Prehistoric Town of La Bastida near Totana continued An abundance of remains have been found at La Bastida. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most numerous have been pieces of pottery such as vessels used for storage, cooking, eating and drinking. The ceramic vessels would be made in small ovens outside the houses. Particularly striking were large “orzas”, some 90cms high and 60cms across in which cereals were kept. Then, there are typical cups from the Argaric Era with their careful finish and occasional metallic lustre which have proved frequent finds at La Bastida. The Argaric People found a new process for creating such a metallic sheen on pots. Half way through firing them, the pots were rubbed in one direction along the clay material to give this sheen at the end of the process. Argaric Pots are, in fact, of a very distinct nature and 8 typical designs have been identified. Their “cups”, for example, had a strangely unique and uneven pattern at their base and were particularly large, perhaps used as communal drinking vessels.
Many stone tools have also been found, including crushers, mortars, hammers and knife grinders. Bone needles and clay loom weights are among other finds. These loom weights show that flax was an important material in the community. Remnants have been found next to copper objects (which changed the flax composition and helped preserve it) which show some of the material was remarkably fine. Wool and other natural materials were also worked. More exotic objects have also been uncovered such as metal ingots, ready for working into weapons or tools. There was a rich source of copper, for example, in one of the Sierras adjacent to La Bastida. While we were being shown the archaeological laboratory at La Bastida, on display was a pair of superb silver earrings which had been turned up on the site.
But, to us, one of the most striking features is the large number of burials found under the floors of houses, though in some cases, tombs have been robbed in the past. Apparently, as many as one in five of burials actually took place inside the houses. A majority of these were of infants under the age of five, buried in small ceramic vessels with just a few grave goods to accompany them. It seems that, especially toward the end of the Argaric Period, infant mortality was high, due to infectious diseases and deficiencies in diet. However, some have even questioned whether infanticide was practiced on account of the very large number of such burials. Other tombs housed two individuals, but very few were of old people. Analysis of skeletons suggests that arthritis was quite common in women in the elbows and knees, perhaps associated with milling, while, in men, spinal column problems probably resulted from carrying heavy objects.
Burial, in a pot or urn, became the norm at the time of La Bastida’s peak and thereafter. Previous to this, most burials appear rather to have been in stone “coffins” about a metre long and 0.8 metres wide placed in a ditch and covered. For adults, the urns used in this later period could be of considerable size. The burial procedure would be to dig a ditch along part of the house floor, often at the foot of or close to a wall. The urn was put in a horizontal position in the ditch with stones carefully placed around it. The body with its grave goods would be placed inside the urn and its top closed with a large stone and other material before other stones were put in front of it. Earth and stones were then used to replace the house floor! Other interesting tombs have been found, including that of a high caste woman toward the top of the hill, whose grave goods included a necklace with fossilised shark’s teeth in it. Also, there was a warrior’s tomb with one of the largest halberd heads (a combined lance and axe like weapon) of this era ever found, made of well preserved copper. There was also evidence of the shaft. A superb dagger was among the other remarkable finds. It is perhaps a pity that the tombs cannot be left in situ in the house floors to be seen by visitors today, but they would clearly fill with water and degenerate. However, replicas may be possible in the future.
Perhaps, therefore, we can now understand why La Bastida, near Totana, is regarded as one of Western Europe’s most important Argaric Sites. At the time of its greatest splendour some 3600-3700 years ago, La Bastida had a population of around 1200 people and would have been one of Western Europe’s largest settlements! It would have been a true city with the area surrounding it, also well settled, under its control.
What happened to La Bastida and why did it suddenly disappear towards the end of the second millennium BC, being abandoned by its inhabitants? The short answer is that we do not know, but La Bastida was not alone. About 3600 years ago the Argaric Civilisation seems to have begun to mysteriously disappear from the archaeological record. One suggestion is that it may have sown the seeds of its own downfall. According to one study, about 4200 years ago, significant amounts of charcoal began to appear, perhaps because the Bronze Age Argaric People were setting fire to forests in an attempt to clear them for grazing and other uses. What seems clear is that, within 300 years, the diverse forest eco-system previously visible in the pollen records had been replaced in many cases by fire-prone Mediterranean scrub. The resultant degradation of soils and vegetation may well have caused major problems for the Argaric Agricultural Economy, especially as populations increased. Climate change may also have played a part as it was becoming more arid.
La Bastida is, therefore, a real treasure, well meriting the emphasis which is now being given to it. If you are interested in visiting it, then you should call in (or ring – 968 42 39 02) the Totana Tourist Office in the Town Hall in Totana and they will be able to tell you what may be possible, but go if you have the opportunity to see a real settlement from prehistory!
Part taken from “Exploring Murcia – A Guide to Totana, Alhama de Murcia, Aledo, Pliego and the Sierra Espuña”, by Clive and Rosie Palmer which is available from www.lulu.com or contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Clive and Rosie Palmer have written several guide books on towns and regions in Murcia. Copies of some of the books may also be available from Cosas y Cosas, Cehegin and Best Wishes, Camposol Urbanización.