The Bronze Age of la Mancha

Article excerpt

During the last 15 years, work in the region of La Mancha has revealed a density of Bronze Age settlement that had previously been completely unsuspected. Perhaps because of the relatively inhospitable climate of the Spanish Meseta, prehistorians of the Iberian Peninsula had been inclined to accept the apparent scarcity of archaeological evidence for the later prehistoric period as the reflection of occupation by sparse populations practising a pastoralist economy (e.g. Savory 1968). The late Copper Age Bell Beakers found on the Meseta were examples of a pottery style whose broad distribution in Western Europe could be attributed to a mobile 'folk'. Bronze Age components on the Meseta were considered to be Beaker survivals influenced in their metal tools by the El Argar culture of southeast Spain. The existence in La Mancha of massive stone constructions dating to the Bronze Age was noted by local antiquaries (e.g. Hervas y Buendia 1899; Zuazo y Palacios 1917; Torre Parra 1932; Estavillo Villaumbrosa 1950; Garcia Solana 1966), and some were even excavated (Sanchez Jimenez 1941; 1947a). But the structures were either thought to be funerary tumuli (Sanchez Jimenez 1947b; 1948; Schule & Pellicer 1965), or they were interpreted as isolated occurrences on the Meseta of sites more properly characteristic of the later Copper Age of the coastal regions of southern and eastern Spain (Martinez Santa-Olalla 1951). Thus, in spite of the richness of its archaeological record as we now know it, the Bronze Age of the southern Meseta of the Iberian Peninsula was as late as the mid 1970s effectively a blank filled in by extrapolations from earlier periods or adjacent regions.

The recognition that large, permanent, fortified Bronze Age settlements are abundant in La Mancha is the result of the excavations begun in 1973 by the University of Granada at the 'motillas' of El Azuer and Los Palacios in Ciudad Real province (Najera & Molina 1977; Najera et al. 1977; 1979; 1981; Molina & Najera 1978; Molina et al. 1979). These have been followed by work at several other sites: in Ciudad Real province, La Encantada (Nieto Gallo & Sanchez Meseguer 1980; Nieto Gallo et al. 1983; Fernandez Vega et al. 1988), El Acebuchal (Blanco de la Rubia 1983), Las Canas (Molina et al. 1983), Los Romeros (Almagro Gorbea 1977: 529; Garcia Perez 1987; 1988), and Santa Maria del Retamar (Colmenarejo Hernandez et al. 1987; 1988); in Cuenca province, El Recuenco (Chapa Brunet & Martinez Navarrete 1979; Chapa Brunet et al. 1979; Martinez Navarrete 1985: 2302-19; Diaz-Andreu Garcia 1990: 396-404), Los Dornajos (Galan & Poyato 1979; Galan Saulnier & Fernandez Vega 1983), La Parra de las Vegas (Martinez Navarrete & Valiente Canovas 1983), and El Cuco (Romero Salas & Sanchez Meseguer 1988a); and in Albacete province, El Quintanar (Martin Morales 1983; 1984) and El Acequion (Fernandez-Miranda et al. 1988; 1990) (see FIGURE 1 for a map indicating the location of sites mentioned in this article). In Ciudad Real the University of Granada team has identified 'more than twenty motillas as well as numerous settlements on hilltops' (Najera Colino 1984: 7). Survey work in Almansa (Albacete), a municipality of about 500 sq. km, has documented no fewer than 43 Bronze Age settlements (Simon Garcia 1987), while our extensive survey of the northern half of Albacete province has identified close to 300 Bronze Age occupation sites. Similarly dense distributions are documented in the portions of Cuenca province surveyed by Diaz-Andreu Garcia (1990). The concentration of surviving early 2nd-millennium Bronze Age settlements in La Mancha has few parallels elsewhere in Western Europe.

Almost all our knowledge of the Bronze Age of La Mancha comes from recent excavations, some still in progress, with information from them published mainly in preliminary reports. The principal synthesis of the available evidence, Trinidad Najera's dissertation based on the University of Granada's work (Najera Colino 1984), is also published only in summary form. …