A New Gaze in MNA

By National Museum of Archaeology

" Laurel Leaf " - spear point (Upper Paleolithic)National Museum of Archaeology

The National Museum of Archaeology is the largest Archaeological Museum in Portugal and one of the most important museums devoted to ancient art found in the Iberian Peninsula. Located in Lisbon, the museum was founded in 1893 by the archaeologist José Leite de Vasconcelos and was officially opened at Jeronimos Monastery, in 1906.
The collection includes artefacts from prehistoric times to XX th century.

“Laurel leaf” (spearhead) in zoned, hematitic jaspoid flint. Solutrean. Upper Paleolithic.

Spearheads in the shape of the laurel leaf are characteristic of Solutrean, a culture of the Upper Paleolithic of Western Europe (Iberian Peninsula and Western France), which developed about 20 to 18 thousand years before Christ, during the Last Glacial Maximum. Aimed at handled in wooden sticks or darts (the smallest ones may also have arrowheads) and obtained by flat, invasive, bilateral and bifacial retouching, they are one of the most well-known ex-libris of stone-flaking during Old Prehistory.


Vase. Cardial ceramic with decorative elements - Early Neolithic (Fifth millennium BC)National Museum of Archaeology

Cardial Ceramic vase with printed decoration. Ancient Neolithic
5th Millennium BC

Anthropomorphic Schist Plaque (Chalcolithic Period)National Museum of Archaeology

The megalithic tombs, or ‘dolmens’, of Alto Alentejo, were commonly built from huge granitic dales, and are especially impressive for their monumentality. As funerary items, the engraved shale plaques are one of the mais icons of megalithism. They have profuse geometric decorations and inner segmentations that evoke the human body and head, sometimes with explicit representations of the eyes and silhouttes with partially detached arms. In some dolmens, dozens – at times even more than one hundred plaques – have been found, confirming the tradition of collective tombs within these monuments, a primitive agro-pastoralist practice.

Engraved plaque, in shale, Megalithism, Dolmen of Idanha-a-Nova. National Portuguese Treasure.

Votive Idol (Chalcolithic Period)National Museum of Archaeology

Anthropomorphic Votive Idol.
Espadanal, Estremoz. Portugal

Set of pine shaped votives (3000 - 2000 BC - Early Copper Age)National Museum of Archaeology

Pine-shaped idols from the early Chalcolithic. Limestone
Early Chalcolithic
Tholos São Martinho de Sintra and Necrópole de Carenque, Lisboa.

Archer's pull-handle - Early Bronze Age (c. 1500 BC - Bronze Age)National Museum of Archaeology

This Bronze Age pull-handle in hammered gold-leaf is one of the main important exemplar of jewellery dating from Pre-History.

Vila Nova de Cerveira, Portugal

Ceramics from the sepulchre of the necropolis of Ervidel (Centuries XIII BC. - VII BC)National Museum of Archaeology

A series of ceramics found in the sepulchre of the necropolis of Ervidel from the late Bronze Age.
Centuries XIII BC. - VII BC
Necrópole de Ervidel. Aljustrel

Stele with inscriptions (8th - 7th century BC - Iron Age)National Museum of Archaeology

Stele with Southwestern script found in the southwest of the Iberian Peninsula: mainly in the south of Portugal (Algarve and southern Alentejo), and the southwest of Spain (south of Extremadura and western Andalusia). Of the 95 inscriptions, the longest having 82 readable signs. Around one-third of them were found in Early Iron Age necropolises or other Iron Age burial sites associated with rich complex burials. It is usual to date them to the 7th century BC and consider the southwestern script to be the most ancient Paleohispanic script, with characters most closely resembling specific Phoenician letter forms found in inscriptions dated to c. 825 BC.
Monte dos Nobres, Ourique. Portugal

Incense burner (4th - 3rd century BC)National Museum of Archaeology

Ritual incense burner.
2nd Iron Age
Garvão, Ourique. Portugal

Urn - Second Iron Age (4th - 3rd centuries BC, 2nd Iron Age)National Museum of Archaeology

In antiquity, pottery, for ritual or for everyday use, was often used as a way of recording animal or human motives, and telling stories.
At times, the vases themselves were molded to form figurative motifs, seen in this Urn, with cap and handle, that invokes the human form.
4th - 3rd centuries BC, 2nd Iron Age

Altar to Mars (1st-2nd centuries AD)National Museum of Archaeology

It was under the guidance of Mars and to the sounds of war, that the Romans arrived in Hispania during the second Punic War. By the end of the 1st century BC, all Hispania was under the pax romana.
The administrative reform by Augustus led to the progressive romanisation of the Iberian peninsula and the creation of administrative centres. In 27 BC Hispania was divided in three provinces Lusitania, Baetica and Tarraconensis.

Glass bottle with zoomorphic representations (3rd - 4th centuries AD)National Museum of Archaeology

With Romanization new costumms, new beliefs and religious rituals, different ways of exploiting agriculture, minning, and fishing resources, and new ways of organizing the territory were implemented.

A glass bottle (of the type Isings 104) consisting of three circular decorative elements in which a wild boar, bear and bull are featured.
Campo da Trindade, Faro, Portugal

Roman statue - male (2nd century AD - Roman Period)National Museum of Archaeology

A male sculpture from the Roman Period wearing a tunic with a cover. The figure holds a bird and bunch of grapes.
The figure may depict a devotee or priest from the divinity of the Sanctuary of the Endovelic respectively holding offerings or receiving them.

Mosaic featuring horses (4th century AD)National Museum of Archaeology

"It is known that in Lusitania in the neighbourhood of the town of Lisbon and the river Tagus mares when a west wind is blowing stand facing towards it and conceive the breath of life and that this produces a foal, and this is the way to breed a very swift colt, but it does not live more than three years." (9)

Natural History 8.67.166
Pliny the Elder (AD 23 - 79)

This mosaic was hung in one of the most important rooms of the Torre de Palma Villa, excavated between 1947 and 1956. It is believed the villa dates to the 3rd or the beginning of the 4th century.
In this magnificent mosaic, the horses are identified by their names. The mosaic which depicts horses with affinities to the so-called ‘Lusitanian Horse,’ attests to the breeding of horses in this territory in Roman times.

Mosaic panel depicting muses Mosaic panel depicting muses (4th century AD)National Museum of Archaeology

The Mosaic of the Muses was found in the excavations of the Roman villa of Torre de Palma (Monforte), a significant example of a Roman farmhouse from southern Portugal. The mosaic dates back to the late Roman period, the work of an African itinerant mosaicist (possibly from Tunisia). It was discovered in 1947 and removed from the site by a team from Florence following the excavations by Manuel Heleno (the Director of the National Museum of Archaeology
The mosaic, which was situated in the triclinium (the dining room), consists of eleven panels representing mythological scenes. The originality of the Mosaic of the Muses lies in the association of Bacchus/ Dionysus with the nine Muses. This may derive from the fact that the Muses provide inspiration to three of the main arts related to Bacchus/ Dionysus: theatre, dance, and pantomime.

I The Nine Muses
II Bacchic scene
III Silenus and Satyr
IV Two Maenads
V Two participants in the Thyasos
VI Apollo and Daphne
VII Hercules and Mercurius
VIII Medea Planning to Kill her Children
IX Megara and Hercules
X The Triumph of Bacchus

Fontain frown (101/199)National Museum of Archaeology

"Nearly the whole of Spain is covered with mines of lead, iron, copper, silver and gold, Hither [= Nearer] Spain with muscovite mines also; Baetica abounds in cinnabar as well. There are besides quarries of marble."

Pliny the Elder (AD 23 - 79)

Fontain frown in the shape of a human mask representing the face of a young man.
White marble.
Roman Villa of Santa Vitória do Ameixial. Estremoz.

Caliph plinth, Iberian Peninusla (10 century AD - Islamic Period)National Museum of Archaeology

When, in April or May of 711, Tarique crossed Gibraltar and landed on the promontory of Calpe, D. Rodrigo, the last of the Goth kings, reigned in Hispania. About three years later, after de Battle of Guadalete, the Arabs dominated all the Peninsula and the Visigothic Kingdom ended.
Al-Andalus was the name that the Arabs gave to Hispania - a term that appears for the first time in a dinar coined in 716.

Plinth from Al-Andalus
White marble

Islamic tombstone (12th Century CE - XIII AD)National Museum of Archaeology

This rectangular white marble stone carving is the upper fragment of a funerary epitaph. The arch is a common feature in Iberian Islamic tombstones.

Frielas, Loures, Portugal

XII-XIII centuries

Latin Epitaph of Bishop Julianus (991)National Museum of Archaeology

In the Islamic occupation of Hispania, however, testimonies remain of Christianity. The Chritians, known as Mozarabians, although dominated by Muslims, were allowed to live with their tradiditions, peacefully in the respect of the authority of Islam.

Vase with green and manganese decoration (11th century AD - Islamic Period)National Museum of Archaeology

Vase with green and manganese decoration.

Século XI

Cerro das Relíquias, Giões, Alcoutim.

Islamic Kettle (14th century AD - Islamic Period)National Museum of Archaeology

A bronze kettle. Decorative elements feature stylized lotus and peony. The bottom surface contains inscribed calligraphy suggesting Thuluth script. The item is therefor from the Mamluk period bearing many resemblances to similar luxury goods in the middle of the 14th century Egypt and Syria.

Ceremonial basin with arabic inscriptions (12th - 13th centuries AD - Islamic Period)National Museum of Archaeology

Ceremonial basin with the following inscription, Bismillah: "In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful".
Cacela, Vila Nova de Cacela, Vila Real de Santo António, Portugal

Springtime (19th century)National Museum of Archaeology

Of particular note are the nuclei of Popular Religious Art, which contain religious iconography, votive offerings, votive panels, amulets, and pastoral arts (spoons, horns, gunpowder horns), looms for weaving, musical instruments (including an 18th Century Accordion), toys, and smoking paraphernalia, Portuguese faience from the 17th to 20th centuries from several factories and periods, as well as pottery from Barcelos, Gaia, Caldas da Rainha, Mafra, Nisa, Estremoz, Redondo and the Algarve.

‏‏‎ A woman preparing sausagesNational Museum of Archaeology

A Estremoz clay doll representing a woman preparing sausages.
Estremoz. Portugal

‏‏‎ Barcelos roosterNational Museum of Archaeology

The pair Chicken and Rooster of Barcelos of the Museum demonstrate a traditional and popular motif of the decorative pottery in this portuguese town and the entire surrounding region. Since the middle of thetwentieth century, mainly as political propaganda, the rooster has become an icon of Portuguese identity for folk craft.

‏‏‎ Barcelos chickenNational Museum of Archaeology

The pair Chicken and Rooster of Barcelos of the Museum demonstrate a traditional and popular motif of the decorative pottery in this portuguese town and the entire surrounding region. Since the middle of thetwentieth century, mainly as political propaganda, the rooster has become an icon of Portuguese identity for folk craft.

Mofina Mendes (20th century (beginning)) by Manuel Gustavo Bordalo PinheiroNational Museum of Archaeology

Mofina Mendes is a character from Gil Vicente's poem "Auto dos Mistérios da Virgem". Mofina is a accident prone idealist and dreamer, who upon breaking a pot of olive realises none of her dreams will come true. Gil Vicenet was renowned 16th century playwright and lyric poet.

Manuel Gustavo Bordalo Pinheiro
Caldas da Rainha. Portugal.
20th century

Credits: Story

António Carvalho, Director National Museum of Archaeology

Curation and texts:
Filomena Barata e Ana Caessa
(Museu Nacional de Arqueologia, Direção-Geral do Património Cultural)

Other support texts:
National Museum of Archaeology. Matriz Net
Luís Raposo MNA

Digital production:
Filomena Barata
Thiago Carrapatoso


ALVES, Francine, “O Labirinto no Mosaico Pavimental Romano”, Revista do Instituto de História da Arte 3, 2007, 40-51
ABRAÇOS, Maria de Fátima, “Os mosaicos romanos descontextualizados: alguns exemplos em coleções de Museus Arqueológicos nacionais e estrangeiros”, in G. Filipe, J. Vale, I. Castaño (eds.), Patrimonialização e Sustentabilidade do Património: Reflexão e Prospectiva, Lisboa: Instituto de História Contemporânea, FCSH/UNL, 458-476
ABRAÇOS, Maria de Fátima, Para a História da conservação e restauro do mosaico romano em Portugal, Tese de Doutoramento, Faculdade de Letras da Universidade de Lisboa, Lisboa, policopiado
FABIÃO, Carlos, "Os primórdios: sob o signo de Marte", A herança romana em Portugal. Lisboa: CTT, 2006.
LANCHA, J., “À propos de quatre vues inédites (1947) de la mosaique des Muses de Torre de Palma, retrouvées en 2003 au Musée National d'Archeologie”, O Arqueólogo Português 22, 1983, 353-391
LANCHA, J., “As produções musivas na Lusitânia”, in A. Carvalho, J. M. Álvarez Martínez, C. Fabião (eds.), Lusitânia Romana. Origem de dois povos, Lisboa: INCM, 2016, 330-341
LANCHA, Janine, ANDRÉ, P., Torre de Palma: corpus dos mosaicos romanos de Portugal. Lisboa: Instituto Português de Museus e Missão Luso-Francesa, 2000, 157-213.
RACKHAM, H. (transl.), Pliny. Natural History in ten volumes. Libri VIII-IX, vol. 3. London: William Heinemann/ Cambridge (Mass.): Harvard University Press, 1940 (Loeb Classical Library), p. 169.
RIBEIRO, José Cardim (coord.), Religiões da Lusitânia: Loquuntur saxa, Lisboa: IPM, 2002.

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