Rock-cut graves

A Day with PRAM-CV: researching Early Medieval rural settlements in Castelo de Vide (Portugal)

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Pram-CV is a research project in archaeology which aims to study the early medieval peasant communities that lived in the territory of Castelo de Vide, a Portuguese village in the northern region of Alentejo. The Pram-CV is hosted by the Institute of Medieval Studies (IEM, FCSH/NOVA) and supported by the Câmara Municipal of Castelo de Vide.

This year we are back to Castelo de Vide for another summer of archaeological field work and public outreach.

As a way of trying to get the local community involved into our research, this year we are promoting the program “Archaeologist for a day”. By giving the participants a taste of what real day to day archaeology feels like, we hope to achieve a better understanding of the archaeological practice and create lasting bonds with the archaeological Heritage.

On this Day of Archaeology a team of PramCV researchers is digging a test-pit inside an early medieval farmhouse. Our average day goes like this:

We leave the village at 6:00 a.m. sharp and arrive at the site after a 15-minute jeep ride and a 10-minute walk.

As soon as we arrive we take advantage of the fact that the sun is not fully out yet and usually take extra pictures. This year we are using photogrammetry as a recording tool and so far, it has been working pretty well.

Then we carry on with the excavation. Due to the acidity of the granite soils we’re working in, it’s very difficult to recover organic materials. Most of our findings include pottery shards, metal utensils and slags and stone tools. All meaningful finds locations are recorded inside the excavation grid through three-dimensional referenciation (x, y and z coordinates).

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By 9:00 we take a small break to have something to eat and stretch our legs and backs.

We keep on digging until about 1:00 p.m. By this time the temperature is around 40º Celsius and its time to head back. We usually have a beer at Martinho’s, a small bar just outside the village.

Then we have lunch at the village’s Cultural Centre, cooked by Dona Antónia, our beloved cook. We always have vegetable soup, a second dish usually made with local products and a piece of fruit as desert.

After a well-deserved shower and a small break, we go back to work in the office. This includes the treatment and analysis of the ceramic finds (washing, inventory, description), organizing the excavation pictures and drawings… we keep on working until about 7:30 p.m. when it’s time for another beer just before dinner. Some days we have snails, a very typical appetizer during the Portuguese summer.

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The next day we’re off again at 6:00 a.m. so we usually go to bed really early.

This is the 3rd year we’ve been excavating within the PramCV project. The results obtained so far show evidence of a complex rural society that farmed this land between the 5th and the 8th centuries. We have already excavated several farmsteads with evidence of both living areas (fireplaces, domestic pottery…) and associated activities, such as weaving, forge and cereal grinding. We have also excavated olive press structures that seem to be in use at the same time. Both domestic and productive structures were usually covered by roof tiles. We have been systematically recording the weight of all tile fragments recovered, allowing to reconstruct tiles density and dispersion. We have weighed more than 3500 kg so far!

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At the same time, in all the identified archaeological sites we have rock-cut graves, dug into granite outcrops located near the houses and press structures. There are several theories about the meaning of this unusual funerary structures but one thing seems clear so far: they were built in direct co-relation with the structures and thus play a major role during surface surveys.

In August we will be excavating with a group of archaeology students from the FCSH of Nova University Lisbon and hoping to have more “Archaeologists for a Day”!

For more details: http://arqueopramcv.jimdo.com/

The project’s video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ocBMcfYuv4g

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Pram-CV: Looking for the early medieval peasants in northwestern Serra de São Mamede (Castelo de Vide, Portugal).

Pram-CV is a research project in archaeology which aims to study the early medieval peasant communities that lived in the territory of Castelo de Vide, a Portuguese village in the northern Alentejo region. The Pram-CV is hosted by the Institute of Medieval Studies (IEM, FCSH/NOVA) and supported by the Câmara Municipal of Castelo de Vide.

Fig1 PramCV

On this Day of Archaeology a team of Pram-CV researchers dug test pits on the archaeological site of Tapada das Guaritas. The results obtained so far suggest the presence of an olive mill, dated from the transition between Late Antiquity and Early Medieval periods (5th-7th centuries). Another sector of this same site was already excavated in august of 2014 by the Pram-CV team. In that first open area excavation it was possible to identify a household structure with evidence of activities such as weaving, forge, cereal grinding… and over one hundred domestic ceramic vessels. What motivated the excavation works in the first place was the presence of several rock-cut graves in both sectors. This kind of funerary structures, most common in the Iberian Peninsula, are held as one of the most important landscape markers for analysing Early Medieval rural settlements.

Fig2 Test pit team (PramCV)

Pram-CV is a spearhead project looking forward to shed new light into the early dark ages. The works carried out so far include surface field surveys, geospatial analysis, archaeological excavations, micromorphological sampling of sediments, material culture analyses and the study of faunal and botanical remains.

Fig3 - Ceramic vessel recovery (PramCV)

Between the 10th and 30th of next August there will be a new open area excavation with Pram-CV researchers, archaeological technicians of the municipality and undergraduate students from Portuguese and Spanish universities.

Fig4 Archaeological works (PramCV)

Another of the Pram-CV’s core targets is social outreach and the involvement of the local community in these activities. Throughout August and September the new findings will be made available to the general audience trough talks, visits and exhibitions, focused on the archaeological works.

Fig5 Field record (PramCV)