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During the Late Neolithic and the Chalcolithic in the NE of the Iberian Peninsula two main changes in the burials take place with respect to the previous period: the appearance of collective burials and the high proportion of projectile points among the tools recovered inside the monuments. What is the meaning of these projectile points? Without ruling out the possibility that some of these points were intentionally deposited, stressing the symbolic relevance of these hunting/war tools, we think that many of them must have entered the burial place inside the bodies of the deceased people, indicating human violence. We analyse three collective burials showing many signs of violence: some points inserted in the human bones, other points broken by impact, some traumatic fractures in skulls, etc. We think that the violence observed in these burials can be characterised as systematic and organised, showing the social importance of war in this period. Peer reviewed
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321
Projectile points as signs of violence in collective burials during the
4th and the 3rd millennia cal. BC in the North-East of the Iberian peninsula
Belen Marquez,a Juan Francisco Gibaja,b Jesus Emilio Gonzalez,c Juan Jose Ibañez,c
Antoni Palomod
aMuseo Arqueológico Regional, Alcalá de Henares, Madrid, Spain belen.marquez@madrid.org
bMuseu d´Arqueología de Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain JFGIBAJA@teleline.es
cUniversidad de Cantabria. Santander, Spain jesuse.gonzalez@unica.es, ibanezjj@unican.es
dMuseu d´Arqueología de Catalunya- Centre d'Arqueologia Subaquàtica de Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain arqueolitic@jet.es
Summary. During the Late Neolithic and the Chalcolithic in the NE of the Iberian Peninsula two main changes in the burials take
place with respect to the previous period: the appearance of collective burials and the high proportion of projectile points among the
tools recovered inside the monuments. What is the meaning of these projectile points? Without ruling out the possibility that some of
these points were intentionally deposited, stressing the symbolic relevance of these hunting/war tools, we think that many of them
must have entered the burial place inside the bodies of the deceased people, indicating human violence. We analyse three collective
burials showing many signs of violence: some points inserted in the human bones, other points broken by impact, some traumatic
fractures in skulls, etc. We think that the violence observed in these burials can be characterised as systematic and organised,
showing the social importance of war in this period.
Résumé. Pendant le Néolithique supérieur et le Calcolithique au NE de la Péninsule Ibérique les sépultures ont expérimentée deux
changements principales en rapport avec la période précédente: l'apparittion des sépultures colléctives et la proportion elévée des
pointes de projectiles parmi les outils récupérés à l'intérieur de ces monuments. Quel est la signification de ces pointes de
projectiles? Sans exclure la possibilité de qu'une partie des pointes furent déposés intentionellement, en souslignant le simbolisme de
ces outils de chasse ou de guèrre, nous pensons que la plupart d'elles ont du être introduites dans les sépultures à l'interieur des
corps des morts, en indicant violence humaine. Nous analysons trois sépultures collectives qui montrent quelques évidences de
violence: des pointes insérées dans les os humaines, des autres cassées par impact, quelques fractures traumatiques aux crânes, etc.
Nous pensons que les évidences de violence observées à ces sépultures peuvent être caractérisées comme systématiques et
organisées, en montrant l'importance sociale de la guèrre à cette période.
Key words: Neolithic, Chalcolithic, Iberian Peninsula, arrowheads, violence.
Introduction
At the end of the 5th millennium cal. BC, in
the NE of the Iberian Peninsula, people
were buried in individual graves and
offering deposits accompanied the bodies
(i.e. sites of Los Cascajos, in Navarre or
Bobila Madurell, in Catalonia). Among
these offerings we can find several types of
tools (sickle elements, blades for working
hide, wood, butchery, etc., microliths used
as projectile tips, endscrapers for softening
hides, etc.). The correlation between the
activities represented in the tools and the
individuals in the graves showed the
existence of a certain division of labour by
age and gender. During the 4th millennium
cal. BC, at the Late Neolithic and
Chalcolithic, two main changes in funerary
practices took place: individuals were
buried in collective graves (hypogea,
artificial caves, megaliths) and arrowheads
became the most common tools recovered
in these contexts. What is the meaning of the prevalence
of arrowheads among the tools deposited in the graves?
We have carried out analysis on the arrowheads
recovered at three collective graves located in the NE of
the Iberian Peninsula (Fig. 1): 1) the hypogeum of
Longar, located in Navarre and dated to 2500 BC; 2) the
approximately contemporary rockshelter of San Juan
Ante Portam Latinam, located in Alava (Vegas 1999, p.3)
The megalith of Can Martorell, in Catalonia, dated to
2500 cal. BC (Mestres i Torres 2003).
Fig. 1: Location map.
“PREHISTORIC TECHNOLOGY 40 YEARS LATER
322
Longar (Armendáriz e Irigaray 1995)
The hypogeum of Longar is located in Navarre (North
Spain). This region offered in the past a perfect natural
environment to develop the first productive economies in
the northern Peninsula. The density of sites with
collective burials is very high.
Longar was discovered in 1989 and excavated from 1991
to 1994. Today, the preserved remains can be visited.
The roof of the chamber collapsed on the inner deposits
(Fig. 2). The structure was filled with human remains.
The NMI is 112, and all the ages and sex are represented.
Some of the corpses were in anatomic position and were
deposited through time. There are no elements of
personal adornment. Only a small vessel, some flakes,
blades and arrowheads have been recovered.
All the arrows are of the leaf type with invasive retouch
on one or both faces. 4 of them are directly related to
skeletal parts (Fig. 3), and so, the authors consider that
they came into the chamber inside the corpses of four
adult males.
San Juan Ante Portam Latinam (Vegas 1999)
The archaeological site of San Juan Ante Portam Latinam
(SJAPL) is located at Alava, North Spain. It was
discovered in 1985 during the works of enlargement of a
path, when a singular deposit of human remains was
affected by the machines. The deposit, located into a little
shelter, was sealed by the roof collapse. Once the slab
was removed, the deposit was excavated in 1985 and then
in 1990 and 1991.
The remains of SJAPL have been
dated to the end of the 4th IV
millennium cal. BC. More than 300
individuals were buried (Fig. 4). All
the ages and sex are represented,
although males are over represented.
The study of pathologies shows some
wounds surely produced by arrows.
Other are not so clear but probably
have been caused by the same agent.
One-hundred-and thirty-one lithic
object has been recovered. There are
61 arrow points, and some pieces of
worked bone (ornaments and tools).
There are only a few fragments of
ceramics. From a typological point of
view the sample of arrow points from
San Juan can be grouped into leaf
points and barbed-and-tanged points.
The latter group has scarcely
developed barbs. None of them are
heavier than 5 gr.
Fig. 3: Vertebra with flint arrow-point attached (after
Armendáriz e Irigaray 1995).
Fig. 4: Detail of the deposit of San Juan Ante Portam Latinam
(Photo. J.I. Vegas).
Fig. 2: The site after the removal of the roof (after Armendáriz e Irigaray 1995).
BELEN MARQUEZ ET AL: PROJECTILE POINTS AS SIGNS OF VIOLENCE IN COLLECTIVE BURIALS
323
Fig. 5: Broken arrow by impact. It can be seen a burination in
the right distal part of the arrow.
The hypothesis to the formation of SJAPL sample, points
to a deposition in a short period of time. The objects
recovered by the corpses did not correspond to ritual
offerings but belongings or were included inside the
bodies (e.g. some of the arrows) (Vegas 1999).
After the use-wear analysis of the arrows, we can say that
apparently most of their fractures are due to their use
(Márquez in press). In fact, we can distinguish some of
the type of fractures due to impact showed at the
performed experimental programs with arrow points. For
example, “burin” (Fig. 5), “flute-like” (Fig. 6) and
bending fractures are frequent. “Right” fractures do not
mean impact breakage but can be produced by trampling
or other non-use processes. Impact striations are also
found in 9 of the 37 studied pieces (Fig. 7). They are in
Fig. 6: Detail of a “flute-like” fracture.
Fig. 7: Striation due to impact.
fact bright lines generally oriented following the long
axis of the arrow and so the direction of motion. Use
polish is generally hidden by patination and then we can
ensure only that few spots of polish are due to impact.
Among the sample there are two apical parts of an arrow
and two medial fragments. Nevertheless proximal parts of
the arrows are lacking. These parts normally remain
attached to the shafts, which used to be recovered by the
hunters. And so, it’s easier to find the arrow tips and their
medial parts which use to be attached to the game.
“PREHISTORIC TECHNOLOGY 40 YEARS LATER
324
Can Martorell (Mercadal 2003)
This site is located in a mountainous region in Dosrius,
Barcelona (North-East Spain). It was discovered in 1995
by a member of the Archaeology Section of Mataró
Museum, when some slabs of stone could be observed
emerging from the ground. A rescue excavation
campaign determined that this was a multiple inhumation
structure, with a megalithic entrance (Fig. 8). From a
topographic point of view, this site is located in an
excellent place, at 205m a.s.l., above two water sources.
The chamber is a semicircular space of about 7 m²
excavated into the granite substrate.
There are three archaeological levels. The lower one
corresponds to the burial where all the arrow points were
found. Four C14 dates have been obtained yielding 3rd
millennium cal. BC dates for the human bones. The
osteological study points to the presence of 161
individuals (Fig. 9). Adults are the group best represented
followed by youngsters and children (Mercadal and
Agustí 2003).
There is no proportion between the lithic material, 68
arrow points, and the scarce fragments of pottery.
The lithic elements found are barbed-and-tanged points
made of flint (Palomo and Gibaja 2003). Two types of
arrows can be recognised: arrows with well developed
barbs and short stems, and arrows with scarcely
developed barbs and long stems. A different use for the
two types can be supposed. More of the 80% of the
arrows show fractures. The same kind of fractures owe to
impact are recognised. Only 19 are complete or with little
microscopic fractures which cannot be produced by the
use. On the other hand, in most of
the pieces (33%) we have
recorded striae due to impact
(Fig. 10) or contact with a hard
material. Also, intense roundings
have been found at the external
edges of the barbs which can be
produced by the contact with the
leather of the quiver (45% of the
pieces) (Fig. 11).
The first conclusion after the
study of the pieces of Can
Martorell is that most of them
were used as projectiles. The
fractures recorded at the point,
barbs and stems, can only be
caused by impact towards a hard
object. Most of the pieces could
come to the site included in the
corpses. As it occurs in SJAPL,
neither barbs nor stems have been
found at the burial, perhaps
because they were recovered together with the shafts.
Contrary to what happen in Longar and SJAPL, we have
no direct proof of death by an arrow point. Neverthless,
the paleopathological study suggest that some traumatic
lesions could have been caused by violent attack.
Fig. 9: Detail of the deposit of Can Martorell.
Finally, in relation to those unbroken points, we can say
that they can be part of the offerings, although our
experiments show that not all the arrows which have been
thrown, broke.
Conclusions
The quantity of individuals buried varies from around one
hundred at Longar (Armendáriz and Irigaray 1995), to
near two hundreds at Can Martorell and three hundreds at
San Juan (Vegas 1999). All segments of the population
(gender and age) are represented in the graves. Some of
the bodies are in anatomic position, while other human
remains have been removed and concentrated at the sides
Fig. 8: General view of the entrance to the megalithic structure.
BELEN MARQUEZ ET AL: PROJECTILE POINTS AS SIGNS OF VIOLENCE IN COLLECTIVE BURIALS
325
Fig. 10: Striation due to impact.
Fig. 11: Rounded edge.
of the grave, in groups of skulls, or long bones. All this
indicates that the graves were used to bury all the
individuals of prehistoric communities during a certain
period of time, when the grave was in use.
The human remains showed abundant signs of violence.
Several individuals bear arrowheads inserted in the
bones, 9 cases at San Juan and 4 cases at Longar. Some
of the individuals survived the wounds while others seem
to have died because of the injury. Fractures in the skull,
some of them incising, and in the forearms are also
common. All these signs of violence affect young males.
Use-wear analysis of the arrowheads shows that most of
them had been shot (Márquez in press; Palomo and
Gibaja 2003), so these tools were not elaborated
specifically for ritual offerings. A certain proportion of
arrowheads were inserted in the bones. Some others were
broken by impact and were not functional any more. As
the custom of offering tools that were potentially
functional in the graves is well established we think that
these arrowheads entered the grave inside some of the
bodies. In conclusion, many of the arrowheads were not
part of the offerings, although we cannot rule out this
possibility for some of them.
We think that the violence observed in these burials can
be characterised as systematic (recurrent in time and
space) and organised (affecting young males), so the
existence of war can be suggested. There seems to be an
increase of systematic violence in these area and at this
time, when compared to previous periods. The
arrowheads inserted in the bodies are a direct sign of this
violence, while the arrowheads deposited as offerings
speak about the symbolic relevance of violence. Social
and economic factors could explain the importance of
war in this period, as the need of new territories in a
moment when population seem to be stressing their
attachment to land (megalithic phenomenon) or the need
of prestige in a context of social ranking that was
beginning to develop.
Acknowledgements
J.I., Vegas Aramburu, director of San Juan Ante Portam
Latinam excavations allowed us to perform this study.
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