Archaeological practice dedicates itself to collecting and analysing information taken from material evidence of past societies: the archaeological record. The PramCV project aims to understand early medieval rural communities by identifying and analysing all available evidence of their past existence in the Castelo de Vide territory. In order to do so we have established four major research tasks.
This is a type of field research by which archaeologists examine a particular geographical area in search for material evidence of past societies. There are several types of field survey.
Within PramCV we will undertake non-intrusive surveys, which mean this specific task will aim to record only what material evidence is visible in the surface. We will do so manly by a process called fieldwalking, which basically means to walk over the target area looking for any archaeological indicators. It’s through this process that we are able to identify archaeological sites. An archaeological site can be described as any place where physical remains of past human activities exist, for example, a pre-historical dolmen or the ruins of a roman villa.
For the early medieval period in the Iberian Peninsula one of the most frequent finds are rock-cut graves, which consist of single tombs cut out directly of the stone. It’s precisely for being constructed on exposed outcrops that they are so resilient are easy to identify. On the other hand, we know still very little about the daily lives of those men and women who buried themselves in these interesting graves. Regarding the world of the living, the identified material evidences are much more discreet. They can show in the form of ceramic shreds (like roof tiles from a house), carved stones from an ancient wall, or even buried rocks that indicate an underground structure. To be able to identify these evidences, as well as to accurately determine their historical period, it’s necessary to have both experience and a well-trained eye. Most of all, archaeologists need to adopt a combined approach, taking advantaged of all research tools available to better understand the archaeological record.
A geographic information system (GIS) is a set of informatics tools designed to capture, store, manipulate, analyse, manage, and present spatial or geographical data.
The uses of GIS in archaeology were evident practically since their early development, as many of the information produced and manipulated in archaeological research carries a spatial component.
Working with GIS will allow us to: organize all the information obtained in the field; efficiently manage the field surveys and understand fundamental aspects regarding the remains identified during surveys.
With the GIS project we will be able to draw distribution maps containing the different types of finds together with geological, agricultural, hydrographical and orographic data. Managing this data using GIS will help us to determine the connection between residential, productive and funeral spaces and to understand which areas of Castelo de Vide’s territory the early medieval peasant communities preferred.
In archaeology the term excavation is applied to the exposure, processing and recording of archaeological remains. This procedure consists basically of unearthing the remains by systematically removing the layers of earth that cover them, while fully documenting the entire process. In doing so we must secure as much information as possible.
Why? Because deep down this is a destructive process. When we begin the excavation of, for example, the ruins of an early medieval household, the layers of sediment we remove – called the stratigraphy – will be impossible to dig up again. It was this aspect of the archaeological practice that led Phillip Barker to popularize the term “the unrepeatable experience”. Archaeologists must keep this in mind at all times and ensure thoroughness in all aspects of their work. It is by carefully recording the stratigraphy and by analysing its behaviour that we are able to reconstruct the archaeological site’s formation process.
Excavations by PramCV will be conducted mainly in remains of households and related productive areas. We expect to identify structures such as farms with material remains that will allow us to document the way of life and agricultural practices of these past rural communities.
The process of studying archaeological materials recovered during field surveys and excavations aims to understand the early medieval material record. In archaeology, the term material record refers to all physical evidence representing the environment of a specific society or culture.
In the case of early medieval rural communities, most of the material remains that make it to the present are ceramic shreds, since these survive in almost any environment. These materials may be related to construction, like in the case of roof tiles, or with domestic use, such as pieces of pots.
Stone materials are another frequent find, press weights (for olive oil and/or whine extraction) manual millstones (used in the grinding of cereals into flour) and sharpening stones, for knives. Less frequently, we are also able to identify metallic pieces and slags that reveal evidence of metal forging. In cases of exceptional preservation we may also find organic elements used by men, to which we call biofacts, like seeds or grains.
The analysis of these material remains allows us to determine activities undertook by past people, for example, what type of agriculture they practiced and how did they interacted with their natural surroundings. The comparative study of recovered artefacts may also allow us to determine commercial exchanges of both products and raw materials. It is also thanks to the material remains that we are often able to more accurately date archaeological sites, both from organic materials (through carbon dating analysis) and by identifying parallels for the artefacts.