Los Millares – the biggest town in Europe – 3000 BC style

Los Millares - the biggest town in Europe - 3000 BC style
Los Millares - the biggest town in Europe - 3000 BC style

Los Millares is huge – the largest known European fortified copper-age town /settlement – it not only covers 5 acres of a plateau behind three concentric lines of stone defences but it also included thirteen outlying forts on nearby hilltops – presumably for defence.

The site is old, it was inhabited for nearly a thousand years (3200 – 2250 BC), yet was abandoned just 250 years after the Pyramids were built in ancient Egypt!

Near Almeria on the southern coast of Spain, the area is well worth a visit (it is not too far from the Alhambra and stunning Arab castles and remains). Walking around the site it is easy to spot 5,000 year old pottery shards and marked stones which abound across the site.

Los Millares ceramic pot
Los Millares ceramic pot

Los Milares was based around its copper workers and includes an extensive cemetery of eighty individual passage grave tombs, some with up to 100 burials in them.

Los Millares was built in three phases, each stronger and more impressive than the last. The fortification is often compared to that at Jericho

In the first phase, (early copper age 3,200-2,800 B.C.), the three interior walls were built. Then, as a second phase, (middle copper age 2,800-2,450 B.C.), the innermost wall was demolished and the outer wall constructed, together with most of the small forts. Finally, (late copper age 2,450- 2,250 B.C.), sees the introduction of bell beakers, which are a type of pottery that was produced on a large scale in the village. This was a time of gradual decline, probably brought about by running out of trees to burn for smelting the copper.

The fortified citadel at the very top of a spur has only been partially excavated but shows six metre thick walls built above steep (and if you get vertigo like me, scary) slopes, a deep hollow area , is interpreted as a water cistern, but it has not been excavated.

A cluster of simple dwellings lay inside the citadel, as well as a complex and substantial building containing evidence of smelting. Another large and very unexpected rectangular stone building is believed to have been the equivalent of a village hall, and was presumably used for both meetings and general entertainment. Surprisingly, as no post holes were found in it, it may not have been roofed, possibly meaning it was mainly used in the evenings away from the fierce heat of day.

Although Los Millaries was built because of the plentiful local supply of minerals, the question of how metal smelting was discovered at this time has often been asked. For thousands of years Neolithic man had been using metallic ores for their distinctive colours for painting, decoration and pottery – including the yellows and reds of ochre, ores of iron, and the blues and greens of malachite, azurite and other copper ores. It is likely that, one day, a very surprised potter was a little heavy with the application of a copper paste and, after firing the vessel noticed small nodules of shiny copper at the bottom. The rest is history.

By the time the town was established almost all of the surface ore would have already been used-up so shallow ditches were dug which then led on to the small mines that are locally plentiful.

Strange Burials practice at Los Millares

Los Millares' strange buirial practice
Los Millares' strange buirial practice

Unusually, burials seem to have been sorted not into family groups, but split into four social ranks.  At the top rank are graves with metal weapons, ceramic symbolic decorated ivory items and many idols. These tombs are close to ceremonial areas. Next come tombs with abundant metal objects, ivory and stone with ritual enclosures, niches. Next, tombs have metal elements but scarcely any decorated pottery and no other prestige goods.  The last and lowest class of tombs have fewer metallic objects and ceramic decorations. Over eighty tombs are visible outside the settlement, mainly with corbelled roofs.  Similar Tholos (tombs) are common in Mycanaean remains in Greece and Turkey.

By Gerry Palmer

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