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Des mouvements d’idées : des gobelets « avec ou sans corps » ?

Bell Beakers in central Iberia: keeping the ancestors’ memory alive

Les campaniformes dans le centre de la péninsule Ibérique : Conserver la mémoire des ancêtres
Corina Liesau, Patricia Ríos et Concepción Blasco
Cet article est une traduction de :
Les campaniformes dans le centre de la péninsule Ibérique : Conserver la mémoire des ancêtres [fr]

Résumés

Les études sur l’horizon campaniforme réalisées ces dernières années sur les sites du centre de la péninsule Ibérique, comme Camino de las Yeseras en San Fernando de Henares (Madrid), nous ont amenées à observer certains comportements et traditions humaines, parmi d’autres aspects, et beaucoup sont inédits d’un point de vue des rites funéraires. L’extraction et le déplacement d’ossements humains et d’une partie des biens funéraires d’une tombe à l’autre, ou vers une structure domestique, sont documentés à plusieurs reprises à Camino de las Yeseras, car les études menées sur ce site recouvrent une longue période et plusieurs projets de recherche. À ce jour, nous avons pu documenter certains schémas pour ces mouvements. L’ouverture des tombes et l’enlèvement des restes humains et des biens funéraires qui seront déposés à d’autres endroits du site comme un héritage, nous emmène dans un monde où les ancêtres étaient probablement présents dans la vie quotidienne.

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Notes de la rédaction

Translation of the English version by Karina Gerdau

Manuscript received: 18.07.2018 - Received in revised form: 23.07.2019 - Manuscript accepted: 29.08.2019

Notes de l’auteur

This work was funded by two projects: HAR2016‑77600-P: The Chalcolithic Society from the Inner Peninsula: Origins and Development of the Great Settlements from Late Prehistory. Interdisciplinary Studies. (La sociedad calcolítica en el interior peninsular: Origen y desarrollo de los grandes poblados de la Prehistoria Reciente. Estudios interdisciplinares). Ministry of Economics and Competitivity. Spanish Government. PI: C. Liesau; PID2019‑111210GB-I00: Settlement dynamics in the interior of the Iberian Peninsula, from the first Neolithic settlements to Bronze Age occupations. Ministry of Science and Innovation, Spain. (La dinámica de poblamiento en el interior peninsular desde los primeros asentamientos neolíticos hasta las ocupaciones de la edad del bronce) (Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovación), España. PIs: C. Liesau and Patricia Ríos

Texte intégral

1. Introduction: something more than scattered human remains

1Over the last decades, archaeological excavations in the region of Madrid have demonstrated that intact Bell Beaker graves are an exception rather than a rule. Some of them had somehow been altered as part of historic looting. Notwithstanding, for most, alterations of the tombs - primary or secondary burials - were made by the Bell Beakers themselves as a consequence or continuity of their so-called funerary cycle (Weiss-Krejci 2011). This affected the original structure of the tombs as well as the quality of the documentation pertaining to the archaeological record. Consequently, only the last sequence of human bone and grave good manipulations can be recorded.

2Thanks to recent archaeological interventions and the reanalysis of old excavations, this work presents new interpretative perspectives on tombs traditionally interpreted as looted or plundered. The detailed documentation and an exhaustive taphonomic study indicate that these tombs could have been altered by events other than simple looting.

3Since Neolithic times, human remains and their grave goods have been manipulated and such practices are well known in Iberia. Frequently, the skeletons in megalithic tombs appear displaced towards the walls of the main chamber, as well as skulls and long bones which were accumulated in specific locations of the tomb (Delibes de Castro et al. 1986, Andrés Rupérez 1998, Rojo Guerra et al. 2005, Etxeberría Gabilondo & Herrasti Erlogorri 2007, Valera et al. 2014, Valera 2012, Jímenez Jáimez 2010). Megalithic chambers had also been decorated with engravings and paintings on their walls (Bueno Ramirez et al. 2016a). But more exceptional was the use of pigments on the dead. Most importantly, red ochre powder was sprinkled over three bodies in the necropolis of Campo de Hockey (Cádiz; Vijande Vila 2009). In the lower level of the megalithic tomb of la Velilla (Palencia), in the northern Meseta, red ochre pigments have also been applied on dispersed bones. But in an upper level of this dolmen, a rare pigment has been used on several primary burials; they were embedded in cinnabar (HgS) powder (Delibes de Castro & Zapatero Magdaleno 1996, Delibes de Castro 2000). Cinnabar has been also documented in the dolmen of Alberite (Cádiz; Domínguez Bella 2010). During the Neolithic, this shiny red mineral was not used frequently. Nevertheless, it is also known from non-funerary contexts within caves from Valencia (García Borja et al. 2006), a flint mine deposit in Casa Montero (Hunt Ortiz et al. 2011), located near Camino de las Yeseras, or included in the matrix of Neolithic pottery (Martínez Fernández et al. 1999).

4The continuity of the accumulated and displaced bodies towards the walls of the tombs is also particularly evident in pre-Beaker Chalcolithic monuments or caves. This practice was carried out especially in collective burials with large amounts of individuals, such as the grave of Camino del Molino where more than thousands of individuals have been buried (Lomba Maurandi et al. 2009). Secondary burials are also frequent as in the tholoi type tombs of Perdigões in the southwest of Iberia or other central Iberian graves as in the cave of Juan Barbero or El Rebolosillo (Valera et al. 2014, Martínez Navarrete 1984, Díaz del Río Español et al. 2017). The use of red pigments for the dead is now more frequently documented, especially cinnabar: e.g., the cave of Juan Barbero (Rovira Llorens et al. 1984), the Tholos 1 of La Pijotilla (Hunt Ortiz & Hurtado Perez 2010), the megalithic ossuary of Santa Rita (Inácio et al. 2013) or the extraordinary dolmen of Montelirio (Fernández Flores et al. 2016, Bueno Ramirez et al. 2016b, Hunt Ortiz & Hurtado Perez 2010).

5Human post-depositional manipulations and their grave goods are well known from previous periods, but they have barely been considered for Iberian Bell Beaker funerary practices. This study reveals that these manipulations are detectable in several sites, but with new and more complex patterns than in preceding times. This contribution presents the evidence for these practices. Otherwise, we propose that the use of red pigments, especially cinnabar, was not only important for symbolical purposes during the funerals, and to better preserve the human remains for their afterlife as primary burials. It was used also for their second life through the exhumation of specific bones to be placed afterwards in other features.

6To corroborate such a hypothesis with empirical data, large well-dated sequences are required, intentionally broken artefacts must be reconstructed, old collections revisited and exhaustive bioarchaeological analyses, ancient DNA analyses, and studies on nutrition and mobility on the often scarce and poorly preserved human remains must be conducted. Furthermore, elemental analyses of pigments must be carried out on recent and old excavations to determine whether the pigments are the ubiquitous ochre or the rare cinnabar (HgS). It is also necessary to have the opportunity (and the luck!) to excavate complementary structures from the same site which can help confirm such practices, for example, the deposit of selected skeletal parts in hut features as well as pottery sherds coming from vessels found in the tombs.

7Probably, in many sites post-mortem manipulations may not be identifiable because many of the burials were excavated a long time ago and the human remains were not documented and recovered exhaustively. Otherwise taphonomic agents, such as soil acidity, sediment permeability, dissolution processes, root erosion, or post-depositional fractures due to the pressure of the in-filling and stone pebbles sealing the tombs can cause differential preservation in human remains.

8The lack of established protocols for lifting the material, the urgent character of many archaeological interventions and not floating nor sieving the funerary sediments also may have had a negative impact on the recovery rate of small osseous elements – carpals, tarsals, phalanges, sesamoids, etc. – fundamental to interpreting the primary or secondary nature of inhumations in funerary archaeology (Andrés Rupérez 1998, Duday 2006, Duday & Guillon 2006, Gómez Pérez et al. 2011, Bonnabel et al. 2012, Aliaga Almela 2014). Additionally, the circumstances motivating the extraction or relocation of certain human remains must have been extremely varied and each case must therefore be independently analysed (Liesau von Lettow-Vorbeck et al. 2014).

9Despite the difficulties discussed above and the scarce bioarchaeological published studies that are available, the practice of post-mortem manipulations is of great interest. The aim of this paper is to highlight that some of the Bell Beaker communities had a very complex and enigmatic sociocultural and symbolical funerary behaviour pattern that needs to be studied in more detail than the traditional studies of pottery and other grave goods.

10The terminology used in this contribution is according to the following authors: collective or multiple after Andrés (1998) and primary or secondary burials after Boulestin and Duday (2006). For taphonomical descriptions related to the skeletal articulations in the tombs, the criteria of Duday and Guillon (2006) are followed.

2. Human bones and grave goods from Bell Beaker tombs in motion

11Different categories of post-mortem altered tombs have been identified through exhaustive excavations and bioarchaeological studies. Some of these funerary practices, evident in Bell Beaker graves, were already present among most Neolithic and Early Chalcolithic communities.

12As is to be expected, these manipulations are rare in simple pit burials which are sealed with sediment and stone tumuli after deposition of the corpses and grave goods and in which skeletonisation occurs within a filled space. On the contrary, they are frequent in pits with niche burials or in small artificial caves excavated into the wall of the pits or in funerary hut features. In both cases, the funerary deposits tend to remain in empty spaces protected by a lithic or organic seal which could be opened when needed before the definitive closure of the tomb with large and heavy slabs or stone mounds.

13D. Antonio Vives, Permanent Antiquarian of the Royal History Academy (Real Academia de la Historia), who documented the first findings from the recovered archaeological material of the 1894 excavations in the municipal district of Ciempozuelos, was the first to record the incomplete nature of some human remains from Bell Beaker funerary contexts. The extraordinary quality of the pottery and decoration patterns of the grave goods was the reason why the discovery was published that same year (Riaño et al. 1894, Blasco Bosqued 1994). The text also describes finding ‘half a skull and around it, forming a triangle, a bowl, a carinated bowl, a Bell Beaker vessel and two copper pieces’ (Riaño et al. 1894: 437). Notwithstanding, this information was not considered important even though cranial studies took off during the 19th century. Unfortunately, in most cases the post-cranial skeleton was not recovered as it was of no interest to the physical anthropologists of the time (Antón 1897: 469, 471, Sampedro & Liesau von Lettow-Vorbeck 1998: 35). Given the trepanation on the parietal of a mature male, it was probably related to cranium no. 2, a secondary deposit described by the members of the Royal History Academy, who was surrounded by almost complete Bell Beaker package (Sampedro & Liesau von Lettow-Vorbeck 1998: 49, Liesau von Lettow-Vorbeck & Pastor Abascal 2003).

14The archaeological excavations of the 21st century, especially in the river basins of Madrid, have enabled the detailed study of several necropolises providing new insights into the funerary world and their location within long-term settlement sites. The diversity of funerary practices stands out even among spatially proximate sites such as La Magdalena in Alcalá de Henares (Heras Martínez et al. 2011, 2014a, 2014b) and Camino de las Yeseras in San Fernando de Henares (Blasco Bosqued et al. 2009, 2011, 2014, Vega Miguel et al. 2010, Gómez Pérez et al. 2011, Liesau von Lettow-Vorbeck et al. 2014, 2015).

15After more than a decade of interdisciplinary studies, there is evidence that the practice of relocating or manipulating bones is not only the reason why there are so many partial human skeletons in Bell Beaker tombs. These partial remains are also documented in some non-funerary contexts or what has been recently defined as non formalized funerary structures (Evangelista & Valera 2019), such as huts, pits or exceptional places like ditched enclosures (Blasco Bosqued et al. 2005, 2009, Vega Miguel et al. 2010, Gómez Pérez et al. 2011, Ríos Mendoza 2011, Liesau von Lettow-Vorbeck et al. 2008, 2013‑2014, 2014, 2018).

1. Sites with Bell Beaker graves mentioned in this contribution (DTM EU‑DEM v1.0, European Environment Agency‑EEA)

1. Sites with Bell Beaker graves mentioned in this contribution (DTM EU‑DEM v1.0, European Environment Agency‑EEA)

Entretérminos (1), La Magdalena (2), Camino de las Yeseras (3), Salmedina (4), El Juncal (5), Humanejos (6), Cuesta de la Reina (7), Los Yuncos (8) and Huecas (9).
Grey dots are other chalcolithic sites with Bell Beaker materials.

16Considering the current state of knowledge and the variables observed in manipulated tombs and non-funerary contexts, two categories can be established: tombs with manipulated human remains and non-funerary features with human remains.

2.1. Tombs with manipulated human remains

2.1.1 Primary deposits accompanied by secondary deposits

17This category includes four documented tombs in Camino de las Yeseras defined in the so-called funerary areas, which present hypogea and small artificial caves excavated in the walls of hut type features (30‑60 m2) with sunken floors (fig. 2).

2. Planimetry of Camino de las Yeseras with the Funerary Areas A1, A2 and A3 and a Bell Beaker grave in a pit (A21)

2. Planimetry of Camino de las Yeseras with the Funerary Areas A1, A2 and A3 and a Bell Beaker grave in a pit (A21)

(Argea Consultores, S.L.)

18In principle, some tombs were used for successive burials. When further individuals were added, pre-existing primary burials were simply displaced in order to make room for the new deposits, but there is evidence for different funerary treatments.

  • A small artificial cave in funerary area 2 (A-36, El03-VII) contained two individuals: in the back, an infant and, in the front, a primary burial of an adult female in flexed position and in strict anatomical articulation. Two bowls had been carefully placed between one of her forearms and the side of her abdomen (Liesau von Lettow-Vorbeck et al. 2008, Blasco Bosqued et al. 2009, Gómez Pérez et al. 2011). The bones of the infant, almost complete, appeared cornered at the bottom covered by another small, incised bowl. In this case, it is not possible to determine whether it is a primary or a secondary burial. Indeed, the small cavity of the tomb may have first been excavated to house the infant who was displaced to the back in order to place the female in front. The grave was filled with earth as the degree of anatomical articulation of the female reveals. Recent ancient DNA analyses have confirmed the sex of the adult female and revealed that the infant was also female. It should be noted that the individuals are not related (Olalde et al. 2018). Therefore, the shared tomb is not necessarily meant for a mother-child inhumation. These practices may have been related to one documented in some Bronze Age Cogotas I tomb where female remains intrude in juvenile burials (Esparza Arroyo et al. 2018).

  • In a pit feature of funerary area 2, an interesting finding of a human flexed lower limb and foot, all in anatomical connection has been documented as well as a skull (A-36, El 03_XI; fig. 11b).

  • Much more complex were the extractions and movements of human bones from three other artificial caves within the same site. In the artificial cave in funerary area 1 (fig. 3a and b), a female aged between 20 and 30 years in primary position, lying on the left side with the lower limbs slightly flexed presents a poorly preserved skeleton and most of the bones are not in strict anatomical articulation, probably due to post-depositional processes and decomposition in an empty space. The right upper limb was placed beside the chest and the left in the direction of a secondary deposit, the latter placed in the southern corner near the skull of the female. This secondary deposit consisted of an incomplete cranium, mandible and some long bones, and a hyperflexed lower limb, probably all belonging to a mature adult male (fig. 3b and c). Between the tibiae of the female, two Ciempozuelos style bowls had been deposited, as well as another bowl behind her.

3. Funerary Area 1 of Camino de las Yeseras

3. Funerary Area 1 of Camino de las Yeseras

a. Aerial view of the area, a hut like feature with sunken floor. In the centre, a hypogeum and an artificial cave excavated on the east side.
b. View of the access to the artificial cave and the inhumation of an adult primary deposit with two superimposed bowls between her tibiae. The arrow indicates the secondary burial with cranial fragments and bones of one lower limb (according to
Liesau von Lettow-Vorbeck et al. 2014: 140, fig. 2).
c. Detail of the cranium with traces of cinnabar and the mandible with only a few teeth pertaining to the secondary deposit of a mature adult male.

  • In funerary area 3 (fig. 2 and 4a; defined as hut 5 in Blasco Bosqued et al. 2005), two other artificial caves were found with an intriguing sequence of collective burials. In the artificial cave 1, a primary burial in strict anatomical articulation of a female between 20 and 30 years old was documented. With flexed lower limbs, she was lying on her right side with the right upper limb beneath her head and the left upper limb touching pottery, the set comprising at least one Bell Beaker of the Ciempozuelos style and an incised bowl (Blasco Bosqued et al. 2005, Gómez Pérez et al. 2011: 116; fig. 4c and e). Close to her were recovered two other secondary deposits of adult individuals (Trancho Gayo et al. 2010). This tomb had been filled with earth and stones when sealed, and in front of it a small stone tumulus had been built, covered by a bed of mud into which fragments of another human cranium and a fibula, probably from an adult, had literally been pushed in, probably while the mud was still wet (fig. 4b).

4. Funerary Area 3 of Camino de las Yeseras

4. Funerary Area 3 of Camino de las Yeseras

a. A hut like feature with a sunken floor. In the centre, two artificial caves for collective burials.
b. Detail of the deposit of human remains (skull and long bones) fixed on a small clay mound placed over a stone tumulus sealing artificial cave 1 (
Blasco Bosqued et al. 2005: 467, fig. 6).
c. Artificial cave 1: collective burial of a flexed female individual, lying on her right side, touching a Beaker vessel. A few remains of two other individuals were also recovered from this tomb.
d. Collective burial of the primary deposit of an adult male and the remains of three other individuals from artificial cave 2.
e. Grave goods related to the female burial of artificial cave 1: Ciempozuelos style Bell Beaker and bowl.
f. Selection of the grave goods recovered in the artificial cave 2: Bell Beaker, bowl and carinated bowl decorated with Ciempozuelos style.

  • Artificial cave 2 is located near this tomb. At least three individuals were recovered within it. An adult male and a mature female, with several very fragmented long bones, their mandibles and cranial fragments, represent two secondary deposits. A primary deposit of a mature male laid at the entrance of the artificial cave in a supine position with the upper limbs crossed in front of his chest, all in strict anatomical connection who had decomposed in a filled space (fig. 4d). The grave goods consisted of an incised vessel, cup and carinated bowl, a sandstone mortar, a copper awl and a grinding stone. Unfortunately, from the information recorded during excavation it has not been possible to assign these items to a specific individual (Blasco Bosqued et al. 2005, Trancho Gayo & Robledo Sanz 2011, Liesau von Lettow-Vorbeck et al. 2014; fig. 4f). Recent ancient DNA studies have confirmed the sex of the adult male from the primary deposit and that he is the first case among the ca.100 analysed European Bell Beaker individuals that has a North African origin (Olalde et al. 2019: 1230).

2.1.2 Secondary deposits sealing an intact burial

  • This burial type is documented in pit 2 from the site of Salmedina. Probably more a hypogeum, than a pit, as described by the archaeologists (Berzosa del Campo & Flores Fernández 2005), it is connected to another smaller pit through an entrance with three steps giving access to the tomb. On the eastern side of the cavity, a niche contained a primary deposit sealed with a large flint slab. Inside, there was a flexed young female (20‑25 years old) individual, lying on her left side, in strict anatomical articulation. Red powder had been sprinkled over her. Near her feet a carinated bowl containing a non-decorated bowl, a copper awl and a copper dagger have been documented (Berzosa del Campo & Flores Fernández 2005). Furthermore, inside the carinated bowl there was a juvenile radial fragment, and additional dispersed bones, probably a secondary deposit from said juvenile, were also located near the vessel, as was the mandible of a third individual. Outside the niche, at the level of the primary burial, the secondary deposits of nine other people were identified. Several dispersed bones, mostly lower limbs, four mandibles and phalanges as well as fragmented pottery were documented in the fill (Espinosa & Paniagua Pérez 2005). One completely flexed lower limb lay on the oblique slabs sealing the niche. An important amount of 12 ceramic vessels, 10 of them Ciempozuelos Style (6 Beakers, 2 carinated bowls and 2 other bowls), as well as other prestige items (a spiral gold sheet and 2 V perforated buttons), possibly from various previously dismantled tombs, were mixed among the human remains at the bottom of the feature. The tomb was filled with earth and stones and sealed with big silex slabs in horizontal position (Berzosa del Campo & Flores Fernández 2005, Berzosa del Campo 2007).

2.1.3 Partial primary deposits or secondary deposits within tombs sealed by boulders of large stone slabs

19These are tombs where human remains have either been partially removed or partially deposited, but which still contain all the pottery grave goods. It is noteworthy that the big and heavy stone pieces sealing the tombs required a large investment of labour force. Two cases with such exceptional seals are known from Salmedina (a probable male tomb) and La Magdalena (a female tomb).

  • Salmedina’s pit 1 is a hypogeum with an open niche in the lower part of the wall with a stepped access. The tomb is sealed by large gypsum blocks extracted from the bottom of the hill. The chamber is divided into two sections with a small wall. A secondary deposit of an incomplete skull and the few appendicular remains of an adult between 30 and 35 years of age, probably male, alongside remains of a red pigment were recovered from the east sector. The grave goods were in the west sector: half a carinated bowl – the other half was at the entrance of the artificial cave – and beneath it a complete Bell Beaker, though fragmented, and beside it, a fibula and some metacarpals from a juvenile (Berzosa del Campo & Flores Fernández 2005, Espinosa & Paniagua Pérez 2005).

  • The La Magdalena tomb which would fit this category is, as described by its excavators, a false oval-shaped hypogeum (4600), with a four-stepped access and sealed by a large calcareous orthostat which maintained its original position even though the structure’s overhangs collapsed (fig. 5a). On the ground, the disarticulated remains of an adult female were found. The skeleton is partially represented; no cranium, but the mandible and two upper teeth were documented, as well as other skeletal parts. The degree of anatomical articulation of the left hand bones indicates a primary deposit in an empty space, but in a secondary position, as afterwards several bones and pottery fragments were withdrawn. This inhumation was associated with various ceramic vessels: a plain bowl, a bag-shaped pot and a large Ciempozuelos style Bell Beaker. The bowl and the Beaker had been intentionally broken, as from the former only the upper part was recovered and for the latter only half was preserved (Gómez Moreno 2017: 148‑149; fig 5b and c).

5. Necropolis of La Magdalena site, pseudo hypogeum (UE 4600)

5. Necropolis of La Magdalena site, pseudo hypogeum (UE 4600)

a. Planimetry with an altered individual burial (UE 4607) (after Heras Martínez et al. 2014b: 216, fig. 3).
b. and c. Grave goods: big plain vessel and Bell Beaker Ciempozuelos style. (Plain vessel, courtesy C. Heras; Bell Beaker, after
Heras Martínez et al. 2014a: 190, fig. 1).

20Possibly, the tomb was reopened at a later date and the walls were reinforced with quartzite lining, as they were crumbling from the humidity. Later still, without reopening the tomb completely, in its already half-filled pit, two primary deposits, an adult female and a mature female, were placed in a flexed position near each other (fig. 6a). It is worth highlighting that their skulls and their first two cervical vertebrae were missing (Heras Martínez et al. 2011, 2014a, 2014b: 217; fig. 6b). It is possible that this exceptional deposit is the result of the post-mortem removal of the skulls which would reveal one last reopening of the monument.

6. Necropolis of La Magdalena, pseudo hypogeum (UE 4600)

6. Necropolis of La Magdalena, pseudo hypogeum (UE 4600)

a. Planimetry of a double female burial in an upper level covering the altered burial (UE 4604; after Heras Martínez et al. 2014b: 216, fig. 3).
b. Detail of the female burials without the skull and the first vertebrae (after
Heras Martínez et al. 2011: 19, fig. 2).

2.1.4 Scattered human remains within dismantled tombs

21These types of dismantled tombs are represented by two cases from Camino de las Yeseras and two from Humanejos which pertain to important individuals who are associated with rich grave goods. None of the remains were in anatomical articulation and the osteological material recovered was highly fragmented and mostly of a small size. It was initially thought the disturbances were due to looting given the richness of the grave goods. Notwithstanding, even though there may have been an intention to recover exotic and valuable items, the disturbance of the tombs displays symbolic acts expressed in the closure sequences.

  • One of these tombs is the hypogeum from funerary area 1 of Camino de las Yeseras. The slab sealing the tomb was not in its original vertical position, but was slanted, revealing a later aperture, possibly during Bell Beaker times, allowing for the removal of bones and grave goods (fig. 7a and b). The interior condition of the chamber, where the content was heavily altered (fig. 7c and d), and the presence of a small gold embossed plate in the fill outside the tomb’s seal (fig. 7e) provided evidence for the removal of items. The human remains were those of three adults, one, a male aged between 54 and 64 years old (fig. 7c and d). All were poorly represented by their skeletal remains, with hand and foot bones recovered at a higher frequency than other skeletal elements. Furthermore, the pottery was very fragmented (fig. 7e). Further bones were not found outside the tomb nor in the higher levels of the top fill (Blasco Bosqued et al. 2009, Gómez Pérez et al. 2011, Liesau von Lettow-Vorbeck et al. 2014).

7. Funerary Area 1 of Camino de las Yeseras

7. Funerary Area 1 of Camino de las Yeseras

a. Access to the chamber of the hypogeum sealed with huge flint slabs, in a slanted position after looting (after Vega Miguel et al. 2010: 656, fig. 10a).
b. View of the chamber during excavation with scattered ceramics and bones (Argea consultores, S.L.).
c. & d. Reconstruction of the mature male cranium recovered from the chamber (after
Gómez Pérez et al. 2011: 129, fig. 44).
e. Pottery sherds of a vessel, a carinated bowl from the chamber and a decorated gold sheet recovered outside the tomb but in the fill of the monumental hypogeum (after
Ríos Mendoza 2011: 476, fig. 337).

  • The second tomb from Camino de la Yeseras in this category is a structure formed by two conjoined pits, A21 E06‑04, containing collective burials with a very complex sequence of deposits including several manipulation and construction events over time (fig. 8). The larger pit has a lateral niche which has not been identified as an artificial cave. This niche had probably been covered by a slab found close to the opening. The slab had most likely been removed when the niche had been emptied in order to add these remains to other contexts, possibly diachronic burials, as evidenced by the radiocarbon dates and the different Bell Beaker pottery styles: international, geometric impressed, Ciempozuelos and plain ceramics (Blasco Bosqued et al. 2009, Ríos Mendoza 2011; fig. 9b). At least four individuals, three adults and one juvenile 5 to 6 years old, have been identified (Gómez Pérez et al. 2011). The presence of very fragmented bones does not confirm in situ primary deposits and the low levels of bone representation may be due to the long sequence of reopening and closing events of the tomb (fig. 9a).

8. Funerary pit A 21 of Camino de las Yeseras

8. Funerary pit A 21 of Camino de las Yeseras

a. In the foreground, the sealing level of tomb and, in the background, an interconnected pit and a deposit of a partial human lower limb and a plain Bell Beaker (after Liesau von Lettow-Vorbeck et al. 2014: 145, fig. 5).
b. Detail of the plain Bell Beaker and a bowl with a Ciempozuelos style decorated bowl inside it (UAM).
c. Excavation in progress with scattered human remains and pottery sherds (Argea Consultores, S.L.).
d. Detail of two sacrificed dogs in the interconnected smaller pit (Argea Consultores, S.L.).
e. Photograph of the structure once the excavation finished (after
Vega Miguel et al. 2010: 659, fig. 15).

22The complex reuse of this funerary space is manifest in the exceptional act of closure of the smaller pit in which two sacrificed dogs were carefully placed over a bed of large ceramic fragments and underneath a layer of stones (Liesau von Lettow-Vorbeck et al. 2013a, Daza Perea 2015; fig. 8d). In the last removal event, human remains were taken from the already reduced skeletal sample together with other valuable objects, and up to thirteen Bell Beaker vessels were intentionally fragmented (Blasco Bosqued et al. 2009, Vega Miguel et al. 2010; fig. 9d). Both pits were subsequently filled with common sediment and pottery sherds and covered by a tumulus of stones (fig. 8a). Finally, on top of the canine pit and in the last closing level, a human legbone appeared alongside a plain Bell Beaker containing a small bowl with impressed geometric decorations. Only in this case are both vessels complete (Liesau von Lettow-Vorbeck et al. 2014; fig. 8a and b). According to the radiocarbon dates, the canine deposit in the funerary space came after at least the four documented human burials. The chronological analysis of the Bell Beaker period from Madrid place the first event(s) of the burials in this tomb within the first regional Bell Beaker phase (Ua 39309: 3752 + 30 BP: 2281‑2040 cal BC 2σ) and the closure of the tomb in the second phase towards the very end of the period (Ua 35019: 3530 + 40 BP: 1971‑1745 cal BC 2σ; Blasco Bosqued & Liesau von Lettow-Vorbeck 2019).

9. Funerary pit A 21 of Camino de las Yeseras

9. Funerary pit A 21 of Camino de las Yeseras

a. Several human bones recovered from the altered burial, axis, radii, claviculae of four individuals, two phalanges, and one ulna.
b. Selection of some pottery sherds in the funerary pit: fragments of incised bowls, maritime vessel, carinated bowl Ciempozuelos style, a gold bead and a double perforated button with appendages made of sperm whale teeth (UAM).

  • The Humanejos hypogeum, Tomb 9, published by R. Flores and R. Garrido (2014), also fits into this category. It is a trapezoidal chamber dug into the subsurface up to 3.40 m in depth, with a steep staircase which had been partially disassembled. Though no primary inhumations were found, at the base of the tomb two dark ellipsoidal stains were observed, probably corresponding to the area were two bodies decomposed in situ, and modified the substrate diagenesis (Gómez Pérez et al. 2011: 108). However, the human remains - skulls and a large part of the post-cranial skeleton - were dispersed across the superior stratigraphic units (Flores Fernández & Garrido Pena 2014: 162). The funerary grave goods consist of five vessels, three not complete, and a button with a V-shaped perforation. Originally deposited within the funerary chamber, they were ultimately destroyed and dispersed throughout the tomb. Ceramic sherds from a vessel found at more than 3 m of depth were also recovered at the highest levels of the structure (Flores Fernández & Garrido Pena 2014: 162).

  • Tomb 2 (stratigraphic unit 1902) from Humanejos also belongs to this category of disturbed tomb with only one human metatarsal bone (Garrido Pena et al. 2019: 50). It is a large circular pit with two postholes at the base, each at one end of the pit’s east-west axis. These postholes indicate that, like other Bell Beaker tombs on site, the pit functioned for some time as a structure with a vegetal cover (Flores Fernández & Garrido Pena 2014). The presence of a large number of Bell Beaker incomplete pottery, intentionally fragmented and deposited within one of the postholes suggests that this, as in the previous Humanejos’ case, was possibly an intentional attempt to erase the memory of the dead buried within the tomb and of their families; that is, an authentic damnatio memoriae, as a consequence of existing confrontations to gain or maintain power (Flores Fernández & Garrido Pena 2014: 166).

2.2. Human remains outside funerary contexts

23This complementary funerary record is only currently known for Camino de las Yeseras, as the faunal and human bones of more than 500 structures have been identified. Several concentrations of partial human remains are known from well-defined contexts: the central area, some ditch sections of the enclosures and their access areas, and certain huts, whether residential or not (fig. 8).

242.2.1 The Central Area: most of the human remains identified outside the tombs come from five distinct stratigraphic units from a large space of almost 600 m2, around which there are five concentric ditched enclosures. It is filled in by thirteen horizontal levels and up to 30 fill units with a maximum depth of two metres (Ríos Mendoza 2011, Ríos Mendoza et al. 2014).

25The large surface area and the stratigraphic record of this structure together with the large quantity of archaeological material recovered make it an important place to consider. The only remains studied to date are zooarchaeological and come from a unit that indicates that the area was intensively used for collective activities and occupied over a long period (Chorro y de Villa-Ceballos 2013, Liesau von Lettow-Vorbeck 2017a). There is evidence for the exposure of certain human remains, such as carnivore gnaw marks, probably from the dogs which lived in the settlement (Gómez Pérez et al. 2011: 118; fig. 10a). These remains may be indirect evidence for the display of corpses on a structure within this large space. Notwithstanding, a group of three complete human mandibles recovered could be the product of other unique symbolic practices held elsewhere in this large space. To date, it is not possible to ascertain whether the practices were contemporary with the Bell Beaker phase or not. This structure provides evidence for a long occupation from the end of the fourth millennium until the last centuries of the third millennium BC (Ríos Mendoza et al. 2014).

10. Bones and tokens in motion: planimetry of Camino de las Yeseras with the locations of the two Beaker fragments from the same bowl marked with an orange arrow, one recovered in tomb A21 and the other at about 500 m, in a feature to the north of the site (UAM)

10. Bones and tokens in motion: planimetry of Camino de las Yeseras with the locations of the two Beaker fragments from the same bowl marked with an orange arrow, one recovered in tomb A21 and the other at about 500 m, in a feature to the north of the site (UAM)

a. Human cranial and appendicular bones recovered in the central area of the site.
b. Human humeri and cranial fragments in a foundational level of a ditch enclosure.
c. Human and dog mandibles recovered from non-funerary contexts: central area, NE entrance of enclosure 4 and several hut features (Argea Consultores, S.L.-UAM).

2.2.2. Ditch sections

26These sections are highly significant because four human bone fragments were recovered from the north transect of the northeast entrance of the fourth ditch in Camino de las Yeseras. These finds are interesting because they come from a specific context, the closure level of a foundational pit which is at the bottom of the ditch alongside a structured deposit of a complete dog, the offering of half a piglet and several canine mandibles (Liesau von Lettow-Vorbeck et al. 2013‑2014; fig. 10b).

2.2.3. Huts

27Finally, the presence of mandibles, one each in hut structures, sometimes with a maxilla or calotte elements, must be mentioned (F-322; F-411; F-305; A-125‑126, El04; Structure A, east cut; Structure A, west cut). The complete skeletal elements found within may indicate a selection process and relocation with a predefined purpose, a hypothesis that is reinforced by other contexts containing human mandibles but also associated with dog mandibles (Liesau von Lettow-Vorbeck et al. 2018; fig. 10c).

28Hut F-322 contains a complete human mandible and one from a dog at the top level. It is a significant structure considering the abundance of Bell Beaker and non-Bell Beaker decorated pottery, as well as the volume of faunal remains which includes a large proportion of wild species (Blasco Bosqued et al. 2007). Furthermore, Bell Beaker pottery types with geometrically impressed decorations were associated with pre-Bell Beaker pieces of the embossed-button (pastillage au repoussé) type and a burnished piece with a sun-shaped schematic decoration, types usually interpreted as being symbolical to pre-Bell Beaker groups. The hut must not have been strictly for residential purposes but also for production activities, such as flint knapping and for bone and antler working. Nevertheless, other symbolic activities could also explain the presence of the human and dog mandibles and most of the Bell Beaker sherds recovered outside a tomb (Ríos Mendoza 2011). Currently, it is the only non-funerary structure of the site with an important number of Bell Beaker sherds. It contains 41% Bell Beaker sherds from 678 selected pottery fragments. Although of small size and with eroded round edges, the hypothesis that these accumulations, as well as the burnished ware with embossed decoration, were ceramic heirlooms or relics cannot be discarded (Liesau von Lettow-Vorbeck et al. 2013b: 143, 2017b).

29Another interesting hut is the large structure F-411 with numerous annexed ones (features with sunken floors, pits, channels), superimposed and of prolonged use for several centuries, from the first centuries of the third millennium (2900 cal BC) until the end of it (2300 cal BC; Ríos Mendoza 2011). Human cranial fragments have been identified in different levels within the hut as well as structured deposits of animals.

30Two human mandibles and/or cranial fragments were also recovered from huts A-125‑126/El04, F-305 and hut A from the east cut. In the latter, the mandible was positioned at the bottom and centre of the structure, probably not fortuitous as the mandible was associated with a human lower limb, a Bell Beaker ceramic sherd and, once again, the remains of a dog, the latter including a mandible. This find may be linked to a foundational event of the structure. Something comparable was identified in a nearby structure (A from the west cut) where a similar association of finds was discovered: human and dog cranial remains (Liesau von Lettow-Vorbeck et al. 2018).

3. Rites beyond death: relics or tokens in motion

31The results and interpretations discussed in this section stem principally from the authors’ studies in the site of Camino de las Yeseras. Hopefully, once most of the necropolises and their surroundings have been studied in further detail, these observations will be corroborated in future with data from other sites from the Meseta: La Magdalena (Alcalá de Henares), Arroyo Humanejos and Humanejos (Parla), El Juncal (Getafe) or Los Yuncos and Las Mayores (Toledo; Barroso Bermejo et al. 2018).

32In pre-Beaker chronology (2900‑2500 cal BC), most of the graves are mainly primary burials in pits and exceptionally under tumuli structures. In Camino de las Yeseras, the number of individuals does not determine the size of the pit and can contain up to ten individuals. However, multiple as well as collective inhumations are known. In one pit, at the bottom, four individuals were buried and sealed under a level of compact soil. In a half-filled pit, another individual burial was documented sealed under a layer of earth and stone pebbles (Gómez Pérez et al. 2011: 102‑103). Frequently, the bodies had adopted chaotic postures, since they were held under the arms, the feet entering the grave first, the lower limbs flexing, and the body finally dropped in. The cadavers adapted out of rigor mortis to the space that remained depending on the number of previously deposited individuals (Gómez Pérez et al. 2011). Possibly, these funerary practices were related to a taboo which prevented descending into the excavated pit as this was considered a space exclusively reserved for the dead. The grave goods are very scarce; some incomplete pottery and more frequently granite or quartzite mill stones and few personal ornaments or faunal remains accompanied the dead. Taphonomic studies reveal that in the collective graves, the bones were not displaced to make space for new individuals and secondary deposits were rare (Liesau von Lettow-Vorbeck et al. 2008, Gómez Pérez et al. 2011, Blasco Bosqued & Liesau von Lettow-Vorbeck 2019). The reopening of these tombs and extraction of limb bones or skulls has not been documented to date.

33Contemporary to Bell Beaker inhumations (2500‑1800 cal BC), several non-Bell Beaker tombs are documented in the south area of the site, located near other non-funerary structures (huts, pits) as well as Bell Beaker tombs. The living shared their space with the dead, but Bell Beakers are the first ones who marked a clear spatial delimitation by constructing funerary areas, hut features with sunken floors like pantheons in which they excavate artificial caves or deep hypogea, whereas shaft like tombs were not used. The burials contemporaneous to non-Bell Beaker rituals continue in simple pits. But now a consciousness of individuality in their inhumations was a factor that reduced the previous collective traditions to double or single burials. Furthermore, the position of the skeletons indicates that most of the bodies had been placed more carefully within the graves than in previous times. The grave goods were scarce, represented by some pottery, mill stones and few faunal remains.

34As in this site the number of Chalcolithic inhumated individuals is only around 100 in ca. 3 ha of excavated surface in a site of approximately 20 ha in extension, other funerary treatments can also be envisaged. Probably the central area could have had restricted spaces for the exposure of cadavers. Occasionally, carnivore gnawing on some long bones could represent evidence of this kind of practice, but this taphonomic agent is not known from bones recovered in Bell Beaker graves nor are excarnation marks. Otherwise, it is also possible that some individuals could have suffered a ‘bad death’ (Esparza Arroyo et al. 2018).

35The Bell Beaker graves, starting in central Iberia at ca. 2500 until 1800 cal BC, reveal completely different burial practices and indicate a great diversity in the post-mortem treatment, as the data from different sites presented in section 2 show. In relation to the characteristics of the tombs, collective burials in pits frequently had excavated niches as substructures for housing a primary burial and grave goods, like those in Camino de las Yeseras or those in the artificial caves of the necropolis of Valle de las Huecas containing primary and secondary burials (Bueno Ramirez et al. 2005, Barroso Bermejo et al. 2015, 2018).

36For the three documented funerary areas in Camino de las Yeseras, the disposition of the tombs excavated into the sides of the sunken floors as well the dug-out niches in pits indicate these are internal structures that facilitate the reopening of the tombs for post-mortem manipulations. These areas were respected for a long time and no destructions nor an overlapping of other structures has been documented. Otherwise, the taphonomic agents on the faunal remains indicate that in the inner spaces some actions of commensality took place, but the feature was respected and not used continuously (Liesau von Lettow-Vorbeck et al. 2013a, 2017b). The root marks on the poorly preserved bones show these were exposed and that the feature was covered by grass.

37Recent excavations performed in this site as well in others currently under study and a review of older excavations have brought to light new interpretative schemes for those tombs with incomplete human remains and grave goods. These disturbed finds do not necessarily reflect looting events, but rather the result of the deliberate removal and relocation of selected skeletal parts and some grave goods from one tomb to another, to domestic structures or to structures with a symbolic character, and, very probably, also from one site to another. Unfortunately, it is difficult to establish whether these partial skeletal remains always come from tombs or not – and from which – or if, on the contrary, they belonged to bodies which were never buried.

38The post-mortem manipulations of remains did not occur in the same manner nor at the same frequency in all sites. Camino de las Yeseras, with around 19 individuals buried with Bell Beakers, may be an exception to the rule with one intact individual in a hypogeum as well as that of an adult female and a juvenile for whom it is not possible to ascertain whether the deposit is secondary or only displaced. The remaining tombs all showcase a recurrent shuffle of human bones and objects. Consequently, this site represents a complex and different funerary practice to that of other contemporary groups.

39In numerous occasions, the skulls and main long bones disappeared and others accompany later primary deposits in the same tomb (fig. 3). Notwithstanding, a detail which up to now had been frequently ignored is the inclusion or the display of such remains at the levels closing off or sealing the tombs.

40In Camino de las Yeseras, these different types of removal and relocation seemingly acquire great importance and do not stop at the reopening of the tombs but also happen during the events closing them off. A cranium and a long bone stuffed onto a small ledge, the latter part of a short-lived and unrecognisable mud structure lying on top of the tumulus covering artificial cave 1 in funerary area 3, confirm, without a doubt, the use of these funerary huts as pantheons, where a hearth, chalcolithic pottery sherds with symbolic decorations (but no Bell Beaker!), large vessels and specific faunal limbs confirm the celebration of commensality events (Liesau von Lettow-Vorbeck et al. 2013a; fig. 4). The second case of relocating human bones in a sealing level and over a tomb has been documented in the double pit A-21 (fig. 8). After the exhaustive study of the burial and dating sequence and the finding of an intentionally fractured pottery, the filling process, the careful placement of two sacrificed dogs, and the finding, on top of the stone tumulus, of a badly preserved human lower limb bone associated to a complete Bell Beaker and bowl, the simple looting of this tomb can be discarded. This is another case of an act of closure, where the human lower limb bone and the pottery are embedded in the tumulus that covers a very complex long-term use structure. The third case is in Camino de las Yeseras and is related to a human lower limb. It is the finding, in a pit in funerary area 2, of a well preserved completely hyperflexed lower limb in anatomical articulation along other human disarticulated bones, that do not belong to any of the other individuals buried in this funerary structure (fig. 11b). Finally, another case in the same funerary area is the finding of a complete human tibia in a niche in the wall of the feature, located between the hypogeum and a double burial in a small artificial cave.

41Nevertheless, the peculiarity of relocating human lower limbs inside a tomb representing the secondary deposit of a mature adult male in funerary area 1 must also be highlighted (fig. 11c). Given the layout of this secondary deposit, the bones could have been placed in a basket, a mat, or the lower limb could have been bundled to maintain the bones in place. This assemblage covered the badly preserved skull of a male (Liesau von Lettow-Vorbeck et al. 2014: 140).

42These bone ensembles could be interpreted as isolated cases documented in one site, but the identification of another hyperflexed lower limb in pit 2 of the necropolis of Salmedina lying outside, on the slab closing the niche, does not seem to be another casual body part find (fig. 11a). In the northern Meseta, probably a lower limb found in the Peña de la Abuela (Soria), is also due to a reburial activity in a megalithic tomb although the archaeologists described this burial as having been destroyed by mechanical agricultural work (Rojo Guerra et al. 2005: 33). Something similar seems to be documented in the Portuguese site of Porto Torrão in Enclosure 2, where “fragments of two left femurs, a right tibia and a probable right ulna were found alongside the almost complete cranial vault” (Evangelista & Valera 2019: 60). These human remains were in a deposit which included international style Bell Beaker pottery and is dated to the third quarter of the third millennium BC (Valera 2013).

43Salmedina also offers various examples of altered tombs with secondary burials, where crania are missing, but mandibles or lower limbs are frequent. In the La Magdalena necropolis, the alteration of a primary burial in a lower level of a tomb and the exhumation of the skulls from two primary burials are additional evidence of the importance of post-mortem treatment of these selected skeletal parts (figs. 5 and 6). But what happens outside these necropolises is not yet known. Remarkably in La Magdalena, small votive deposits with Bell Beaker pottery have been documented near some tombs (Heras Martínez et al. 2014b). In Humanejos, however, the frequency of human remains in other Bell Beaker and non-Bell Beaker tombs needs to be further assessed, as well as whether the scattering of certain decorated pottery fragments across non-funerary structures was intentional or not (Vega Miguel et al. 2014), a practice, that, as already noted, is well established for Camino de las Yeseras.

44The presence of scattered human remains in Chalcolithic sites has been recently assessed in the case of Perdigões and is a practice that would date back to the late Neolithic (Evangelista & Valera 2019). Although they do not document a direct relationship between these deposits, called non formalised human depositions, with Bell Beakers, they identify these practices as a cross-chronological phenomenon, and highlight that there is an increase or intensification during the Bell Beaker period, that is, the late phases of the Chalcolithic (Idem: 61).

45The removal of remains occurs at different times and in different conditions, even though the extraction and transport of skulls appear as the most frequent. It is therefore necessary to conduct further research to understand how the memory of these selected bones, probably related to the concept of some known ancestors, was preserved: the pars pro toto represented by the crania and the mandibles. This may resonate with previous Chalcolithic customs, as it is possible some of the non-funerary features contain human remains coming from contemporaneous non-Bell Beaker tombs or body exposure areas (Liesau von Lettow-Vorbeck et al. 2018). However, during the Bell Beaker period different and new (probably bundled) bone ensembles appear – femur, tibia, fibula and foot bones, that is the lower limb – which were found in at least five structures (funerary and non-funerary) from Camino de las Yeseras and Salmedina. They were probably also present in other sites but have not been identified in situ and the secondary nature of these deposits has not been recognised or the tombs have been described as looted.

46Should the isolated flexed lower limbs be viewed as the expansion of new ideological discourses and represent a new symbol of the great mobility of Bell Beaker communities? Do they represent, beyond ancestral lineages, a new means to transport and curate relics over long distances (fig. 11)?

11. Human relics in motion: secondary deposits

11. Human relics in motion: secondary deposits

a. Detail of the flexed lower limb with a cranium in pit 2 of Salmedina, (after Berzosa del Campo & Flores Fernández 2005: fig. 25).
b. Detail of another flexed lower limb from a pit in funerary area 2 of Camino de las Yeseras (Argea Consultores, S.L.).
c. Detail of a flexed lower limb from funerary area 1 of Camino de las Yeseras (Argea Consultores, S.L.).

47There is no doubt that Bell Beaker communities treated the dead with care as the primary inhumations and skeletal positions indicate: bodies placed in a flexed position near the more or less complete package. The strategic selection of cinnabar is a constant in burials that often include elite objects such as gold and ivory ornaments. It was sprinkled over the funerary bed or on the dead and their grave goods, as if the bodies had been wrapped in a shroud impregnated with this exclusive mineral. It was, therefore, used not only for its symbolic reference to blood and life because of its bright red colour and better preservation of the body (Delibes de Castro 2000), but also because the better state of preservation was necessary as some of the bones later became relics to be displayed and moved (Liesau von Lettow-Vorbeck 2017b, Liesau von Lettow-Vorbeck & Blasco Bosqued 2011‑2012). The toxicity of this mineral inhibits the decomposition process and was probably also a factor contributing to the mercury poisoning of chalcolithic individuals found buried in the megalithic tombs of Perdigões and Montelirio (Emslie et al. 2015, 2016).

48Two recently discovered Bell Beaker crania in Madrid with red horizontal bands that run along the frontal and parietal bones emphasise the singular post mortem treatment well known for the El Argar Culture (Liesau von Lettow-Vorbeck & Blasco Bosqued 2011‑2012, López Padilla et al. 2012, Liesau von Lettow-Vorbeck 2016, Schubart & Liesau von Lettow-Vorbeck 2018, Garrido et al. 2019). The red bands could have been smeared or applied on an organic garment imbued with this mineral covering the previously shaved (?) head (Liesau von Lettow-Vorbeck 2016). One belongs to a double male grave containing rich Bell Beaker grave goods from Humanejos. The other is a badly preserved cranium of a male in a secondary deposit in funerary area 1 of Camino de las Yeseras (fig. 3c). Hopefully, other findings will confirm the use of these sophisticated garments prior to the El Argar Culture funerary treatments. More common are the observations of cinnabar sprinkled on the dead and their grave goods in the middle Tagus basin, for example, in Huecas and Las Mayores (Blasco Bosqued et al. 2005, Barroso Bermejo et al. 2018), and in Humanejos, La Magdalena and Camino de las Yeseras, or examples of impregnated objects (buttons from the Ciempozuelos necropolis; Ríos Mendoza & Liesau von Lettow-Vorbeck 2011, Liesau von Lettow-Vorbeck 2016).

49Considering the break between previous local funerary traditions and the new Bell Beaker burial costumes, the insistence on manipulating human bones seems to reflect different celebrations necessary to maintain dead individuals linked to life, and even to strengthen the role of a distinguished person or lineages. These reopenings intended to take out human remains and pottery could also explain several provisional closings of the structures, as well as the complex and definitive sealing acts. Probably, the animist character which these relics or tokens appear to have had reinforces even more the important role played by the ancestors in the daily life of the settlement, as they are also present in domestic or symbolic features. The human remains recovered in different non-funerary structures are also selected skeletal parts such as skull fragments, especially mandibles, and in some cases hyperflexed lower limbs documented in central positions at the bottom of several features. One would expect that, in a site with a long-term occupation, the successive remodelling activities of different structures, such as in Camino de las Yeseras, would lead to more human dispersed bones, but this is not the case.

50For central Iberian Bell Beakers, human remains are not the only thing that can be considered a token. At the Valladolid site of La Calzadilla, in a modest pit, a unique deposit revealed people’s concern over the long-term value of certain items. The deposit consisted of a large collection of Bell Beaker vessels, previously broken, some with symbolic decorations, mixed with a disconcerting assemblage of faunal remains, including ribs from several species as well as two human ribs. The analysis of organic residues also detected the presence of alcoholic beverages during the celebration, either as drinks or poured out. This event marked perhaps the end of life for several relics as well as that of an aurochs cranial bone much older than the rest of the assemblage. This finding implies that not only pottery, but also an animal bone kept during generations as a token or symbol representative of an important hunting event or lineage was included in the pit. These deposits are permanently sealing and removing symbols from the groups’ collective memory (Delibes de Castro & Guerra Doce 2004, Liesau von Lettow-Vorbeck et al. 2013b). Probably some of these customs were echoed in the symbolic activities of the Cogotas I group, who came after the Bell Beaker people in central Iberia. There is evidence for less tangible ritual events but that still mirror the image of a complex society in need of expressing its identities and experiences (Delibes de Castro 2004).

51Notwithstanding, once what happens to the human remains is considered, the complexity of their funerary practices also expresses itself at other levels of their material culture. Certain very valuable objects from the grave – copper artefacts, gold and ivory ornaments – may have only been removed because they were a temporary loan to the dead. Once a certain time from death had elapsed, the items were recycled back into the world of the living (Tchérémissinoff et al. 2011, Liesau von Lettow-Vorbeck 2017b). This hypothesis is reinforced when considering intentionally fragmented pottery vessels. Some sherds from these items, broken into halves or quarters, appear back in the original tomb and some are found in other tombs or elsewhere. For example, in the aforementioned hut F-322, Camino de las Yeseras, possibly a communal hut, it is apparent there is a need to keep the ceramic fragments in the world of the living. Every decorative item, even on small fragmented sherds, had an important value, the incised or impressed motifs probably representing ancestral lineages. The most direct evidence, however, of this fragmentation practice and the separate curation of sherds is that of a bowl pieced back together by reassembling a fragment found in a pit in area 21 (E06) and another piece found on the surface of a pit-type domestic structure located 500 m further to the north of the site (Blasco Bosqued et al. 2014; fig. 10).

52A structure from the chalcolithic site of El Ventorro (Madrid) with a high amount of Bell Beaker sherds has also been similarly interpreted. Unfortunately, the archaeological interventions were too limited and did not reveal the characteristics of the structure nor lead to identifying the spatial and contextual reach such a site may have had (Blanco González 2014).

53All the discussed findings reinforce the idea that these are carefully thought through actions. The reopening of the tombs may also be related to special events in the life of the settlement, like the beginning of collective works or celebrating communal achievements – a good crop, a hunt, resolved conflicts, pacts, marriages -, events for which certain human remains and/or their belongings must be translocated because their physical presence, channelled through a ceramic or human as well as animal bone relic, is necessary.

54These practices make even more sense in light of the new genetic results and the evidence for the displacement of certain Chalcolithic autochthonous paternal lineages by new lineages related to the Bell Beaker people (Olalde et al. 2018, 2019). These new lineages would have needed to elaborate new identities. The construction of new tombs or the reappropriation of complete or partial dead from more ancient monuments would help legitimise their power, a concept which was not new to the region of Madrid. In the Entretérminos dolmen’s corridor, some of the most important Bell Beaker grave goods have been found. Little is known of the human remains in the context, only that the burial occurred long after Neolithic groups built the funerary monument.

55In European areas where megalithic constructions are well-developed, the Bell Beaker communities frequently insisted in physically and symbolically closing funerary monuments by performing one last act of burial in them (Gibson 2016: 95). Consequently, these events are the answer to the closure of moments as well as inaugurational ones, enabling Bell Beaker groups to achieve social integration in the region without competing for territorial control with pre-existing local ancestral lineages (Garrido Pena 2000: 53‑58, Vander Linden 2004: 42, Rojo Guerra et al. 2005: 174). Undoubtedly, with these burial practices they left evidence of building a new past (Mataloto 2017: 77), a past where individuals with far off ancestries and, probably, a different physical aspect fit and can co-exist along more local substrates. The steppe genetic affinities in the central Iberian chalcolithic sites are not vey frequent but always appear in the few individuals buried with Bell Beaker rituals in several sites, such as La Magdalena, Humanejos and Camino de las Yeseras. Moreover, the latter is the only one that also had a male with a North African origin. Considered a migrant, it is a surprising result for the Madrid region. All in all, this data confirm the high mobility in several directions of the chalcolithic population (Olalde et al. 2019).

56When a social interpretation of currently known Bell Beaker funerary records is attempted, it would seem that the tombs destined for leaders remain intact. Yet, alongside these intact records, there are other incomplete ones, a consequence of recurrent reopenings and manipulations of ancestors and their belongings. With these finds, the spectre of their shuffled relics opens a new dimension into a behaviour pattern as symbolic and enigmatic as Bell Beakers’ vision of life and death was.

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Bibliographie

Aliaga Almela 2014, ALIAGA ALMELA R., Sociedad y mundo funerario en el III y II milenio a.C. en la Región del Jarama, Oxford, Archaeopress, 2014, 345 p. (British archaeological Reports - International Series; 2630).

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Table des illustrations

Titre 1. Sites with Bell Beaker graves mentioned in this contribution (DTM EU‑DEM v1.0, European Environment Agency‑EEA)
Légende Entretérminos (1), La Magdalena (2), Camino de las Yeseras (3), Salmedina (4), El Juncal (5), Humanejos (6), Cuesta de la Reina (7), Los Yuncos (8) and Huecas (9). Grey dots are other chalcolithic sites with Bell Beaker materials.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/pm/docannexe/image/2206/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 828k
Titre 2. Planimetry of Camino de las Yeseras with the Funerary Areas A1, A2 and A3 and a Bell Beaker grave in a pit (A21)
Légende (Argea Consultores, S.L.)
URL http://journals.openedition.org/pm/docannexe/image/2206/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 352k
Titre 3. Funerary Area 1 of Camino de las Yeseras
Légende a. Aerial view of the area, a hut like feature with sunken floor. In the centre, a hypogeum and an artificial cave excavated on the east side.b. View of the access to the artificial cave and the inhumation of an adult primary deposit with two superimposed bowls between her tibiae. The arrow indicates the secondary burial with cranial fragments and bones of one lower limb (according to Liesau von Lettow-Vorbeck et al. 2014: 140, fig. 2).c. Detail of the cranium with traces of cinnabar and the mandible with only a few teeth pertaining to the secondary deposit of a mature adult male.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/pm/docannexe/image/2206/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1004k
Titre 4. Funerary Area 3 of Camino de las Yeseras
Légende a. A hut like feature with a sunken floor. In the centre, two artificial caves for collective burials.b. Detail of the deposit of human remains (skull and long bones) fixed on a small clay mound placed over a stone tumulus sealing artificial cave 1 (Blasco Bosqued et al. 2005: 467, fig. 6).c. Artificial cave 1: collective burial of a flexed female individual, lying on her right side, touching a Beaker vessel. A few remains of two other individuals were also recovered from this tomb.d. Collective burial of the primary deposit of an adult male and the remains of three other individuals from artificial cave 2.e. Grave goods related to the female burial of artificial cave 1: Ciempozuelos style Bell Beaker and bowl.f. Selection of the grave goods recovered in the artificial cave 2: Bell Beaker, bowl and carinated bowl decorated with Ciempozuelos style.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/pm/docannexe/image/2206/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 628k
Titre 5. Necropolis of La Magdalena site, pseudo hypogeum (UE 4600)
Légende a. Planimetry with an altered individual burial (UE 4607) (after Heras Martínez et al. 2014b: 216, fig. 3).b. and c. Grave goods: big plain vessel and Bell Beaker Ciempozuelos style. (Plain vessel, courtesy C. Heras; Bell Beaker, after Heras Martínez et al. 2014a: 190, fig. 1).
URL http://journals.openedition.org/pm/docannexe/image/2206/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 520k
Titre 6. Necropolis of La Magdalena, pseudo hypogeum (UE 4600)
Légende a. Planimetry of a double female burial in an upper level covering the altered burial (UE 4604; after Heras Martínez et al. 2014b: 216, fig. 3).b. Detail of the female burials without the skull and the first vertebrae (after Heras Martínez et al. 2011: 19, fig. 2).
URL http://journals.openedition.org/pm/docannexe/image/2206/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 456k
Titre 7. Funerary Area 1 of Camino de las Yeseras
Légende a. Access to the chamber of the hypogeum sealed with huge flint slabs, in a slanted position after looting (after Vega Miguel et al. 2010: 656, fig. 10a).b. View of the chamber during excavation with scattered ceramics and bones (Argea consultores, S.L.).c. & d. Reconstruction of the mature male cranium recovered from the chamber (after Gómez Pérez et al. 2011: 129, fig. 44).e. Pottery sherds of a vessel, a carinated bowl from the chamber and a decorated gold sheet recovered outside the tomb but in the fill of the monumental hypogeum (after Ríos Mendoza 2011: 476, fig. 337).
URL http://journals.openedition.org/pm/docannexe/image/2206/img-7.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,2M
Titre 8. Funerary pit A 21 of Camino de las Yeseras
Légende a. In the foreground, the sealing level of tomb and, in the background, an interconnected pit and a deposit of a partial human lower limb and a plain Bell Beaker (after Liesau von Lettow-Vorbeck et al. 2014: 145, fig. 5).b. Detail of the plain Bell Beaker and a bowl with a Ciempozuelos style decorated bowl inside it (UAM).c. Excavation in progress with scattered human remains and pottery sherds (Argea Consultores, S.L.).d. Detail of two sacrificed dogs in the interconnected smaller pit (Argea Consultores, S.L.).e. Photograph of the structure once the excavation finished (after Vega Miguel et al. 2010: 659, fig. 15).
URL http://journals.openedition.org/pm/docannexe/image/2206/img-8.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,2M
Titre 9. Funerary pit A 21 of Camino de las Yeseras
Légende a. Several human bones recovered from the altered burial, axis, radii, claviculae of four individuals, two phalanges, and one ulna.b. Selection of some pottery sherds in the funerary pit: fragments of incised bowls, maritime vessel, carinated bowl Ciempozuelos style, a gold bead and a double perforated button with appendages made of sperm whale teeth (UAM).
URL http://journals.openedition.org/pm/docannexe/image/2206/img-9.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 456k
Titre 10. Bones and tokens in motion: planimetry of Camino de las Yeseras with the locations of the two Beaker fragments from the same bowl marked with an orange arrow, one recovered in tomb A21 and the other at about 500 m, in a feature to the north of the site (UAM)
Légende a. Human cranial and appendicular bones recovered in the central area of the site.b. Human humeri and cranial fragments in a foundational level of a ditch enclosure.c. Human and dog mandibles recovered from non-funerary contexts: central area, NE entrance of enclosure 4 and several hut features (Argea Consultores, S.L.-UAM).
URL http://journals.openedition.org/pm/docannexe/image/2206/img-10.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 728k
Titre 11. Human relics in motion: secondary deposits
Légende a. Detail of the flexed lower limb with a cranium in pit 2 of Salmedina, (after Berzosa del Campo & Flores Fernández 2005: fig. 25).b. Detail of another flexed lower limb from a pit in funerary area 2 of Camino de las Yeseras (Argea Consultores, S.L.).c. Detail of a flexed lower limb from funerary area 1 of Camino de las Yeseras (Argea Consultores, S.L.).
URL http://journals.openedition.org/pm/docannexe/image/2206/img-11.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 782k
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Référence électronique

Corina Liesau, Patricia Ríos et Concepción Blasco, « Bell Beakers in central Iberia: keeping the ancestors’ memory alive »Préhistoires Méditerranéennes [En ligne], 8 | 2020, mis en ligne le 29 janvier 2021, consulté le 25 juillet 2024. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/pm/2206 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/pm.2206

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Auteurs

Corina Liesau

Dpto. de Prehistoria y Arqueología, Facultad de Filosofía y Letras, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, 28049 Madrid
corina.liesau@uam.es

Patricia Ríos

Dpto. de Prehistoria y Arqueología, Facultad de Filosofía y Letras, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, 28049 Madrid
patricia.rios@uam.es

Concepción Blasco

Dpto. de Prehistoria y Arqueología, Facultad de Filosofía y Letras, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, 28049 Madrid
Concepcion.blasco@uam.es

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