The prehistoric “flower” of Santa Vitória (Campo Maior, Portugal)

The archaeological site of Santa Vitória is the first ditched enclosure excavated in Portugal and is located in Campo Maior (Portalegre), in Alentejo. It was excavated in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In these initial interventions, it was possible to identify two sinuous ditches that delimit two enclosures (which were excavated or partially surveyed), and 17 pits were also excavated. However, and due to the limited information available, a return to this site took place in 2018, with excavation campaigns up to the present year, directed by ICArEHB’s members António Carlos Valera and Ana Catarina Basílio. So far, it was possible to increase exponentially the information about the type of filling of the structures, the materialities and the social practices taking place in this archaeological site.

But what are the “Ditched Enclosures”?

Ditched enclosures can be classified as a quite diversified phenomenon and difficult to characterise since it includes sites of different dimensions, typologies, planimetry and hypothetical functionalities, not only in Portugal but throughout Neolithic and Chalcolithic Europe.

Simply put, one of the main points in common between them is the presence of negative structures (below the current ground) of the ditch type (structures of greater length) and pits (circumscribed circular structures of variable depth), with the repetition of the circular planimetry during the Chalcolithic and Neolithic. Even so, while these architectures are continuously repeated, many of them with astronomical relationships with the summer or winter solstice, the number and typology in which they appear can be quite different, being one of the differentiating elements of this type of site.

Different types of Ditched Enclosures. Monte da Contenda is located about 3.5 km from Santa Vitória

In addition to differences in architecture, distinctions in the types and quantities of artefacts present and evidence of different social practices, more or less symbolic (evidence of rituals of commensality, practices of structured deposition of materials, deposition of human remains, among others), create a clear contrast between larger sites, with more archaeological structures and greater diversity of materialities and practices, and smaller places, possibly with smaller diachronic human occupations.

So far, and after four years of work, the results from Santa Vitória have allowed us to confirm this initial idea. With a minimal number of classifiable materials, as well as the scarcity or absence of specific artefactual categories (decorated ceramics, metallurgy and especially more traditional elements in this type of sites, such as loom weights, polished stone and even knapped stone tools), it is possible to understand that Santa Vitória probably had different lifespan and functionalities when compared with Perdigões, or even with the large Ditched Enclosure of Monte da Contenda, located about 3.5 km from Santa Vitória.

However, and even with reduced artefacts, the excavations have also confirmed that both ditches had intense infilling dynamics, with various moments of recutting and refilling, as well as different structured and intentional depositions of artefacts, always following the limits of the existing lobules (the ditches are excavated in sections and not integrally).

Thus, and even with the reduced fieldwork campaigns in Santa Vitória, it is already possible to see that, within the same territories, different sites acquire very different roles, according to the visions of the world and the needs of the communities that create them, as seems to be the case of Santa Vitória.

Author: Ana Catarina Basílio

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *