Livestock pens approximately 5,000 years old in Alava, Spain
A team of researchers belonging to the Prehistory Area of the UPV/EHU-University of the Basque Country has published the results of its recent investigations in the San Cristobal Rock-shelter (Sierra de Cantabria. Laguardia. Alava, Basque Country). This is the first time that empirical data have been presented and which demonstrate the use of rock-shelters as enclosures (for sheep/goats) by agropastoral communities from the early Chacolithic onwards (about 5,000 years ago) in the area of the Basque Country and throughout the northwest of the Iberian Peninsula.
|UPV/EHU team of archaeologists during the excavation of the Chalcolithic livestock pen at San Cristobal |
Previous studies conducted by this same UPV/EHU research team had documented the existence of livestock enclosures dating back to the Ancient Neolithic (over 6,000 years ago) at other sites on the Sierra de Cantabria. Nevertheless, this is the first time that data of a geoarchaeological (microsedimentological analyses) and palaeobotanical (phytoliths, pollen, charcoal and seeds) nature have been incorporated. The aim is to find out about the specific practices that the human groups in the area were engaged in inside these shelters, and to know what function was fulfilled by these practices in their economy and in their strategies for organising the territory during the Chalcolithic.
|Pile of burnt debris of the Chalcolithic period unearthed at San Cristobal |
On the other hand, the correlation of the microsedimentological and phytolith analyses (mineral remains that make up the skeleton of plants) has made it possible to determine what the livestock ate, and which was largely based on the grazing available around the shelter.
|Microscopic fragment of burnt goat or sheep droppings discovered in the Chalcolithic sequence of San Cristobal |
The data on the pollen have revealed that a forest, in which hazelnut trees predominated along with deciduous oaks (possibly gall oaks), grew in the immediate surroundings of San Cristobal during the period studied. There is also evidence of holm oaks, box and pine.
The study of the charcoal remains preserved on the site has made it possible to go into how the timber available on the Sierra de Cantabria was used, and the results indicate a clear change in the selection of woody materials throughout the Chalcolithic occupation of the shelter: during the oldest phase a predominance of pine followed by yew is observed while in the most recent phase there is an increase in the use of species such as oak, holm oak, the rose family and box.
|Microscopic plant fragment from the Chalcolithic period used as fodder or bedding for the livestock at San Cristobal |
The correlation of the data obtained at San Cristobal with the information provided by the neighbouring sites on the Sierra de Cantabria itself and its immediate area has also revealed that San Cristobal also formed part of a network of shelters-cum-enclosures used at the same time and for the same purpose by human groups with similar cultural features; it has also emerged that the communities that occupied these shelters-cum-enclosures were very likely the same ones that used the dolmen constructions of the Rioja Alavesa area during the Chalcolithic.
The study is published Quaternary International.
Source: University of the Basque Country [June 09, 2016]