not only in the assessment of Piedras Blancas I itself, but also in the potential relevance it has for helping us to understand the background and origins of Menga.

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Surface survey A total 110 surface artefacts were recorded, which can be broken down as follows: hand-made pottery (13 items), wheel-thrown pottery (4 items), knapped lithic artefacts (61 items) and non-knapped lithic artefacts (32 items). A high number of non-knapped lithic tools (20 out of the total 32) were found in squares 13 and 8, mainly around stones 9 and 10, while a high number of knapped flint artefacts (19 out of the 61 objects identified) were found in squares 26 and 27.

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Ceramic material Overall, the small quantity of ceramic material observed in 2013 at Piedras Blancas I is in line with what was observed during the 2006 field surveys at both Piedras Blancas I and the neighbouring site of El Perezón. This is characteristic of open-air settlements from the Neolithic period in the region.

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Lithological characterisation of lithic material From a lithological point of view, the most abundant materials are by far flint (for knapped tools), and ophite (a volcanic-subvolcanic rock from the Triassic period), followed by calcarenite, volcanic basalt, peridotite, dolerite, and finally conglomerates (for non-knapped lithic material).

Combination of local and non-local raw materials is present in the Neolithic and Copper Age sites of the region for which characterization data are available.

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Magnetometer survey The magnetometer survey was carried out with the aim of assessing the potential presence of subsurface features possibly connected to the material found on the surface, possibly associated with the large-sized stones.

The results reveal the presence of important geo-morphological elements as well as possible negative features and stones potentially associated with the prehistoric activity recorded at the site.

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Conclusions Overall, the field and laboratory study carried out at Piedras Blancas I between 2013 and 2015 has allowed us to expand on the archaeological data obtained in 2006 as well as to obtain new geophysical and geoarchaeological data.

In terms of the non-knapped lithic industry, it is worth noting the presence at Piedras Blancas I of hammers and mallets that are analogous (both in terms of morphology as well as the raw materials used –namely ophites and peridotites–) to those found in the infills of Menga’s shaft and mound during excavation work carried out between 2005 and 2006 by the University of Granada. Menga’s tools were interpreted by the excavators as evidence of “…the quarrying and dressing of Menga’s capstones and orthostats”, most likely dating the tools to the early IV millennium BC.

Other indirect artefactual also suggests a possible IV millennium BC chronology for Piedras Blancas I. This is the case with the low amount of surface pottery found both in 2006 and in 2013 compared to the number of flint artefacts, which seems to be a relatively widespread characteristic among Late Neolithic sites in this region. The excavators of Huerta del Ciprés, a Late Neolithic site located barely 700m north of Menga and Viera, noted “…a relatively low number of pottery with the exception of storage vessels which are intentionally embedded in the soil…”. We were ourselves able to confirm the same pattern on our surface survey of El Perezón, located a further 6 km to the North of Menga.

On the whole, the preliminary assessment made on the basis of the study of the lithic material found during the 2006 field survey, namely that Piedras Blancas I is likely dated between the IV and III millennia cal BC (Late Neolithic and Copper Age), seems supported. The Late Neolithic (IV millennium BC) is a period of intense activity in the Antequera depression as shown by the recently excavated settlements of Arroyo Saladillo and Huerta del Ciprés, or the megalithic monuments themselves – Menga, Viera and El Romeral–.

The surface material suggests that hammering, grinding and polishing may have played a significant role at the site. As was previously mentioned, hammering tools analogous to those from Piedras Blancas I in terms of their morphology and raw material were discovered inside the infill of Menga’s shaft. The site excavators attributed these tools to quarry work carried out for construction of the dolmen itself.

An interesting issue at Piedras Blancas I is the presence of non-local lithic raw materials. These include peridotites, which appear in very few places in the Betic mountains (Sierra Bermeja, Sierra Alpujata, Sierra de Aguas and Sierra de Carratraca, always in the province of Málaga, with the nearest outcrop located in the area immediately surrounding El Torcal de Antequera), as well as flint from the Milanos Formation (Middle Sub-Betic in the Betic Cordillera) and the ‘Turón’ type. Other lithic raw materials identified at Piedras Blancas I, however, are clearly local. This is the case with the ophites and dolerites –most likely from the “Trías de Antequera”– and the calcarenites located in outcrops near the north of La Peña. If we assume that Piedras Blancas I was a residential space, the presence of non-local raw materials could be explained by the widespread movement of people and goods during Late Prehistory in this region, which has already been established. If, on the other hand, Piedras Blancas I is hypothesized to have been a place for temporary aggregation, which would be consistent with the nearby presence of the Matacabras rock-art shelter, the presence of non-local raw materials could be explained by the periodical influx of non-local individuals.

In short, the surface study conducted between 2013 and 2015 at Piedras Blancas I has provided evidence that considerably clarifies and expands on the observations made following the surface field surveys in 2006 concerning the site’s chronological and functional characterisation.

(Source: “Evidence of Neolithic activity at La Peña de los Enamorados (Antequera, Málaga): intensive surface survey, geophysics and geoarchaeology at the site of Piedras Blancas I.”, by Leonardo García Sanjuán et al.)

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Research-Selection for NovoScriptorium: Philaretus Homerides

 

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