Explore Spain’s Celtic Connection And Help Dig An Iron Age Hillfort

Our community gathers at one of our hillforts to enjoy some food, wine and spectaculr sunset views

The people of Costa dos Castros gather on one of the region’s many hillforts to enjoy some food, wine and spectacular sunset views

A Spanish community is crowdfunding help to excavate an impressive Iron Age hillfort in Galicia, on the Atlantic coast of Spain.

Archaeologists are inviting adventurous travellers to join a field school for a week learning hands-on about archaeology and excavating an Iron Age hillfort in Galicia, on Spain’s Atlantic coast.

This hillfort (known as A Cabeciña) is one of a series in the region, and has already provided evidence that the Celtic people who inhabited western Iberia during the Iron Age were interacting with Mediterranean traders long before the Romans arrived in the area.

Last year, preliminary excavations at A Cabeciña hillfort unearthed an ‘hacha de talón’ – a type of bronze axe that was not used as a tool or a weapon, but was specifically made for trading.

A Bronze Axe head used for trading with the Mediterranean that we found last year

A Bronze Axe head used for trading with the Mediterranean that was found last year

“These axes were highly valued by Mediterranean people for the bronze they contained, and it looks like the indigenous people at Costa dos Castros were selling them in exchange for other goods like jewellery and exotic pottery” said project manager Xosé Gago.

Finds also included local Iron Age pottery, imported Punic and Roman pottery, an iron axe, fibulae, and an archer’s wrist guard. A series of tightly packed, domestic roundhouses were also found to have been built within the walls of the hillfort.

Locally known as Costa dos Castros (Coast of the Hillforts), the region developed during the late Bronze Age and flourished in the late Iron Age, until it was subsumed by the arrival of the Romans, and is named for the unusual density of hillforts that line its shores. Archaeologists have so far identified 12 within a narrow 7km stretch.

3 - Excavating Roundhouses at Cabecina Hillfort - 2015

Excavating roundhouses at Cabeciña Hillfort in 2015

According to Carlos Otero, archaeological director, “it is impossible to understand the hillforts of Atlantic Europe without exploring the connections these Iron Age people had with Mediterranean traders. There was a lot more contact than many people realise, and the influence that these two cultures had on each other is a story that remains relatively unexplored.”

“With so many hillforts in such close proximity, Costa dos Castros is an excellent place to investigate Atlantic and Mediterranean connections, but also the question of why these Iron Age people built so many different hillforts in such close proximity. We also have clear construction phases, which means we can study how they evolved,” said Otero.

In 2015 the team also excavated another of the hillforts, but to their surprise found that compared to A Cabeciña’s rich remains, it seems to have been uninhabited.

“Despite having huge ramparts, and large open terraces, we found no evidence that people actually lived in this hillfort. There were no roundhouses, and no domestic pottery. Could it be that this one had a different purpose relating to its elevated position in the landscape?” says Otero.

6 - Decorated Late Iron Age Pottery from Cabecina - 2015

Some fragments of freshly cleaned Iron Age pottery – last seen around 2,000 years ago

The region is famously rich in tin, a vital ingredient for making bronze, and archaeologists are beginning to build up a picture of what must have once been a well-defended coastal settlement in the middle of a thriving trade route that reached up and down the Atlantic coast, and into the Mediterranean.

The land on which all this archaeology rests is collectively owned by four forestry co-operatives, who have recently joined together to form the Costa dos Castros Association with the aim of pushing forward archaeological research and conservation.

Marta and Carlos begin some excavations

Archaeologists in mid-excavation at Chavella Hillfort

“We make all of our decisions about the land collectively, and manage the forest, farm and do agriculture together. These archaeological remains are very precious and we want to investigate them together too”, said Celso Domínguez, president of the Costa dos Castros Association.

“This year, we’re inviting adventurous travellers to help us crowdfund more detailed research, and to spend up to two weeks being trained by our professional team and carrying out excavations. It’s an opportunity to be immersed in an ancient culture, and a modern day one too” said Gago.

The Costa dos Castros Association has joined together to ensure the hillforts are excavated and conserved, and to improve international understanding of how hillfort culture developed not just in Galicia, but throughout Atlantic Europe. The research is academically supported by Spain’s Institute of Heritage Sciences (Incipit), part of the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC).

Archaeologists will re-open excavations at A Cabeciña hillfort in October. You can find out more about joining the team at www.digventures.com/projects-costa-dos-castros-2016

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Written by 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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