Several years ago we visited the remarkable prehistoric site of La Bastida, near Totana and were amazed at the large village (even town!) which had existed here some 4000 years ago. In July 2015, we revisited the site to take advantage of the advertised free guided tour one Sunday morning.
You can obtain information about visits (and put your name down to go) by contacting the Totana Tourist Office either online or by telephone on 968 418 153. There are even occasional tours arranged in English.
We were totally astonished on our visit in July 2015 at the massive progress in excavating the site of La Bastida and how far things had moved on very recently.
La Bastida was first excavated in the late 19th Century, at a time when wider discoveries in such places as Alicante, Jaen and Almeria led to the acceptance of there having been a distinct civilisation exhibiting common traits during the second millennium BC – the Argaric Civilisation. La Bastida itself was undoubtedly the centre or capital of a much wider territorial area, with many smaller surrounding settlements essentially being its “tributaries”. Food could, therefore, be brought in from the surrounding area to help feed the population and various trades could be sustained in the town. The flatter valley lands nearby would have been a major source of grain and animals. The abandonment of the settlement something over 3000 years ago remains a mystery. There are no signs, for example, of a catastrophic fire or destruction and the insidious effects of climate change at the time are still seen as the most likely cause.
What has changed on the ground at La Bastida?
The first striking feature was the immense amount of work undertaken since 2012 to reveal the walls defending the settlement on one side. The main access point to the town was along the side where the wall was constructed. This was the area of easiest access, without the natural defences of steep and rocky slopes which dominate other sides. Seven metre high towers defended the entrance and the whole structure must have required an enormous amount of effort and resource to construct. Incredibly, the nature of the wall discovered at La Bastida is unique in Western Europe and you have to go to Turkey, Syria and the Eastern Mediterranean to find anything similar.
At the other side of the entry track at this point are the foundations of a house, although this area and others were damaged or destroyed just after the Spanish Civil War, for access in tree replanting. However, an excellent English/Spanish explanatory signboard here shows the extent of the site of La Bastida and of the defensive walls which have led to parallels being drawn between it and ancient Troy. Indeed, La Bastida has been christened as “Troy of the West”! The Argaric town covered an area of some 4.4 hectares.
Much further work has also been done on the burials at La Bastida. These show significant social stratification. Also, around 80% of the burials were of children, attesting the high rate of infant mortality which may have been due, in part at least, to the very basic diet.
One of the houses (or at least the remains of the foundations) visited on the tour was the “Taller de Molienda” (the grinding workshop) which had fully 13 burials discovered within it. The primary activity of those who lived here was grinding grain (barley) and in all, sixteen grinding stones were found. The skeletal remains of those buried in this house confirm that they were involved in work such as corn grinding. We were also shown the remains of the “Taller Metalúrgica” (metal workshop). The discovery of crucibles and moulds give clear evidence of the metalworking which took place in this building. There were four hearths and an ash tip. Another building on which there has been recent excavation work, was the “butchers’ and bone workshop”. At one end, you could see two small separate rooms. One had been used to produce bone implements and ornaments, and the other flint scrapers.
One interesting feature of the settlement is the absence of any public squares. Houses, which were flat roofed (esparto was used to bind roof materials) and with lime coated walls, were crowded in with the streets or passageways between them being no more than perhaps a metre’s width. A possible public building has, however, been identified. This was probably not a permanent residence and there was no evidence of any interments inside it. It was likely to have had two floors based upon the width of the walls and the size of the wood supports used. Two water containers had been identified in the floor and copper ingots had also been discovered during the excavations, suggesting that the building may also have served as a “secure” storage area. Also found were ivory buttons from northern Africa and other items traced to Africa, thus showing widespread trading links even at this early time.
Since our previous visit to La Bastida, considerable further excavation work had been done on the “balsa” or reservoir. This has shown it to be the largest feature of its type so far discovered in Europe. A dam was built at one end of the reservoir to enable additional water to be caught and stored.
The final building remains we came to were those of a store or warehouse, principally for grain (barley). Vessels found here appeared to correspond to grain rations for one person for 1, 2 or 3 days according to size. Seven large pottery vessels were also found capable of storing over 3500 rations. An oven had also been located in this building. The building had also had a stone bench at one side with the top shaped to take the large Argaric pots.
After the tour, we returned to the visitors’ centre which is intended to become a museum in due course. One or two items are currently displayed here such as three reconstructed original funeral urns in glass cases. If these, impressive as they are, appear very small for a human body, this is because the bodies of the deceased were manipulated after rigor mortis had passed, into a crouched position and bound up before being pushed into the urn or tomb.
Article by Clive and Rosie Palmer, who have written several guide books on towns and regions in Murcia. The books are available, from www.lulu.com, or contact email@example.com. Exploring Murcia, Days Out and Exploring Murcia – Cartagena are available to buy from the Costa Cálida Chronicle office on Camposol B, or phone Patti on 968 433 978.