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Archaeological work at the Necrópole da Idade do Ferro (Iron Age Necropolis)

Archaeological work will take place from 16 to 27 August 2021 at the Necrópole da Idade do Ferro (Iron Age Necropolis) (8th century BC to 1st century AD), located in Largo da Feira, Mértola. This intervention is the result of a partnership between Mértola City Council and ERA – Arqueologia S.A. and is part of a research project funded by the FCT – Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia (Foundation for Science and Technology), titled: “O Baixo e Médio Guadiana (séculos VIII a.C. – I d.C.): percursos de uma fronteira” (The Lower and Middle Guadiana (8th century BC – 1st century AD): paths of a frontier), whose main goal is to analyse the settlement in this area during the Iron Age. 

The excavation works in progress are also part of an academic field project in which undergraduate, master’s and PhD students from the University of Seville are taking part. The purpose of this campaign is to extend the excavations to one of the sectors of the necropolis and, at the same time, to disseminate the current level of knowledge regarding the settlement of Mértola and its territory between the Iron Age and the first centuries of Roman occupation. Four lectures on 17, 19, 24 and 26 August are part of this dissemination programme, as is the training of the students that take part in this initiative.

“Mértola’s history revolves around the Guadiana and, in particular, the river’s navigability in ancient times. Although there are material remains that can be traced to the Late Bronze Age, it is in the Iron Age that ancient Myrtilis gains prominence in the context of river, land and sea trade routes. Located on a hill, it benefited from a strategic position in terms of mining activity. In fact, metals from nearby settlements and other more distant territories arrived there by land, and were later drained off via the river. Similarly, materials from various parts of the Mediterranean also flowed in, thus showing its Mediterranean identity.

Until fairly recently, materials from the city’s early days came from isolated finds or from excavations carried out in the urban centre. The Iron Age materials identified during such works showed up as residues in later time periods, with gaps in knowledge about the early stages of Myrtilis’ life becoming evident. This status of first-rate port was, in fact, confirmed by recent works in the town’s historical centre, carried out by CAM – Campo Arqueológico de Mértola (Mértola’s Archaeological Field) and, currently, by the archaeological intervention carried out by the ERA Archaeology team in the Largo do Terreiro da Feira.

It should be noted that the archaeological excavations currently undertaken in Largo do Terreiro da Feira provide an opportunity to study early contexts and, consequently, to deepen the knowledge about the oldest stages of Myrtilis’ occupation. As a result, the study of the collected remains will allow us to better characterise the communities that lived and buried their dead there, between the Iron Age and the Roman period.

The archaeological excavation already underway (…) has made it possible to outline the existing necropolis. The data gathered allows us to make some preliminary observations about the funerary architecture, the rituals and the materials identified there, as well as to point out some difficulties in understanding some of the occurrences and, consequently, the set of burials.

Several graves were compromised due to breaches or destroyed by later activities, in many cases, in contemporary times. Despite problems in interpreting the data already gathered, it is possible to state that the architecture and organisation of this necropolis are similar to those of its counterparts in the Almodôvar region.

In the case of the Mértola necropolis (…), all the graves archaeologically unearthed revealed the practice of incinerating the bodies over a period that seems to have begun, probably, in the 6th century BC, and continued until a time yet to be determined, possibly during the Roman period. Naturally, further excavations, a detailed study of the materials and, eventually, attaining absolute C-14 dating will help to deepen our knowledge of the oldest stages of the site we now call Mértola”.


 ALBUQUERQUE, Pedro and RAMOS, Rui, “Escavações arqueológicas na necrópole da Idade do ferro do largo do Terreiro da Feira” (Archaeological excavations in the Iron Age necropolis of Largo do Terreiro da Feira) in,  Agenda Mértola Cultura, Mértola, Mértola City Council, April, May and June 2020, pages 28-29.

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