Archaeologists have found new evidence that Mediterranean people reached the Atlantic coast over 3,000 years ago…and you can get involved!

High up in the mountains of Galicia, north-west Spain, lies Costa dos Castros, a dramatic landscape of coastal cliffs lined with Iron Age hillforts overlooking the Atlantic.

This is where archaeologists have found evidence that Europe’s two biggest seafaring cultures, the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, came face to face in the Bronze Age.

Preliminary excavations led by the local community include gigantic stone structures, pottery and bronze axe heads made for trading with the Mediterranean. There’s also some mysterious rock art that points towards even older links with Phoenicia. But to find out more about this collision of cultures, they need your help.

DigVentures is joining up with the Costa dos Castros archaeologists to search for the still-buried evidence of how and when these two ancient global powerhouses intermingled – and you can join the team!

Hillforts galore

Test Pit 3 Cabecina

Preliminary excavations in March 2015… the evidence is amazing, and the views are spectacular!

The Atlantic Bronze Age was a period of economic and cultural exchange from 1,300-700 BC that extended along the Atlantic Coast of western Europe. As the Bronze Age gave way to the Iron Age, this activity left a distinctive trail of densely populated hillforts all the way from Britain and Ireland through north-west Spain and into Central Portugal.

Galicia alone has over 2,000 hillforts or ‘castros’ dating from the early Iron Age, and it’s on the stunning cliffs of Costa dos Castros that Xosé Gago, Project Manager for Costa dos Castros, is leading a team of archaeologists researching this very special site.

According to Xose, ‘…even for Galicia, it’s an unusual density of hillforts. This coast was rich in tin, a crucial ingredient for making bronze which people would travel thousands of miles to obtain’.

Bronze Axe found in 2015

Unfinished bronze axe unearthed in May 2015, of the sort made for trading with the Mediterranean.

As well as the unexcavated hillforts built to defend this coast, the archaeologists found an unfinished bronze axe. This bronze axe was made, not for chopping, or cutting, or fighting, but for trading with Mediterranean people.

A Mediterranean boat on the Atlantic Ocean

Mediterranean ship rock art

This carving of a Mediterranean ship dates back to the second millennium BC and provides evidence of early contact between Europe’s two biggest cultures – the Atlantic and Mediterranean

As well as hillforts, the Galician coast is decorated with delicate Bronze Age petroglyphs carved into the rocks. Among them is a carving of a Mediterranean boat, which provides the crucial evidence of early contact between the two biggest cultures in Europe at the time.

Although many of these Atlantic-Celtic communities famously traded with Carthage in the Iron Age, and many Galicians supported Carthage during the second Punic Wars (218-201 BC), this discovery suggests the relationship between these two worlds extended even further back in time, originating in the Bronze Age.

According to Xose, ‘This rock art is so important. It is a clear representation of Mediterranean boat, and dates approximately to the 2nd millennium BC.

‘Unfortunately, it’s a little broken because some time ago people thought there was treasure hidden inside and tried to reach it with dynamite.’

You can help the team find out more

Costa dos Castros is a unique site, providing a rare opportunity to understand the relationship between two important ancient cultures which continues to shape our world today. Costa dos Castros has the potential to yield even more incredible evidence of the moment when these two powerhouses intermingled.

The team has formed a campaign to carry out archaeology work on three different hillforts, conduct a rock art survey and conserve this important landscape, including bringing an ancient woodland back to life.

The local community, who collectively manage the land through co-operatives, are completely involved in Costa dos Castros, with the aim to build an infrastructure of sustainable tourism around the project that will feed back into the community and help to support the local area.

The job is massive. In order to carry out the work and spread the news of this incredible place, the collective is looking for help from across the globe.  Each year, they will welcome diggers to join the expert Galician archaeological team to carry on the research, as well as to spend time in the local area and understand what the development of a cultural attraction will mean for the community as a whole.

According to Xose, ‘It’s not just the archaeology – tourism, the local economy and sustainability are also important. We’ve been working on this project for a few years, and now we want people around the world to help us make it grow.’

Do you want to help explore ancient connections between Europe’s two biggest Iron Age cultures? Do you want to help restore an ancient forest, or find more ancient art?

Sign up to join Costa dos Castros excavation team or support the project through crowdfunding. DigVentures will be heading out in October 2015, and we welcome diggers of all experience levels. Come and dig with us in Spain!


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Maiya Pina-Dacier

Head of Community at DigVentures, Maiya digs with a trowel in one hand, and a Twitter feed in the other. She reports on all our discoveries live from the trenches, and keeps our Site Hut full of the latest archaeology news. Got a story? Just drop her a line...

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