Los Millares

views updated


Settlement and funerary records of the ancient Mediterranean offer evidence that the third millennium b.c. was a time of both warfare and increasing social inequality in the region. One of the key sites where such evidence occurs is at Los Millares, in the middle Andarax Valley, Almería province, in the Andalusia region of southeast Spain. The site comprises a fortified settlement, located on a promontory and further defended by outlying forts, and a cemetery of megalithic tombs located immediately outside the fortifications and on the same promontory. The site was discovered and excavated originally in 1892 by Louis Siret. Modern excavations have been carried out by Martín Almagro and Antonio Arribas in 1953–1957 and then by Arribas and Fernando Molina beginning in 1978.

The settlement itself occupies an area of 5 hectares and was fortified by four dry-stone walls, which have either been excavated or are visible from aerial photographs. The inner wall defines what excavators call a "citadel" area on the tip of the promontory above the River Andarax, with evidence for stratified occupation deposits. The second wall surrounds an area with further huts with stone foundations and timber superstructures. One of these huts, rectangular in shape, contains evidence for both the smelting and casting of copper artifacts. Some 80 meters beyond this lies the third wall, which is a more imposing structure: as a result of at least five phases of rebuilding, the wall reaches a maximum thickness of 9 meters and has external towers, some of which are more than 6 meters in diameter. The fourth, exterior wall lies some 50 meters farther out and seals off access to the settlement from one side (on the River Andarax) to the other side (the Rambla de Huéchar) of the promontory, a distance of more than 400 meters. External bastions are located at 11- to 15-meter intervals, and in two cases they contain evidence for copperworking. At its peak the main entrance consisted of a barbican structure, with two walls projecting 12.5 meters beyond the wall, and traces of an external ditch. A large density of circular structures is indicated within this wall. According to preliminary reports of the excavations since 1978, the earliest occupation at Los Millares was mainly confined to the "citadel" and areas surrounded by the second and third walls. Exterior structures and deposits were then incorporated in the fortified area by the construction of the outer wall. By the end of the occupation the settlement area had contracted to the "citadel" and the area immediately around it.

At least thirteen contemporary, small structures interpreted as "forts" have been found on the crests of hills to the south and southwest of the settlement, as well as to the southeast on the opposite side of the Rambla de Huéchar. Large-scale excavations have been carried out in Fort 1, which was constructed in more than one phase and consisted of a central tower, two concentric walls with external bastions, and two external ditches. The area enclosed by the walls had a diameter of 30 meters, whereas the area within the outer ditch was 50 meters wide. Within Fort 1 there was evidence for areas of flintworking and copperworking and the production of flour using grinding stones set on stone platforms.

Between the main settlement and the forts to the south of the site was a cemetery of more than 80 megalithic stone tombs, the majority of which had central chambers of 3 to 4 meters in diameter, with false vaults and entrance passages. The tombs were built using dry-stone construction and covered with retaining mounds of stone and earth. Communal burials, normally of up to thirty and exceptionally more than one hundred individuals, were placed in these tombs, along with artifacts of copper, stone, bone, pottery, flint, and nonlocal materials such as ivory and ostrich-egg shell (both from North Africa). Although the cemetery was in use at the same time as the settlement and forts, the exact chronology of tomb construction and use is unclear. Radiocarbon dates from the settlement, the cemetery, and Fort 1, as well as from contemporary, related sites in southeast Spain span the period c. 3000–2250 b.c.

The fortifications, domestic structures, and communal tombs of Los Millares clearly represent an increase in labor investment compared with the preceding Neolithic occupation of the region. The funerary evidence suggests unequal access to wealth items between different kinship or descent groups, and those tombs with the largest concentrations of such wealth items are located nearer to the settlement. It is debatable how far such social groups controlled the production of wealth items and of basic subsistence. There is limited evidence for specialized production. The majority of lithics were produced from local raw materials, but there is also evidence of interregional exchange and production in excess of presumed needs for projectile points and grain in Fort 1. The source of this grain is unknown, but it may be tribute from settlements in the immediate hinterland of Los Millares. These settlements were all visible from the forts and in turn their inhabitants were able to monitor areas outside the visibility of those living at Los Millares. Along with other evidence, this suggests the existence of increased social tensions, but not yet the emergence of exploitation and social classes.

Los Millares is the largest and most impressive fortified settlement of the third millennium b.c. in southeast Spain. Such settlements are now known to have been more numerous than was thought in the mid-twentieth century. They are also known to extend from southeast Spain through Andalusia and then north through Portugal and western Spain to the Douro Valley. In all nearly one hundred such sites were known by the end of the twentieth century, although there is great variation in their size, form, function, construction methods, longevity, and association with funerary sites. Los Millares has the advantage of larger-scale excavations (only Zambujal, in central Portugal, has been the subject of comparable fieldwork) and the potential to yield answers to a range of questions on the relationship between production and social inequality in pre-state societies in Iberia, as well as shedding light on the broader context of the Mediterranean at this time.

See alsoLate Neolithic/Copper Age Iberia (vol. 1, part 4).


Arribas, Antonio, et al. "Informe preliminar de los resultados obtenidos durante la VI campaña de excavaciones en el poblado de Los Millares (Santa Fe de Mondújar, Almería) 1985." Anuario Arqueológico de Andalucía 1985 2 (1987): 245–262.

Cara Barrionuevo, L., and J. M. Rodríguez López. "Análisis de distribución especial de las comunidades megalíticas en el valle del río Andarax (Almería)." Arqueología Espacial 3 (1984): 53–75.

Chapman, Robert. Archaeologies of Complexity. London: Routledge, 2003.

——. Emerging Complexity: The Later Prehistory of South-East Spain, Iberia, and the West Mediterranean. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Molina, F., et al. "Programa de recuperación del registro arqueológico del Fortín 1 de Los Millares. Análisis preliminar de la organización del espacio." Arqueología Espacial 8 (1986): 175–201.

Robert Chapman

About this article

Los Millares

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article