This part of the walk through the permament exhibition in the Museum of Almeria takes about an hour. Just a reminder that we are always happy to have you here, and so please feel free to come back to enjoy the exhibits if you don't have much time right now.
The oldest traces of human settlements in the current area of Almeria can be found at the Zajara group of caves (Cuevas del Almanzora), and they belong to Neanderthal groups. We have absolute dating from a much more recent period, approximately 16,000 years ago, of a Homo sapiens settlement at the Cueva Ambrosio (Vélez Blanco). Groups of hunters and harvesters settled in small temporary camps, and utilised the diversity of resources found in the northern lands.
Between 5500 and 3200 before the Common Era, there was an increase in the population and they tended to concentrate in small villages along all the natural areas of Almeria.
From this period on we begin to see new productive activities, the beginning of agriculture and livestock, storage techniques, and new production tools, such as those made in polished stone and clay vessels.
Such innovations have been included in the period traditionally known as Neolithic.
The contacts between human groups served as a vehicle to transfer these novelties, adapting according to their own needs. This process occurred among communities with different levels of sedentary lifestyles, from ephemeral and migrant settlements to more stable ones. In social relationships, the sense of belonging to one family group begun to be dominant, and hence the social predominance of kinship ties.
The first pottery artefacts found date back to this period. Pottery is made of a raw material, clay, which can be found everywhere and which, after being fired at a certain temperature, endures to this day.
This new acquisition brought about an important change in the diet, as it allowed for the cooking and preparation of food. Its invention is linked to the development of food preservation techniques to deal with predators, insects, or mice.
The diverse rocks found in the mountains of the area were an invaluable source of local raw materials.
In addition to the traditional techniques carving of stone, bone and seashell (scrapers, rasps, burins and drills, made in silex or flint) new tools are documented. They were elaborated with a polishing technique that provides a new way to get more resistant blades in a wider range of rocks. Axes, adzes and chisels for the use in all the new farming activities such as tree felling and land preparation and small tools called microliths (small blades and geometrics) used exclusively for hunting, and from this period onwards, also used as sickle pieces for reaping.
At the end of the room, the exhibition discourse is dedicated to funerary customs. Different burial rites coexisted in the southeast of the Iberian Peninsula, both inside and outside the caves.
In southeast Spain at this time, collective burials were carried out inside the settlements themselves such as that at Cerro Virtud. More importantly and especially at the end of that era and during the period of transition, there were also circular tombs built outside the settlements, forming scattered necropolis, like Loma de Almanzora 15 (Cantoria).
At present, it is considered the precedent of the southeastern megalithic structures, the burial place of a lineage or a large family and its territorial indicator.
The fact that this is a moment of transition is clear from looking at the flint tools. The arrow heads are exceptionally well finished and there are also large flint blades which contrast with the small plates in the central section of the cabinet of the room.
At the far end of the room there are several panels featuring cave art from eastern Spain and in the corridor leading to the room dedicated to Los Millares is another series of panels focusing on schematic cave art, produced around 3000 BCE, and also declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. We share more info on that later.
Our intention to understand this period leads to a symbolic model that shows, from an artistic contemporary language, how the territory of the site of Los Millares would be in the third millennium BCE.
In the period between 2700 and 2400 BCE, the society of Los Millares was organised in large fortified settlements which controlled wide areas of southeastern Spain.
Settlements such as Almizaraque (Cuevas del Almanzora), Los Millares (Santa Fe de Mondújar) or Cerro de la Virgen (Orce, Granada) centralised the agricultural and livestock resources dominating a large territory where small dependent settlements were dispersed.
Los Millares society reached complex levels with regard to defensive systems (forts to guard the access to the village and their farm land) as well as with their urban planning that included public places and significant buildings (workshops, aqueducts, silos and cisterns).
At its peak, the central settlement of Los Millares had at least four lines of defensive walls, which could be entered via two gates, the large monumental entrance gate, in the central sector, had a large barbican or gatehouse with walls that were dotted with narrow arrow-slits.
The outer wall also served to separate the world of the living (the village) from that of the dead, the necropolis where they bury their elites.
The free areas not occupied by the graves were used for quarrying, or as pasture and farmland.
Los Millares society reached complex levels with a strong economic structure, with the emergence of specialists and craftsmen and long-distance trade.
The Andarax river was an important means of exchange of raw materials, products and goods. Its wharf concentrated most of the long-distance trade with other societies.
Arrow heads which reflect war and commerce is represented by products traded over short and long distances.
- The stone for building mills, extracted in the area bordering the Cabo de Gata-Nijar Nature Reserve, is a prime example of local trade.
- While for medium-range trade, pottery was important.
- And, finally, there was the flint trade, conducted further afield; this material mainly came the limestone Subbética mountain range in the modern-day provinces of Granada and Málaga.
In the inner circle are objects associated with day-to-day life in the settlement and the main activities involved: livestock breeding, pottery, the production of symbolic objects, medical practices, textiles for clothing, food storage, the milling of cereals, copper working and hunting.
These are all in fact productive and subsistence activities like biological reproduction (understood as the production of the new workforce) and which is represented by an almost life-size contemporary sculptural piece of a group at the time of childbirth.
We continue our tour in the room dedicated to the symbolic and funerary world of the society of Los Millares.
The necropolis of the archaeological site of Los Millares is a unique example in the Iberian Peninsula, due to its size and the number of burials. Compared to other dolmen necropolis of tombs scattered around the area and with small necropolis of "tholoi" secondary towns like Terrera Ventura (Taverns), Los Millares is noted for its exceptionality.
The burial groups show the existence of different lineages. The distance from the settlement is determined by the social status of the groups, as are the funerary goods found in the graves that contain prestigious artefacts.
Nevertheless, the existence in this necropolis of other types of burials (such as dolmens and some artificial caves), in which they probably buried the elites from other dependent areas, confirming that Los Millares was the great political centre of the region.
In all the graves, funerary goods have been found composed of ceramic objects, bones, and stones, all with symbolic decorations.
In the room displays you’ll find grave goods from another necropolis, and also grave goods from Los Millares. You’ll be able to note the symbolic elements found in the burials.
The graves are comprised of a corridor and a round chamber with either a corbelled or false vault (tholoi) or flat roofs.
In this room the recreation of a tholos, evokes the moment of the funeral ritual, which we call the "Circle of Death.” Through an audiovisual which plays a burial ritual, it explains the collective use of tombs and the sequence ritual carried out at each new burial.
The society of Los Millares reaches its peak around 2700 – 2400 BCE, at the time of the 4th Dynasty of Pharaohs in Egypt (Cheops, Chephren and Mycerinus), and royal cemetery of Ur in Mesopotamia.
Nevertheless, with a violent end, this social and economic organisation disappears around 2250 BCE, being replaced by the Argaric society.
Prehistory in the Museum of Almería: The first farming and stockbreeding societies and Los Millares Society
Museo de Almería.
Consejería de Cultura de la Junta de Andalucía.
Texts: Encarna Maldonado Maldonado, Beba Pérez Bernárdez, Manuel Ramos Lizana, Guía breve del Museo de Almería y Proyecto museográfico Museo de Almería.
Photographs: Miguel Ángel Marín Francisco y Fernando Alda.
Digital layout: Beba Pérez Bernárdez.