The last hunter-gatherers of Muge (Portugal): the origins of social complexity

Duration: 4/1/2010 – 3/31/2012

Abstract: It is clear that the Muge shell middens correspond to a new adaptation after the long term Paleolithic economy that lasted well into the Holocene in Portuguese Estremadura. Estuarine resources seem to have played a very important role in the local diet, as a specific adaptation of new environmental conditions resulting from the Flandrian transgression. Increased marine and estuarine biomass during the Atlantic period may have been the result of the 8.2 K cold event, with the collapse of the Hudson Ice Dome causing a freshwater cold pulse that reached the coast of Portugal, and likely the Tagus and Sado estuaries. This highly productive environment made possible the consolidation of an economic and social system of Complex Hunter-Gatherers. The reason for this designation is that of a clear tendency for sedentism, sometimes year-around camping, as well as for a beginning development of social complexity, but not political, of the human society. It is said that the richness of aquatic resources made possible the long term settlement, usually restricted in size, frequently marked by a logistical mobility pattern, diverse site function, including burial grounds in or nearby the most important sites. This seems to be the situation of the Muge archaeological complex, with new data coming from a recent project and re-analyses of old data suggesting the presence of primitive social complexity based on interspatial site organization and inter- and intra-burial organization, evoking the situation of the Mesolithic burial grounds of Oleni Ostrov. Based on excavation of the site of Cabeço da Amoreira (Muge), radiocarbon dating, isotopic analysis, material analysis (lithics and fauna, including raw material provenience), and analysis of human burial contexts and patterns, this project will examine the emergence of social complexity of the last hunter-gatherers of the Tagus valley. It will also address aspects of changes into agriculture and the impact of exogenous populations, and the importance of ecological conditions and its evolution in the resource richness of the area.

Coordinator: Nuno Gonçalo Viana Pereira Ferreira Bicho, University of Algarve.

Participants: Cláudia Umbelino, Eugénia Cunha

Partner institutions: Universidade do Algarve

Financial support: Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia, PTDC/HIS ‐ ARQ/112156/2009 ‐  119000€