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Os menires do Lavajo (Afonso Vicente, Alcoutim)

Authors:
  • CHAIA - University of Evora

Abstract and Figures

In this study, we present the results of excavations conducted in 1998 and 2001, and the subsequent works of protection and rehabilitation of two loci of menhirs, Lavajo 1 and Lavajo 2, located at 250 m of distance from each other, in a NNE direction and separated by the small valley of Lavajo (Alcoutim). Lavajo 1 is located on the top of a hill while Lavajo 2 is located on a slope, and both presented a good visibility southwards as well as northwards. Lavajo 1 has three monoliths made of greywacke: one, almost complete, of a phallic appearance, and currently the largest greywacke menhir known in Portugal, reaching a maximum length of 3,14 m; another, almost complete, broken in three large blocks, with a stela-Iike appearance; the third, very incomplete, with only a piece of its front side left. It is possible, however, that there were once more monoliths, considering that abundant fragments of greywacke were found at the site, all with fresh fractures. All the menhirs of Lavajo 1 were decorated. The largest one has a prominent decoration, strictly related to the morphology of the lithic support, and it was possible to determine its original location, on a small pit of circular plan and flat bottom. The pit was partially damaged by works carried out in 1994 to re-erect the menhir, but conducted without care and placing the structure in reverse position. The three decorated menhirs were placed in the highest zone of the small hill of Lavajo 1, that should not be seen in isolation as they articulated directly with the group at Lavajo 2, located on the other side of the Lavajo valley. ln this second location, four undecorated stele-menhirs, all of greywacke, were discovered, of which only one, represented by a small fragment, was found in situ. It was, nevertheless, possible to reconstruct the relative positions of the remaining ones, through the excavation of their respective sockets, associated with an elongated groove, oriented east-west, and cut into the bedrock made up of finely foliate carboniferous schists. ln this way, we concluded that the stele-menhirs were arranged in a line and constituted a continuous lithic paneI. Within the pit-holes were recovered diverse artefacts ritually placed there during the construction of the monument, whose typology points to the Late Neolithic and whose chronology is compatible with that of the megalithic group at Lavajo 1, based on the iconography of the menhirs. Although the settlement pattern of the Late Neolithic in the region is not well-known, these two megalithic nuclei could be interpreted as territorial markers and/or sacred spaces; of note is the existence of year-round water sources in their immediate proximity, water being a scarce and precious resource which would have aided in horticulture. On the other hand, the nature of the raw materials found (flint, amphibolite), in addition to other material obtained through extensive transregional trade (fibrolite), is evidence for regular interaction between populations in both the interior of the Baixo Alentejo (Ossa/Morena Zone), as well as along the Algarve or Andalusian coast, consistent with the level of economic development of the Late Neolithic of the southern Iberian Peninsula, in the second half of the IV millenium BC. ln a vast region, corresponding to the entire Eastern Algarve, where non-funerary megaliths were until now totally unknown, the sites of Lavajo I and II are interesting and one of the most significant expressions of the south western Iberian megalithism.
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