Notes from Spain – Tuesday – July 20th

22 07 2010

July 20, Lori and I spent most of the day in the computer labs at the University of La Rioja assisting the field school students with the processing and preparation of their datasets. They will present their work and results in a symposium scheduled for tomorrow. In the late afternoon we had the opportunity to visit three dolmen sites and a Medieval walled town with our friend and personal guide, Alvaro Rodriguez Miranda.

 Dolmens are a type of single-chamber megalithic tomb that usually consist of a number of upright stones that support a large, flat, horizontal capstone.  Most of these megalithic structures date to the early Neolithic period (circa 4000 to 3000 BC), but have been used repeatedly by various later populations up to at least the Middle Ages. Dolmens were usually covered with earth or smaller stones to form a barrow, or low hill. The large stones that are visible today were actually the subsurface foundational “skeleton” of the structure of the burial mound that have been revealed by exposure to long-term weathering and erosion of the covering soil. The sites that we visited are located in the Basque Region, in the southern foothills of the Sierra de Cantabria. We were told that more than 80 of these structures have been located in the surrounding countryside.

 Many questions about the specific purpose(s) of the dolmens remain. For example, were they originally contructed as burial sites or was this use a later manifestation? Were they placed in specific locations to act as waypoints or directional markers for travelers or traders? Or did they serve some other purpose? A multidisiplinary archaeological project is currently being conducted in the region by the University of Vitoria. They are investigating these intriguing structures using traditional excavation methods, geophysical surveys, and also employing high resolution documentation methods (e.g., 3D laser scanning and photgrametric techniques) and exceedingly accurate spatial mapping technologies (e.g., GPS, GIS, total stations, and aerial LiDAR). These new types of data will provide extensive information regarding a variety of issues relative to the dolmens and there use over time.

 Later, we also visited the Medieval town of Labraza, located in the province of Álava, in the Basque Country of northern Spain. This is another walled town that sits atop a prominent rocky outcrop with a commanding view of the surrounding countryside. Unlike Laguardia, Labraza is seldom visited by outsiders, a situation that gives a visitor a chance to see life without the trappings of tourism. The relative isolation of this friendly and prosperous town has helped to preserve the architecture and one can see and experience the lifestyle that has changed little over the past 500 years. All in all, it was a great early evening.

 We returned to Logrono for dinner and the unexpected surprise that followed. The participants from HafenCity Universität Hamburg (Germany), brought out cases of their local German beer, the Greeks from National Technical University of Athens offered bottles of ouzo, and Italian wine from the students of the Universita degli Studi Siena (Italy). Students from the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid supplied an Iberian ham (a complete pork leg that has been soaked in salt and cured for up to a year). Universidad del País Vasco (Spain) brought excellent chocolates from the Basque Country as did students from Vilniaus Gedimino Technikos Universitetas in Lithuania. The after-dinner celebration was a lot of fun, and it was great to see students and professors from six different countries sharing and enjoying their foods and traditions.

 Travis

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