The last hunter-gatherers in the Tagus Valley ‐ the Muge shell middens

Duration: 01/Nov/2007 – 31/Mar/2011

Abstract: Mesolithic prehistory has been one of the main topics of pre-historians. The main reason is that it is a period of major economic, technological and social change, marking the end of the last hunter-gatherers of Western Europe. The case of Portugal, and more specifically of the Tagus valley with the shell midden sites of Muge, seems one of the most interesting regions to study this transitional phase from hunter and gatherers to the agriculturalists. 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 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, frequently called 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 patterns, diverse site function, including burial grounds in or nearby the most important sites. This seems to be the situation of the Muge archaeological complex, although all sites are similar. Based on survey, excavation, radiocarbon dating, isotopic analysis, and material analysis (lithics and fauna), this project will examine the regional technological, economy and social development 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. Finally, it will investigate the hypothesis of the existence of the emergence of social complexity in the Portuguese Mesolithic.

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/HAH/64185/2006  ‐  140391€