Thursday, August 23, 2012

Castro of Vila Nova de São Pedro

If you've listened to our most recent podcast, episode number The Chalcolithic then you've heard me talk a bit about the Castro of Vila Nova de São Pedro. Castro of Vila Nova de São Pedro is a Portuguese Chalcolithic settlement located near Azambuja that dates back to 2600 BC - 1300 BC. Most of our recent posts have been about prehistoric structures and technically the settlement would qualify as that. But, to make things simpler for me to divide up on the blog I've put a cutoff date of the "prehistoric" at 2800 BC. This figure is pretty arbitrary, but it's helpful for me in my head. In light of this, the Castro of Vila Nova de São Pedro qualifies as an ancient post, rather than a prehistoric one - even though the people of Castro of Vila Nova de São Pedro were prehistoric (not writing history down). So bear with me on that point please.

Castro of Vila Nova de São Pedro is culturally and chronologically linked with the Los Millares settlement in Spain, though not quite as old as their Spanish counterparts. But, they are just as fascinating. They left behind a treasure trove of artifacts for us to understand how they lived including buildings, pottery and arrowheads. Their importance though lies in them being at the forefront of megalithic construction. The people of Castro of Vila Nova de São Pedro started building megalithic structures almost a full thousand years earlier than their contemporaries in other parts of Europe.

There seems to have been a couple of distinct periods for the people at Castro of Vila Nova de São Pedro. VNSP I were the earliest inhabitants and began to construct a fortified settlement sometime around 2700 BC. They built dolmens and menhirs in their spare time and constructed an economy based on agriculture and domesticated animals. The fact that they built walls shows the influence of Los Millares, who we said were a warlike culture. With testy neighbors like the Los Millares, it was probably a pretty good decision to build some walls. During this period the people of Castro of Vila Nova de São Pedro began to establish trade ties and started to shape their megalithic structures in ways that aligned to celestial happenings. Archeo-astronomers (as well as the general public) can marvel at some of these complex works. Going basically on just pure will and a eyesight they were able to build some marvelous wonders that would stand up to even today's architectural prowess.

The Arrowheads of Envy
At around 2200 BC though things started to get really interesting. The Beaker People moved into the Iberian peninsula and the inhabitants of Castro of Vila Nova de São Pedro adopted some of their practices. They adopted Beaker burial traditions and their pottery making skills but kept much of their earlier cultural heritage. Basically the combined Beaker death rites and ceramic making with a growing megalithic culture. This led to prolific megalithic building and pottery making. The influx of the Beaker Culture also seems to have opened up trading ties to further flung regions of Iberia and even into France. At about this time the dominating influence of Los Millares seems to have waned a bit and after about 300 years of cultural mixing all of Iberia seems to have become a bit more decentralized. While this would be bad for someone building an empire, it seems to have been really freaking good for trade. The craftsmen of Castro of Vila Nova de São Pedro produced artifacts that have been found as far east as Bohemia. It was about this time that their copper skills were becoming the envy of Europe. It was the copper arrowheads that made their way all throughout Western and Central Europe. Great as the Castro of Vila Nova de São Pedro were, their cultural dominance couldn't last forever. Even though they retained much of their culture even after the Beaker People moved in, the decentralizing of Iberia would eventually open up the arena for another cultural explosion. This time the culture shift occurred because of the discovery and mastery of bronze. At around 1800 bronze working came into the region and slowly the Atlantic Bronze Age would begin. But the people of Castro of Vila Nova de São Pedro were stubborn and held on to their culture for another 500 years before the Bronze Age finally supplanted them. The Castro of Vila Nova de São Pedro seems to have fallen out of favor with people and the site was abandoned sometime around 1300 BC.


  1. The Castro of Vila Nova de São Pedro is a Chalcolithic archaeological site in the civil parish of Vila Nova de São Pedro, municipality of Azambuja, in the Portuguese Estremadura area of Lezíria do Tejo. It is important for the discovery of thousands of arrowheads within its fortified settlement, associated with the Chalcolithic period of human settlement. associated with the long-lived fortified town, or castro, of Zambujal, near the municipality of Torres Vedras. The period of "urban" settlement lasted from 2600 to 1300 BCE, and was a contemporary of the southeastern Spanishsettlements of Los Millares and El Argar.generico

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