Monday, August 13, 2012

The dominating influence of Los Millares

Los Millares Now

Los Millares is located about 17 kilometers north of Almería in southern part of Spain. It is a Chalcolithic settlement that we talk about it in the Chalcolithic podcast. But, we thought it might be nice to get a few visuals to go along with information on the podcast.

Almería tourist information touts Los Millares as the most important Chalcolithic site in Europe and Europe's first Chalcolithic city. Given that it is tourist information trying to entice you to visit the region a bit of hyperbole can be expected. But, they're not too far off. The contentious point for many justifiably prideful "first claimers" is the designation city. But, that's a can of worms we won't get into.

Pottery from Los Millares, it resembles much of Beaker Culture pottery
Megalithic stones & pottery.
Regardless, Los Millares is one of the, if not the most important Chalcolithic sites in Europe because of its immense size. The five acre site has three sets of walls and fortifications with bastion like structures to defend the settlement. What makes it a Chalcolithic city is one large building within the walls that shows copper smelting activity.

The people who built Los Millares were probably an offshoot of the much larger Neolithic/Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age super archeological grouping called the Beaker Culture. Like many of the various strands of Beaker Culture they were megalithic builders, specializing in tholoi tombs.

Entrance to a tholos.
A tholos tomb (tholoi is the plural of tholos) is more commonly referred to as a Beehive tomb, but in an effort to sound more intelligent than I am I went with the Greek name. I wouldn't have attempted this on the podcast because of my trend to mispronounce words. The reason its called a beehive tomb is because it generally resembles a beehive on the inside. Outside of the walls of Los Millares are 70 or so tholoi that were once covered by port-hole slabs (a megalithic technique to cover the grave entrance with a massive stone) and contained grave goods. However, the grave goods of every tholos were not equal. This inequity has led many to claim that the Los Millares people were stratified, a key point in the evolution of society that most believe happened because of the Kurganization of Europe (the spread of the more patriarchal, hierarchical and war-like society from the eastern part of Europe that occurred around the time of the Chalcolithic).

Furthering the notion of Kurganization are the massive walls around the settlement. Why would you need walls if you're peace loving? The walls seem to have worked though as Los Millares dates from around 3200 BC and lasts until around 2300 BC. During this reign a number of other similar fortified settlements pop up across the Iberian peninsula, that many believe Los Millares began to dominate. These walled settlements like the ones at Cabrera de Mar near Barcelona. A lot of these settlements are in the south and along the eastern coast of Spain. There are two basic thoughts to these walled settlements popping up during the heyday of Los Millares. Either, they built these walls because they were a part of some regional group presumably dominated by the larger Los Millares or, they built the walls because the Los Millares were freaking bullies, using their huge 1000 people population to amass huge raiding forces for the day. Either way, Los Millares seems to have influenced southern and eastern Spain in a huge way.

But, it also had an impact on the rest of the peninsula as another famous Chalcolithic site, the Vila Nova de São Pedro in Portugal displays striking similarities to Los Millares. This is a distance of roughly 900 km. But, that pales in comparison to the similarities between Los Millares and Monte d'Accoddi which are, by way of mapquest, an astounding 1736 km apart. Of course this distance is made all the more difficult by the fact that Monte d'Accoddi is on the island of Sardinia and so the architects inspired by Los Millares would have had to cross the Mediterranean to take the ideas back home with them. And my guess is that the mapquest route back then didn't entail a safe little ferry ride from Marseille.

In this artist rendition of Los Millares you can see the three sets of fortification. At the very top there is a ring of stone protecting the most important people of the settlement (presumably). The middle section would have then housed most of the inhabitants. The outer wall would have initially been a buffer space but as the settlement grew later houses were built in this area. You can see the little cup like things in this drawing. These are the bastions that probably served as lookout points or areas from which they could defend the settlement from.


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