What is it like to dig at the edge of the world? This update from Xosé Gago and the Costa dos Castros project tells it like it is.
Here we are, digging at the edge of the world… at least the edge of the world for the Romans! The string of hillforts that we’re excavating on the Costa dos Castros is on the Atlantic coast of northwest Spain, Galicia, and was very much at the edge of the known world during the Roman Empire.
We’re currently working on the A Cabeciña hillfort. Less than 200 km away there’s a place called Fisterra, named after the Roman phrase Finis Terrae: Earth’s End.
And you really get that feeling while digging on the A Cabeciña hilltop. It’s 150 m above sea level and if you look north, south or east you’ll only see land, but if you look west, there’s nothing but the seemingly boundless Atlantic ocean.
This landscape is really magical, and it’s exciting to think that the people living here over 2,000 years ago in the very settlement you are digging would probably feel very similar to how you feel about the landscape and the sea!
For them, the sea meant not only food, but also trade. The sea explains not just the location of the hillfort, but also the beautiful imported artefacts we’ve been finding since the first archaeology campaign at A Cabeciña in early 2015.
The Galician coast seems to have been some kind of hinge between Atlantic and Mediterranean cultures— at the site you can find Atlantic influence on the rock art, with shapes that parallel those you find in megalithic Britanny, and also Mediterranean materials like Punic pottery and Roman amphorae. It makes you think: was this really the edge of the world, or the center of it?
When you’re digging, it is easy to get distracted just watching the sea. Every day, people come up for guided tours and we often realize that some people aren’t listening. Instead, they’re just staring out at the infinity of the ocean. When they realize we’ve noticed, they smile and we smile back conspiratorially, knowing perfectly what they are feeling.
This landscape really changes people; this landscape is what makes this project happen.
People are different here at the end of the world. Ever since we started digging at A Cabeciña hillfort, the local community has easily embraced visitors and volunteers, making them feel part of something special.
Just a few days ago, some local residents caught some fish and shellfish for us, straight from this bountiful sea right on our doorstep. We had a great dinner together, celebrating the birthday of the president of the local forestry cooperative, which which collectively manages A Cabeciña.
There was fresh fish, local seafood, good local wine and beer, and the sharing of laughs and traditional songs. Together, we sang the songs of sailors that have traveled the world over, here at this world’s edge, while the sun sets into the infinite sea. The end of the day at the end of the world.
Tomorrow will be a new day, and we will work together to discover an old world that is new to our eyes. We will need new people to help us uncover the remains of this world and piece together its stories. Maybe you’ll be one of them… come and join us in October?
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