Spain. Copper Age: Antequera.

Copper or Chalcolithic Age ca. 2500-1700 BC.
The classification of Chalcolithic –from the Greek chalco “copper” and lithic “stone”– sums up the overlapping activities of both materials during this period.  Metallurgy –in the form of copper smelting– was making its appearance, but stone was still fundamental.

Copper smelting demanded a certain social organisation marked by settlements whose location was often determined by the discovery of metal deposits. With metal and its related activity, mining, come industrial skills, but stone tools –axes, chisels– still formed the basis for daily tasks.

The best known Spanish mining settlement of this period (and extending into the Bronze Age) is that of Los Millares, just north of the coastal town of Almería in the eastern Andalusia.

Los Millares model reconstruction.

The remains show evidence of fortifications and some circular houses as well as a large necropolis.  Finds from the site (many of which can be found in the archeological museum in Almería) suggest that subsistence activity was centred mainly on the breeding of sheep, goats and pigs –with cheese and lard as by-products– and on the growing of cereals and vegetables, all of which point to a more advanced social structure.

Important as the development of metals was to be, it is the stone survivors of this age –the magnificent burial chambers– that have become its most characteristic and impressive feature.

These megalithic chambers or dolmens are made up of large upright stones supporting one or several horizontal slabs or caps which form a roof for the chamber. There are numerous burial chambers of this type in many parts of Europe; in Spain the highest concentrations are in Alava (in the north) and in Andalusia.

Perhaps the most notable examples are the three sites, Menga, Viera, and Romeral, in Andalusia, just outside the town of Antequera.

Reputed to be some 2500 years old, the Menga dolmen looks like an innocuous mound until we look at the entrance.  A massive stone beam sitting astride the opening is a fitting prelude to the large chamber beyond: a chamber that is about 25 metres long,  4 metres high and 6 ½  metres wide, and made to look even larger by the sheer size the colossal roof slabs and vertical monoliths.

Some symbolic engravings and outlines of human faces near the entrance probably have some ritual significance, associated possibly with the sunlight that penetrates into the burial chamber at the summer solstice.

La Menga entrance.
La Menga interior. © M. Sims

The Viera dolmen next to it is both somewhat smaller and younger, but nonetheless impressive, while the Romeral dolmen –the youngest– is about four kilometres away, now hidden incongruously behind a factory.

This dolmen –possibly 500 years or more younger– differs from the other two in that the massive vertical slabs have given way to walls of small stones and crude bricks, and while there are the usual roof slabs, there are also two round chambers with domed vaults of rough brick.

La Viera entrance. © M Sims.
Inside La Viera. © M. Sims
Inside El Romeral

The dolmens are an extraordinary feat of construction.  How the builders quarried, transported and lifted these enormous stones (one roof slab is calculated to weigh 180 tons) is still a mystery, but it was an awesome achievement that leaves visitors both humbled and moved.

A curious phenomenon of this period that was widespread throughout much of Europe is a type of pottery called bell beaker, so-called because of the inverted bell-shaped pots. Who the Bell Beaker people were is a controversial topic.

Examples of bell beakers.

Various hypotheses have been proposed, rejected and reaffirmed. One such “reborn” hypothesis –based on DNA evidence– is that the Bell Beaker people originated in the south west of the Iberian Peninsula (Portugal and Spain), although the assertion is tentative (“The Bell Beaker folk seem to represent a migration from south west Europe … comparisons between the Bell Beaker people and modern population suggest they came from Iberia – modern Spain and Portugal.” BBC web site, see below for web page. Bold emphasis added.)

Anderson, James  Spain: 1001 Sights: An Archaeological and Historical Guide Calgary, London 1992
Collins, Roger  Spain: An Oxford Archaeological Guide Oxford, New York 1998
Jacobs, Michael A Guide to Andalusia London 1990
European origins laid bare by DNA” on the BBC website, October 10, 2013:
For a spirited and wide-ranging discussion on the topic, see Wikipedia

Image of Los Millares: “Alm04LosMillares3” by Ziegler175 – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons –
Image of La Menga (exterior): “Dolmen de Menga Antequera20”. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – 
Image of La Viera: “Dolmen de Viera” by Grez – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons 
Image of Romeral by El Pantera: El Pantera
Image of bell beakers: “Beakerculture”.