Ancient Vineyards Discovered In Spain
December 24, 2013

Archaeologists Find Evidence Of Ancient Vineyards In Medieval Settlement In Spain

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

According to a new report in the journal Quaternary International, archaeologists have uncovered evidence showing that a section of terraced fields farmed in 10th-century Spain were devoted to the intensive cultivation of grape vines. The vineyards were found at Zaballa, a medieval settlement abandoned in the 15th century.

“Archaeo-botanical studies of seed remains found in the excavations and pollen studies have provided material evidence of the existence of vine cultivation in a relatively early period like the 10th century,” said study author Juan Antonio Quirós-Castillo, a medieval archeologist at University of the Basque Country in Spain.

In addition to seed evidence, the study team also found metal tools that were designed specifically for vineyard use. Regarding the agrarian spaces, they noted, “...owing to the nature of the crop spaces built and the agrarian practices developed, they are not compatible with cereal crops but they are with vines,” Quirós-Castillo said.

The researchers said their discovery was the result of archaeological excavation protocols and techniques which are new in Spain. The new methods allowed the cultivated fields to be dated and the agrarian cycle to be examined.

“It is not so much about excavating a site, but about excavating landscapes,” Quirós-Castillo explained, adding that the approach revolved around getting to know the context in which archeological sites are located.

The research team also looked into a nearby site at Zornotegi, another settlement that became deserted in the 15th century. At this site, terraced fields were instead used for the cultivation of cereals.

“Zornoztegi has a completely different history,” Quirós-Castillo said. “Even though it was founded at more or less the same time, it is a much more egalitarian social community in which such significant social differences are not observed, and nor is the action of manorial powers which, in some way, undermined the balance of the community.”

According to Quirós-Castillo, the two sites are essentially small windows into the history of the region that allow for the analysis of relatively complex historical processes.

“In other words, [the sites allow us] to see how the peasant community itself gradually adapts to the political and economic changes that take place in the medieval era and later,” Quirós-Castillo said.

He added that the sites push archeologists to abandon the more conventional history of the region which “conceptualize the high medieval periods as a time of technical simplification, as a meager period in economic terms, since they point to considerable social and economic complexity. Specifically, it has been possible in these studies to see that there are various important moments in the Basque Country, 5th to 6th centuries and 10th to 11th centuries, which were decisive in the construction of our landscapes.”

The Spanish archaeologist is currently calling for the two locations to be deemed official heritage sites.

“The space for traditional crops, still easily recognizable in the landscapes closest to us, are historical spaces brimming with explanatory significance to help us understand the societies of the past; indeed, they require attention which they have not had until now,” he concluded.