A national project will document some 50,000 ceramics from the Els Trocs Cave
Cristina G. Pedraz/DICYT Scientists of the Research Group into the Recent Prehistory and Protohistory of the Spanish northern plateau of the University of Valladolid, led by the lecturer Manuel Rojo Guerra , are working on the 2013-2016 National Research Plan Paths of the Neolithic II: analysis and documentation. Its ultimate objective is to study and record all the material from the various excavations carried out since 2009 in the Els Trocs Cave in the Aita Ribagorza region in the province of Huesca, a Neolithic site some 7,300 years old.
The initiative is a continuation of a previous project of the National Research Plan, Paths of the Neolithic I, which was carried out between 2010 and 2012. As the lecturer Manuel Rojo Guerra explains, after more than a decade working on the Neolithic period in the Valle de Ambrona in the province of Soria in central Spain, the question arose as to how these peoples had reached the area.
“These Neolithic populations came from somewhere and the similarities of the material culture took us back to the Ebro Valley. This is why we designed Paths of the Neolithic with the idea of determining if real paths actually existed to allow the peoples to bring the new way of life of the Neolithic to central Spain”, he points out.
In prehistory paths were essentially those of rivers. For this reason the project suggested the possibility of studying the neolithisation along the Ebro Valley. “We planned three projects for three different sites, considering all possible options for the arrival of the Neolithic peoples inland. We researched the Els Trocs Cave in the Pyrenees; the Abrigo de Artusia in Unzué in Navarra, and the Abrigo de Valmayor XI at the Mequinenza Reservoir”, Rojo explains.
At the Abrigo de Artusia (from 8,500 to 6,000 B.C.), which has a very wide range of strata, no connection was found between the new Neolithic and the Epipaleolithic peoples who lived there: the whole sequence was Mesolithic. Nevertheless, "at this site we discovered a number of interesting things. For example, we have detected very clearly two very important climatic episodes for the Holocene, the 8.5 and the 8.2 arid events that had not been revealed as such in the sequences of Spanish sites. We can see how these dry periods had such an influence on cultural change, on the transition between the Mesolithic of notched and denticulate tools to the geometric Mesolithic”.
On the other hand, the Abrigo de Valmayor XI (approximately 5,600-5,000 B.C.) is an unusual site as it is hidden beneath the waters of the Mequinenza Reservoir. In 2009 the latter fell to 46 per cent of its capacity to reveal the site. The researchers excavated there immediately but this has not been possible again. “We have not been able to return because the water level has not fallen again. Here we found a very interesting sequence of strata with a Mesolithic level, a Mesolithic level with ceramics, and a Neolithic level, and up to a point this interaction can be seen”, Rojo points out.
A life of migrant shepherds
On the contrary, the ecology of the Els Trocs Cave is an upland one and here we find true colonisation. “The cave was first occupied during the Neolithic by populations that were already consolidated and which exploited the environment in a relatively developed manner, practising transhumance and only living there in the spring. This is why 80 to 90 per cent of the 23,000 bones that have been found are of sheep and goats”, the research director summarises.
Since 2009 Els Trocs has been excavated for five seasons with the participation not only of researchers from the University of Valladolid, but also of specialists from the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid and the University of the Basque Country, technicians from the Regional Government of Aragon, and other collaborators such as professional archaeologists and PhD students.
The excavations have been financed by the National Plan project and also by the German Foundation for Research, the Agriwestmed project financed by the European Research Council and led by the researcher Leonor Peña Chocarro of the Higher Council for Scientific Research (Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, CSIC), the Regional Government of Aragon, and the Arcadia Institute for Cultural Promotion directed by Manuel Rojo Guerra himself.
Paths of the Neolithic II
The project Paths of the Neolithic II: analysis and documentation will study and record all the material from the Els Trocs Cave. In addition to the huge number of sheep and goats, it has also been possible to extract well preserved nuclear DNA from the cave and some 50.000 fragments of ceramics. “When the first inhabitants reached this cold wet cave, they paved the whole of the floor with ceramics. This is why we are finding several superimposed layers of ceramics. We have calculated from the number of the fragments of decorated pieces that we will have to draw some 4,000 items”, the researcher declares.
The idea is therefore to use a different documentation system based on photogrammetry (a technique that allows the determining of the geometric properties of objects and spatial situations from photographs). Instead of drawing each item by hand therefore, the profile will be represented and the photograph will be superimposed in 3D. “This procedure is quicker and will reflect the volumes faithfully”, he concludes.