El Pedroso

View of El PedrosoEl Pedroso is an isolated granite mountain close to the border between Portugal and Spain. It is located at the edges of the upper Douro valley and the Spanish Meseta, between Braganca and Zamora.

Two major archaeological sites have been known on the mountain since the 1970s: a walled enclosure was built during the third millennium BC and contained a number of circular houses, an arrowhead workshop and the remains of a tower. There is a decorated cave on the lower slope. In 1998 a new investigation of the site began, conducted jointly by the Reading department and the Universities of Valladolid and Santiago de Compostela.

Our contribution to this project was to investigate the cave. This is a strange structure, formed from natural fissures in a huge granite outcrop . It has two chambers.The first is decorated entirely with cup marks like those found widely in the landscape of northern Portugal. This part of the site is separated from an inner chamber by a narrow tunnel, which may have been partly blocked in prehistory. Beyond this barrier the rock art changes and the walls are decorated with a variety of abstract images as well as a series of stylised human figures. Similar designs can be found at remote locations in the wider landscape and also in the depths of megalithic tombs.

Outside the cave there are two massive stone terraces which were only discovered when the vegetation was stripped from this part of the site. The upper terrace is a most substantial structure with a retaining wall.The lower terrace is less well preserved but was built in the same manner.

El Pedroso - inside the chamberThe main objective of excavation was to assess the archaeological potential of the site. The cave proved to contain an extraordinary quantity of artefacts. The first chamber of the cave included decorated pottery, arrowheads, a stone axe and two tiny pieces of metal. The inner chamber contained an equally rich collection of artefacts, including a quantity of pottery, as well as a Palmela point. The external terrace provided the site for an oval platform, the superstructure of which had been set on fire. This was associated with Beaker pottery. At present, the decorated cave is interpreted as a sanctuary rather than a settlement and, in its final phase, it may even have been used for burials.

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