Sourcing African Ivory in Chalcolithic Portugal

By Schuhmacher, Thomas X.; Cardoso, Joao Luis et al. | Antiquity, December 2009 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Sourcing African Ivory in Chalcolithic Portugal

Schuhmacher, Thomas X., Cardoso, Joao Luis, Banerjee, Arun, Antiquity

History of investigation

In their monumental work on the megalithic tombs of the Iberian Peninsula, the Leisners included a list of the ivory objects from the southern part of the peninsula (Leisner & Leisner 1943: 474-5). Later, Gilman and Harrison produced an updated inventory list for ivory objects known from bibliographic sources (Harrison & Gilman 1977). Subsequently, there were specific studies of the relations between the Iberian Peninsula and north-west Africa during the Bell Beaker period (Poyato & Hernando 1988). After that, only a few regional works have been published, those of Spindler for Portugal and of Pascual Benito for the Pais Valenciano (Spindler 1981 ; Pascual Benito 1995).

As early as the late nineteenth century, Estacio da Veiga proposed that finished ivory objects found on Bronze Age sites, as well as the raw material itself, were imported from northern Africa (Veiga 1886-1891, vol. 1: 268-70, vol. 2: 212). Later, Siret differentiated between pieces made of elephant ivory and others from hippopotamus ivory (Siret 1913: 33) and argued that both groups were imported from Egypt as finished objects. Serra Rafols pointed out that, on the contrary, there was really no evidence for an Egyptian origin, and that we should consider north-west Africa to be the source (Serra Rafols 1925: 87). At the same time, Gotze argued that local fossilised ivory was too fragile and brittle to have been used to the same technical advantage as raw ivory (Gotze 1925: 87). Finally, Jodin and Camps connected the finds of ivory in the Iberian Peninsula to the appearance of Bell Beakers in north-west Africa (Jodin 1957; Camps 1960). Thus, a north-west African origin has been widely accepted (Harrison & Gilman 1977; Spindler 1981, but see Poyato & Hernando 1988 for an opposing view).


In a current research project, we are attempting to compile a new catalogue, as complete as possible, of all ivory objects from the Iberian Peninsula dated from the beginning of the Chalcolithic at about 3000 BC until the end of the Early Bronze Age, about 1650 BC, in the southeast (Schuhmacher & Cardoso 2007). Our preliminary work has revealed that the aggregate number of prehistoric ivory objects known, and thus the scale of ivory exchange, is much greater than previously thought. In fact, we have recognised 1060 objects from 130 sites. With few exceptions, the distribution of these finds is restricted to the southern part of the Iberian Peninsula.

In this article we will focus on the results associated with Portugal (Figure 1), seeking to identify the source of supply.

Cultural, chronological and economic context of the ivory objects

The Chalcolithic of Portuguese Estremadura is subdivided into three principal cultural phases, seen for example in the stratified sequence at Leceia, supported by almost 40 published radiocarbon dates (Cardoso & Soares 1996). Some types of ceramics emerge as true cultural markers (Figure 2), valid not only at Leceia, but over other settlements of the same cultural area (Portuguese Estremadura). According to the general sequence, the oldest occupation of the site (Period 1: Layer C4; Construction Phase 1 on Figure 2) dates to the fourth and beginning of the third millennia BC. Two ceramic types are characteristic of this late Neolithic cultural phase: the carinated bowls and the vases with denticulated edges. The second cultural phase (Period 2: Construction Phases 2-4 on Figure 2) is characterised by the 'copos' and bowls decorated by smooth channelled lines, the so-called 'Importkeramik' of the literature of past decades. This phase corresponds to the construction and utilisation of a complex fortification, organised in three sets of walls (Figure 3), between 2800 and 2600/2500 cal BC (Early Chalcolithic).



After 2600/2500 cal BC (Full Chalcolithic, Period 3: Construction Phase 5 on Figure 2) the defensive system enters progressively into ruin and the last inhabitants of the site live literally over the collapsed walls in small huts that contrast with the round houses of the Early Chalcolithic.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Sourcing African Ivory in Chalcolithic Portugal


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?