Assembling the dead, gathering the living: radiocarbon dating and Bayesian modelling for Copper Age Valencina de la Concepcion (Seville, Spain)



Garcia Sanjuan L, Vargas Jimenez JM, Caceres Puro LM, Costa Carame ME, Diaz-Guardamino-Uribe M, Diaz-Zorita Bonilla M, Fernandez Flores A, Hurtado Perez V, Lopez Aldana PM, Mendez Izquierdo E, Panjuela Pando A, Rodriguez Vidal J, Wheatley D, Bronk Ramsey C, Delgado-Huertas A, Dunbar E, Mora Gonzalez A, Bayliss A, Beavan N, Hamilton D & Whittle A (2018) Assembling the dead, gathering the living: radiocarbon dating and Bayesian modelling for Copper Age Valencina de la Concepcion (Seville, Spain). Journal of World Prehistory, 31 (2), pp. 179-313.

The great site of Valencina de la Concepción, near Seville in the lower Guadalquivir valley of south-west Spain, is presented in the context of debate about the nature of Copper Age society in southern Iberia as a whole. Many aspects of the layout, use, character and development of Valencina remain unclear, just as there are major unresolved questions about the kind of society represented there and in southern Iberia, from the late fourth to the late third millennia cal BC. This paper discusses 178 radiocarbon dates, from 17 excavated sectors within the 450ha site, making it the best dated in later Iberian prehistory as a whole. Dates are formally modelled in a Bayesian statistical framework. The bulk of samples were chosen from the varied mortuary contexts, from pits and artificial caves to megalithic tholos tombs, which constitute a major part of the archaeology of Copper Age Valencina. The resulting formal date estimates provide the basis for both a new epistemological approach to the site as well as a much more detailed narrative of its development than previously available. Beginning in the 32nd century cal BC, a long-lasting tradition of simple, mainly collective and often successive burial was established at the site. There is plenty of evidence for a wide range of other activity, but no clear sign of permanent, large-scale residence or public buildings or spaces. Probably by the 30th or 29th century cal BC, a new form of mortuary practice had emerged alongside older traditions, in the shape of the distinctive megalithic tholos tombs, some of which contained exotic and abundant goods accompanying the dead. Though the models lack precision, this phase of showy funerals and social display, perhaps aimed at establishing new forms of descent and social hierarchisation partly based on the manipulation of the past, may not have lasted much beyond the 28th century cal BC. It is possible that activity as a whole had declined before the middle of the third millennium cal BC, and around 2500 cal BC, dated sectors indicate further changes in mortuary practice, with possible single events, containing in one instance signs of defleshing (perhaps associated with violence); by this date, Bell Beaker pottery was present on the site. Major monuments such as La Pastora and Matarrubilla were probably also late constructions. At least some of the ditches known at the site probably also belong late in the sequence. Overall, a pattern is indicated of initial establishment and consolidation of mortuary tradition, followed by the emergence of the more elaborate tholos architecture and the sometimes exotic contents. Funerary activity probably declined in intensity in the second quarter of the third millennium cal BC but was followed by a resurgence including the construction of the grand tholos of La Pastora in the generations around 2500 cal BC. This resurgence was relatively brief and the intensive funerary activity probably ended during the 24th century cal BC. Results in general support a model of increasingly competitive but ultimately unstable social relations.

Southern Iberia; Copper Age; settlement; mortuary practice; radiocarbon dating; formal chronological modelling; social change

Journal of World Prehistory: Volume 31, Issue 2

Publication date30/06/2018
Publication date online19/05/2018
Date accepted by journal15/03/2018

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Professor Alexandra Bayliss

Professor Alexandra Bayliss

Professor, Biological and Environmental Sciences