A model of the prehistoric town of Los Millares, with its walls. Andalucia, Spain

The Lost Iberian Civilization of Los Millares: Was Copper the Secret of its Success?

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Los Millares is an impressive size settlement that was in use from the end of the 4th millennium BC to the 2nd millennium BC. During these twenty centuries, the mysterious people who created this settlement became a highly advanced society famous for the production of copper and construction of a remarkable hillfort.

The hillfort, which holds the secrets of the people who lived in those ancient times, was discovered in 1891. The people who unearthed it weren't researchers, but simply workers who were building the railway. The site lies about 17 km (10.56 miles) north from Almeria in Andalusia, Spain. The first person who led the works on this site was Luis Siret, whose excavations were like a mission of Indiana Jones. It was a search for the forgotten tribe, whose skills and life were more advanced than people had believed.

Enclave and building at the prehistoric site at Los Millares.

Enclave and building at the prehistoric site at Los Millares. ( CC BY-SA 4.0 )

The Los Millares Site and its People

The complex was big enough to allow about 1000 people to live there and create an advanced ancient community. The remarkable hillfort covers the area of 2 ha (4.9 acres). According to the radiocarbon dating method, the hillfort collapsed in ancient times, but the inhabitants rebuilt it around 3025 BC. The hillfort is a masterpiece of its times. The road to the heart of the ancient village was surrounded by the careful eyes of guards located on four small stone fortifications located outside of the settlement. The outer ring runs more than 650 ft. (2132.6) It has nineteen circular areas that could be called bastions, and an entrance gate. Near the road protected by the four small forts, researchers unearthed the cemetery. This major discovery consisted of eighty passage tombs.

A model of a tomb characteristic of the prehistoric site at Los Millares.

A model of a tomb characteristic of the prehistoric site at Los Millares. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

The pottery of Los Millares was decorated with wares, including statues of idols and oculus motifs. The analysis of the grave goods from the necropolis of the society of Los Millares proved that the inhabitants of this settlement weren't of equal status. Moreover, it seems that it wasn't a very peaceful group. Archaeologists found evidence of wars among the neighbors.

The Evolution of Los Millares’ Civilization

The culture of Los Millares had evolved from the previous local society, but they grew to dominate the entire Iberian Peninsula for several centuries. In around 1800 BC the original group of citizens of Los Millares was replaced by the people related to the El Argar civilization. They expanded by exploiting the achievements of Los Millares. This culture is also responsible for the growth of Vila Nova de Sao Pedro in Portugal.

The inhabitants of Los Millares lived mostly from farming. However, they were also active on the trade route and had a unique skill – metal working focused on copper.

Some of the artifacts found at the Los Millares site at the National Archaeological Museum, Madrid.

Some of the artifacts found at the Los Millares site at the National Archaeological Museum, Madrid. ( CC BY-ND 2.0 )

The Remarkable Story of Copper Production

The hillfort was also an important part of the history of copperwork. The people who settled in the village known as Los Millares were masters of the early production of copper and copper work.  According to the article ''Early Production of Copper Alloys at Los Millares'':

''The importance of the Millarian culture in the prehistory of the Iberian peninsula, and indeed of the Mediterranean area as a whole, has long been appreciated. Much attention has been paid to its relationships with the eastern Mediterranean, especially concerning the development of its massive fortifications and the use of ''Tholloi'' tombs. More recently, attention has been turned towards the origin and development of its copper-based metallurgy, which is amongst the earliest in Western Europe. (...) The site (Los Millares) consists of a citadel protected by a series of four defensive walls, with additional protection being afforded by a ring of at least twelve hill-top forts to the south. So far, evidence of metalworking has been found in a number of areas at the main site and at the largest of the forts. The most significant area so far excavated is the interior of a rectangular hut on the inside of the third defensive wall, near to the citadel itself. The centre of the hut is dominated by a circular feature approximately one metre in diameter, thought to be a hearth. It was found surrounded by a shallow trench filled with many hundreds of small, highly vitrified ceramic fragments. Numerous prills, casting spills and ore fragments were found in the area and the soil surrounding the feature was stained green. In one corner of the hut, hundreds of ceramic sherds were found, many showing slagging indicative of metallurgical activity.''

The methods of making copper and other finds made inside the walls of Los Millares allowed the researchers to deduce the relationships between them and the other cultures from the Iberian Peninsula. The researchers found that they had to be connected with the civilization from Sardinia who created the famous step pyramid of Monte d'Accoddi. They obviously had contacts with similar settlements like Los Silillos and the area of Neolithic Cabrera. It has been proved that the Iberian settlements had a strong connection to each other and managed an effective trade route. Moreover, the society of Los Millares followed the remarkable trend of creating megalithic structures.

Reconstructed ruin of one of the prehistoric buildings at Los Millares.

Reconstructed ruin of one of the prehistoric buildings at Los Millares. ( CC BY SA 3.0 )

Whispers of an Ancient Life

The last inhabitants of Los Millares left this place about four thousand years ago. However, the site looks like it was abandoned much later. The numerous discoveries relating to the daily life of the inhabitants of Los Millares brought some rare information about their life. Apart from being such remarkable copper makers, they lived quite an advanced life, based on all of the available luxurious supplies known in the Iberian Peninsula.

Top Image: A model of the prehistoric town of Los Millares, with its walls. Andalucia, Spain (GFDL)

By Natalia Klimczak

References:

Fernando Molina, Juan Antonio Cámara, Los Millares, 2005.

Los Millares, available at:
www.unique-almeria.com/los-millares.html

Los Millares by K. Kris Hirst, available at:
http://archaeology.about.com/od/mterms/qt/los_millares.htm

Los Millares, available at:
http://www.juntadeandalucia.es/cultura/web/html/sites/consejeria/AAIICC/Galerias/Adjuntos/programas/folleto_los_millares_web.pdf

Los Millares y la periodización de la Prehistoria Reciente del Sudeste by J. Camara Serrano, available at:
https://www.academia.edu/3133677/Los_Millares_y_la_periodizaci%C3%B3n_de_la_Prehistoria_Reciente_del_Sudeste

Early production of copper alloys at Los Millares (with D Hook, P Craddock, N Meeks and A Morano) by Ian Freestone, available at:
https://www.academia.edu/4568655/Early_production_of_copper_alloys_at_Los_Millares_with_D_Hook_P_Craddock_N_Meeks_and_A_Morano_

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