On the coast of Galicia in northwest Spain, towards the end of the Camino de Santiago, four valleys run down to the Atlantic. Each one is capped by an Iron Age hillfort and is home to a community whose main income is sourced from the woodland that covers their hillside.
Today, each community runs a forestry co-operative to collectively decide what to do with their land. This time, the four communities of Mougás, Viladesuso, Pedornes and Santa María de Oia decided that what they wanted to do was archaeology.
Determined to investigate the ancient heritage on their hilltops, and use it to build a future for their young people, these four communities have come together to form the Costa dos Castros project, to investigate, conserve and promote the incredibly rich archaeology that’s hidden here.
Combining their resources, the co-operatives dedicated a small budget to the project, but their archaeological ambitions were growing. As patrons of some extraordinary Bronze Age rock art, including a unique depiction of a Bronze Age Mediterranean boat that had once reached these Atlantic shores, and hillforts with bronze axes and beautiful pottery buried inside them, they knew that this was internationally important archaeology. And they wanted as many people to know about it as possible.
Launching an international crowdfunding campaign with us in July, the project aimed to raise €10,000 to fund further excavations, restore some of the ancient woodland and conserve the area’s unique rock art.
Nothing like this had been tried in Galicia before, and none of us – least of all us here at DigVentures – knew what the results would be.
Would people outside Galicia be interested in their Iron Age hillforts? Would they care enough to help these four communities use their heritage to determine their own future? And would they be able to run the project to genuinely benefit their own community?
In the last few hours of October, the campaign crept up from 98% to 100%. Costa dos Castros finally had their answer. Ninety people around the world including Spain, America, Switzerland, Scotland and New Zealand, had voted with their wallets, contributing towards the campaign in return for receiving a tree planted in their name, a specially designed ‘Rock the Boat’ t-shirt, or a week with the excavation team.
As the dig season comes to a close, the Costa dos Castros team has carried out preliminary excavations on the three hillforts; Cabeciña, Canos dos Mouros and Chavella.
Excavations have turned up evidence showing trade connections with the Mediterranean, as well as raising new questions about whether each hillfort had a different use.
This wasn’t just archaeology for archaeology’s sake. It’s about a co-operatively run community deciding to share their heritage with the world. The more that’s known about the hillforts and the rock art, the better they can be conserved and made accessible to visitors.
In less than six months, Costa dos Castros has achieved so much; three preliminary archaeological digs, tours for the 500 people who are now visitng each month, the launch of a specially brewed beer (the proceeds of which will go back into the project), and the attention and support of people around the world who love archaeology.
It’s been hard work, but it’s the first step to making something incredible happen. We are honoured to have been a part of that process and we can’t wait to see how this investment in the past shapes the future of the Communidades de Montes, and to see what the excavations at Costa dos Castros add to our understanding of Atlantic Bronze Age rock art and the development Iron Age hillfort culture.
The most exciting thing is that this can only be done with the help of people who love archaeology. There’s much more to come and loads more archaeology to do. We hope you’ll join us again next year!
DigVentures crowdfunds archaeological projects that everyone can be part of, in the UK and overseas. With help from people all over the world, we investigate the past and publish our discoveries online for free. Become a DigVentures Subscriber and be part of great archaeology - all year round!Subscribe