Bronze Age Europe

Working in the palace of the Queen She-Wolf: the Mallou hilltop fort in Galicia


The impressive location of the Mallou hilltop fort.

An independent team of archaeologists, journalists, anthropologists and people from many different disciplines and professions is working on the last two weeks of July in the hillfort of Mallou, led by archaeologist Anton Malde and the popular science writer and university professor Manuel Gago. This is a public archeology project promoted by the  Council of Carnota.


Main gates at Mallou hilltop fort

The hillfort of Mallou is a small fortified town on the Atlantic coast Galician striking monumental in its structures (especially the walls and the original door),  original configuration (a combination of large elongated structures near the wall and small circular huts in the center) and its excellent state of preservation, which allows understanding the original urban even without digging! The village, inhabited by Iron Age people of the Celtici Supertamarici  (the Celts located at North of the Tambre River) offers a unique perspective for the end of the Iron Age II on the Atlantic coast, very little known from a scientific point of view. The two closest excavated forts are more than 60km away.


South Walls

The fort has an important symbolic role for the local community, which identifies this as the residence of the famous Queen Lupa (The Queen She-Wolf), the mythical pagan figure who allowed disciples of St. James burying the body of the saint in the sacred woods of Libredón.

But the Mallou Castro Project is also special for the attention given to the local community and public archeology. Although the archaeological team has eight experienced professionals in the field, the design of this action encourages the participation of the local community and everyonge interested in archeology, through activities adapted to the conditions of training, health and interests of the participants in the project. The aim is involving society in the process of building knowledge and creating experiences and strategies for the local community to be the leading advocate and user of the archaeological site.

Thus, the project offers volunteers a wide range of activities: since cleaning the dense fields, support archaeologist technical tasks, and even literary workshops on writing historical tales. Over sixty volunteers from Mallou villaje and allGalicia are involved in the project for one or more days, enriching the local tourist economy and creating a new way of relating to heritage.

Connect live from 18:00 h. Friday July 26

Live streaming video by Ustream

Ses Talaies

The entrance (facing west) of the Talaiot at Ses Talaies

On my route to the centre of the island I stopped by at a site I know since it crossed my way by chance several years ago. It’s one of the around five hundred Talaiotic sites known on Mallorca.

Ses Talaies in Google Maps

Ses Talaies is a wonderful place. The old cyclopic walls surrounding a circular Talaiot that has obviously been excavated professionally (trenches still discernable) are sticking out here and there in between the ‘modern’ rubble walls limiting the parcels of land.

Old and 'modern' stone walls at Ses Talaies

The fields close to the Talaiot are full of objects on the surface esp. pottery. One of the old walls is attached to the Talaiot providing ground for dense vegetation of wild olives and almond trees.

I spend about an hour in the shade at the foot of the Talaiot making up my mind on an abstract I submitted just before starting the holidays.

Why that?

I’m invited for a conference in Cairo in October to deliver a keynote on building archaeology and its methods that are supposed to be strongly influenced by modern technology. For many good reasons the organisers of conferences want to have a summary of what will be presented months before the actual event – this summary is also known as an abstract and it has strong implications for the authors. Mostly you have to summarise first and write the talk later. Not always easy especially when you’re asked to contribute something basic and well thought on the methods of an archaeological discipline.

I usually start with a mindmap. It’s a handmade drawing with keywords. The main topics show up early. This basic concept is then complemented with arguments also interconnected with arrows etc. In the end it doesn’t look good, but it’s sufficient to derive a summary.

I have this mindmap with me, so in very relaxed moments I take it out and look at it and bits and pieces of how to communicate the different arguments come into my mind being written down instantly.

People who know me might find in surprising, but it’s still all by hand. I tried to use mindmapping software tools , but it’s not really working out.

So at least I did something quite typical for an archaeologist today…

Please note: When I visit sites that are not prepared for visitors I

  • do not climb on walls
  • do not pick up anything (not even pottery from the surface)
  • and, of course, don’t take anything with me

To keep the archaeological record intact is extremely important. Ses Talaies might be subject of full archaeological investigations in several decades only. We have no idea about techniques applied in the future. The past twenty years most certainly only offer a glimpse on the changes to come.

A brief visit to South Cadbury

Whilst working at Ham Hill in Somerset it would be a crime not to visit any of the other archaeology in the area so today I went on a brief visit with some of the students to South Cadbury. 

A cool site, very dramatic, as hillforts tend to be, and relativly easy to see and understand.  Its just pasture on top with some wooded areas on a limited area of the ramparts, making for good preservation and easy access. 

It is a shame that there is limited interpretation on site, with just one small scratched panel in the car park.   The local pub however have made us of this and have a small but good display all along one wall!  Heritage can bring in business!


New Bronze Age finds at the British Museum: When…

So, I’ve just completed 4 hours of looking at one of the new hoards at the British Museum.

To put the next few posts about what I spent that time doing into context we’ll start with ‘when’ the European Bronze Age, and more specifically British Bronze Age, was.

For those that know nothing about the Bronze Age, here’s a couple of links:

The British Late Bronze Age lasted from 1300-600 BC. This period is broken down in to a small number of phases, based on the bronze objects types, which we call LBA (Late Bronze Age) 1, 2, 3 and 4. These four metalworking phases have been given names taken from sites or finds that somehow best seem to describe what was around at the time. These are Penard, Wilburton, Ewart Park and Llyn Fawr. Of course, there were different things happening all over Britain, and lots of regional traditions in terms of the types of objects they had, and therefore different areas such as southeast England, western England, northern England, Wales and Scotland all have slightly different names for these phases, so as to reflect these local conditions. The phases I’ve mentioned mainly apply to southeast England but are applicable for England as a whole for the most part.

Although many researchers have contributed to this scheme over the years, and certain details have changed significantly, particualrly in light of new scienetific techniques in dating, this basic scheme was laid down as early as 1881 in a wonderfully modern book called ‘ The Ancient Bronze Implements, Weapons and Ornaments, of Great Britain and Ireland’. In the study of bronze objects, new isn’t always better, and I and many others, still use this book today.

The hoard I was invited to look at came from our Late Bronze Age 2 phase, or Ewart Park phase. Some of the objects from this phase have been illustrated below. This phase is characterised, above all else, by the many hundreds of groups or ‘hoards’ of bronze objects, many of which appear in broken or damaged condition, and then buried in the ground.

  Today, many of these hoards are found by metal detectorists, and often end up in a local museum where the objects are identified, not just for dating purposes but also to help tell us a little more about the lives of people at that time.

How do we do that? Essentially, we play a game of snap…


Lunch eaten… More PhD stuff!

Unfortunately the camera has died on me, I’m an idiot for forgetting the charger so no more pictures or videos :(.  So here is a bit of improvisation instead…

This is a digitised version of Broxmouth, the excavation archive I am working on.  There were three entrances, two visible on cropmarks but a third was discovered in the west, having been blocked up after a short period of use.  Seven houses were identified in the interior however there are the remains of several structures both underlying and overlying the inner ditch in the west.  There are also structures overying the infilled south-west entrance ditches as well as more ephemeral postholes, pits etc scattered between the houses.  There is also a cemetery to the north containing ten individuals to nine graves.  This is unusual for an Iron Age site and it was found by accident when a trench was initially put on the north side to investigate the ditches on that side.  The project is currently awaiting radiocarbon dates to help flesh out the stratigraphic sequence of the site but we have occupation evidence tentatively going back to the early Iron Age, if not the late Bronze Age and the latest date we have so far is post 400AD which shows this site has a long history!


Back to my actual day… In typical fashion I have moved onto something slightly different.  It is quite easy when you are this close to handing in for PhD fatigue to set in so to prevent too much procrastination and boredom, I am currently re-assessing my area size analysis.  I have a specific study area in East Lothian to investigate the later prehistoric settlement in the area, broadly contemporary with Broxmouth.  I measured all the internal areas of the enclosed sites (note: I don’t believe in the hillfort/enclosure division, not in this particular area!) and analysed the varying sizes according to their shape and number of ditches to see if there are any notable patterns.  Right now I am pondering over whether large single ditched enclosed sites could be comparable to the Wessex examples.  The Wessex Hillforts Project found that large, single ditched sites tended to be devoid of internal features (seen from geophysical surveys) therefore may have been meeting places or ceremonial sites as opposed to settlements.  However care has to be taken in comparing two wildly disparate geopraphical areas, and also the Wessex examples are several hectares in size.  My sites are no larger than a hectare (with the exeption of Traprain Law).  However, it could be a useful analogy!

Introduction to a day of ‘post-ex’, research and education

I’m taking part in the Day of Archaeology to demonstrate that there’s more to archaeology than digging. I’m current involved in archaeological  research, although I also teach archaeology (primarily within the Adult Education sector, but I have taught workshops in schools). At present, I am preparing to teach a workshop on Derbyshire in the Roman period and early Middle Ages, writing up research I undertook whilst at the University of Sheffield, and completing post-excavation analysis on the late pre-Roman Iron Age (LPRIA), Roman, and early medieval activity at Crickley Hill, Gloucestershire, in order to write volume 6 in the series of site reports in this series. For more information on this work, I’ve started a website, but I’ve provided a summary of the site here.