Umanejos: The Largest Spanish Copper Age Burial Ground

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Video: Umanejos: The Largest Spanish Copper Age Burial Ground

Video: Umanejos: The Largest Spanish Copper Age Burial Ground
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Umanejos: The Largest Spanish Copper Age Burial Ground
Umanejos: The Largest Spanish Copper Age Burial Ground

In the municipality of Parla, not far from Madrid, a large necropolis was found, dating back to the Chalcolithic era by archaeologists - or the Copper Age, as the period is called, which lasted from 3300 to 2000 BC. Excavations near the Umanejos hill have already yielded many extremely interesting finds. For more information about the history of the settlement of Umanejos, about the peculiarities of the bell-beaker culture, whose representatives left a noticeable mark in Parla (and spread over a large part of the European continent) and about some of the brightest traces of the prehistoric era found by archaeologists - read the first part of the material prepared by Yuli Uletova. the author of the site "Pompeii: Step by Step".


History of the development of Umanejos

For the first time, excavations on the hill near the church of Umanejos were carried out in 1982, but the actual archaeological research zone arose in the region much later - this was led by the construction of a highway and the development of local industry in 2008. Starting from 2.5 hectares, during ten years of excavations the explored area exceeded 20 hectares. However, the site may turn out to be even more extensive, continuing south and east.

Already now we can say that this territory, which in ancient times was a lake land, was inhabited by people more than 5000 years ago. For two thousand years - from about 3300 BC to 1300 BC - a burial ground functioned here, and archaeologists have already identified three fundamental phases of its use.

There are also traces of human presence in this place in other eras.

In addition to the necropolis itself, a huge settlement was found here with the remains of more than two thousand buildings from different historical periods, which should indicate its successful location already in antiquity.

In general, in the archaeological zone of Umanejos in Parla, archaeologists have documented traces of 2,176 structures of various (residential, industrial and other) purposes. Of this number, more than half of the buildings date back to the Copper Age (3300–2000 BC), that is, by the time when the burial ground was most actively used.

The earliest finds at Umanejos are fragments of Paleolithic flint tools. However, traces of intensive exploitation of the territory date back to the period stretching from the Copper to the Bronze Age, that is, including the very three phases identified by archaeologists against the background of the long human history of Umanejos.

The first phase, 3300-2500 BC, includes variscite beads originating from Zamora in northwestern Spain, as well as axes, daggers and 110 ceramic objects.

During the second phase of the use of the necropolis (2500-2000 BC), the so-called bell-beaker culture, or KKK (sometimes called the “bell-beaker tradition”), was especially significant in the region.

Among the items related to it are more than fifty ceramic vessels of a characteristic bell-shaped shape, copper tools, daggers, spearheads, axes, ivory beads, as well as 19 gold plates.


Burial from Roman times, in which ceramic tiles were used as a material to hide the remains

Isotopic analysis indicates the import of materials - neither gold, nor copper, nor, of course, ivory are local. So, most of the copper comes from the region that is today called Asturias.

The third phase of the use of the necropolis, 2000-1300 BC, is already the Bronze Age, which left behind not so many traces as the previous era. Archaeologists have found here only a number of non-inventory graves associated with the Prokogotas and Kogotas cultures, and several buildings.

The early Iron Age (1200-800 BC) is represented by two settlements, and traces of human activity dating back to the next five centuries are found mainly outside their territories.

The Roman era is marked by facilities for storing grain, ovens used to dry it, and five burials. It is interesting that the settlement accompanying these buildings has not yet been found.


Two sites of the necropolis of Islamic time

From the early Middle Ages - IX-XII centuries - more than 40 wooden Muslim tombs and a number of Christian tombs with individual burials, mostly adults, have been preserved.

Migration or diffusion?

But back to the burials of the Copper Age. Their number - about a hundred graves - makes the necropolis in Umanejos the largest known burial ground of this era in Iberia. Archaeologists have discovered the remains of 160 people of all age groups, both sexes, of which at least fifty are children - both in individual and collective burials.

The tombs have common features - they are all round in shape, carved into the depths of the rock surface, some of them undoubtedly had above-ground parts. Only a small part of the burials has a rather rich burial inventory. As the researchers calculated, 80 percent of the values left by the people of the Copper Age to their relatives after their death are in 9 graves.

All these burials belong to the so-called bell-beaker culture, KKK (or bell-beaker tradition), an archaeological phenomenon in Europe, to which modern science still has many questions.

The penetration of this culture into Europe through the territory of Iberia and its complete settlement by representatives of the continent in less than a thousand years is a recognized scientific fact. But where did the carriers of the KKK themselves come to the Iberian Peninsula five thousand years ago, is still a mystery to scientists.


Umanejos necropolis plan

It is unclear on what grounds, besides the characteristic bell-shaped ceramics, to separate the burials of the autochthonous population of Europe (albeit of different cultures) from the burials of the KKK representatives. The patterns of the burial ritual, which often serve as a marker of a certain archaeological culture, in the case of the KKK (if we rely on the presence of bell-shaped goblets in the inventory) do not coincide in different regions of Europe.

In the last century, it was proposed to take into account the craniometric data of possible representatives of the CCC. According to scientists, they were brachycephalic, that is, round-headed, while the local population was dolichocephalic, with elongated skulls. But today it is believed that such a feature can hardly be offered as a reliable criterion for the ethnic identity of people in the bell-beaker culture.

Moreover, it is not clear what character the KKK's expansion into Europe was - migration (when it comes to the movement of cultural bearers) or diffusion (when only material evidence of culture is "moving"). Until now, science has focused on the question of the anthropological affiliation of the representatives of the KKK, which hindered a broader understanding of this phenomenon.

What is KKK

The term "archaeological culture", as a rule, is used in the study of the prehistoric era, since knowledge about it, due to the lack of written sources, relies on material evidence and finds: individual dwellings and settlements (sites, fortified settlements, settlements), fortifications, hydraulic structures, roads, mine workings, burial grounds, tools, household utensils, weapons, jewelry, clothing, drawings on hard surfaces, and the like.

If such finds demonstrate a certain degree of cultural originality, that is, they have some common features, are distributed in the same territory and date back to approximately the same era, then the totality of these archaeological sites is combined into an archaeological culture. Correspondence of the archaeological culture to some ancient ethnic community is possible, but not necessary.

The archaeological culture gets its name quite accidentally - from the area where the typical monuments, for example Andronovo or Hallstatt, were first discovered; according to the burial rite - catacomb,burial mounds or fields of burial urns; by the shape or ornament of ceramics or ornaments - tape ceramics or battle axes.

The bell goblet archaeological culture was named for its characteristic pottery - flat-bottomed and S-shaped in the form of an inverted bell.


Bell-shaped goblets from burial No. 9 in Umanejos

Ceramics demonstrates a variety of ornaments: both solid lines, horizontal and vertical, and shading, stamps are used. Interestingly, cups were not necessarily used as drinking vessels. They were also intended for cooking or storing food, could be used as boilers for smelting copper ores or as burial urns.

In 1900, the archaeologist and prehistoric specialist Paul Reinecke, who was then working at the Central Roman-Germanic Museum in Mainz, introduced the phrase Glockenbecher into German terminology, reflecting the main feature of the dishes of this culture. And the English version of the name - Bell Beaker - was proposed in 1904 by the Scottish archaeologist John Abercrombie.

For the KKK funeral ritual, crumpled burials in earthen graves or stone boxes within the burial ground are typical. In the western part of the KKK distribution, there are sometimes burials associated with places of worship marked by megalithic structures (for example, in Western Switzerland). In other populations, cremation of the remains is also observed.

The inventory of the graves contains ceramics, copper tools, weapons (copper daggers, sometimes for men - protective plates for hands, bracers, made of slate or sandstone), jewelry, including gold. However, the overwhelming majority of burials contain a minimum of objects - one or more characteristic ceramic vessels, a piercing or a dagger. A small number of burials with a rich inventory speaks of an emerging stratification in society.

Copper Age cosmopolitans

KKK was common in Western, Southern and Central Europe from the 2700s to the 2200s BC, as well as in the British Isles, where it lingered until the 1800s BC. This era in the history of mankind, the transition period from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age, is called the Copper Age, Eneolithic or Chalcolithic (the last two terms go back, respectively, to Latin and Greek roots).

The place of origin of the KKK, apparently, should be considered modern Portugal - at least, here was one of the oldest centers of its formation. From here, representatives of this culture penetrated into Brittany and moved on to the modern Netherlands. This territory is characterized by a special type of decoration of cups, the so-called sea. From Holland, some of the KKK carriers went up the Rhine.

Monuments of the KKK (but with other styles of cup ornamentation) have been discovered in the Czech Republic and Moravia, as well as above and below these countries along the Danube - in Austria, Germany (Bavaria, Saxony), Poland and Hungary, as well as on the islands of Sardinia and Sicily, in Spain, Switzerland, Czech Republic and even Denmark.

Apparently, the representatives of the KKK used the rivers and waters of the Atlantic coast to move. At the same time, the KKK monuments do not cover the entire European territory, but are located on it in the form of "spots" that are practically absent, for example, in Central and Northern France, mainland Italy and other places.


Bell-beaker culture vessel from burial no. 2 in Umanejos

In the early stages of the KKK study, it was assumed that members of the same ethnic community migrated across Europe. Then a hypothesis appeared about mobile groups of the population of different cultures - artisans or merchants. However, now in the spread of bell-shaped goblets on the mainland, they also see the very diffusion that was mentioned above - the movement of technologies and products or goods.

This model, in turn, is confirmed by a recent study of the genomes of 170 ancient Europeans: the inhabitants of the Iberian Peninsula turned out to be not very similar genetically to representatives of the population of Central Europe. But the British of the Copper Age seem to have been carriers of the KKK, who moved to the islands from Holland, displacing the aboriginal agriculturalists.

It turns out that the carriers of the bell-beaker culture were not ethnically homogeneous, which means that this culture was the first pan-European and truly cosmopolitan. Technologically, the KKK was clearly far superior to other archaeological cultures in Europe, and its representatives moved around the mainland, bringing with them horse breeding, copper metallurgy and imported products (ivory or amber).

In turn, the development of metallurgy contributed to social differentiation. Luxury goods and technologies for their manufacture moved deep into the continent, overcoming long distances, no longer being associated with specific peoples. As objects of high social value, these things were used in exchange systems between different ethnic groups.

The data from the huge Eneolithic burial ground discovered at Umanejos will undoubtedly add a lot of valuable information for understanding the features of the KKK. We will talk about them in the next issue of our blog.



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