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Volunteer Campaign on the Encosta do Castelo de Mértola (Slopes of Mértola Castle)

Throughout the month of July 2021 another campaign of archaeological excavations took place on the Encosta do Castelo de Mértola (Slopes of Mértola Castle), with the presence of local volunteers and students from Portuguese universities, distributed over 2 turns.
As in previous editions, this campaign is a joint effort organised by CAM – Campo Arqueológico de Mértola (Mértola Archaeological Field) and Mértola City Council, the former being responsible for the scientific coordination (as part of the Archaeology in Progress Project – Archaeological Tourism in Mértola) and the latter for the logistical support. The aim is to follow up on previous years’ interventions on the Encosta do Castelo (Castle Slope), so as to deepen the knowledge of this area and of the various structures that have emerged, in a learning and knowledge-sharing environment.
This intervention aims to further investigate this site which includes a Late Antique baptistery (5th/6th centuries), residential structures from the Islamic period and a medieval necropolis. Regarding the baptistery II, “in the months of June and July 2013 the CAM team started an archaeological excavation on the slope of Mértola Castle, with the aim of understanding the settlement pattern of that area”. The building, where this octagonal structure is located, is still being excavated; however, the existing elements allow us to estimate its floor area at 262m2. (…) The central area is occupied by a pool with a maximum external width of 4.80m, a maximum depth of 1.52m, and a depth of 1.16m to the drainage hole. Inside, it is structured in steps of different heights, and the bottom is made up of two marble slabs that form an irregular octagon.
The quantity of fresco fragments, gathered from the layers of debris, suggests a pictorial layout in which human figures, geometric and floral motifs and possible symbols stand out in the composition. (…) Although the decorative layout is unknown, the identifiable remains seem to resemble the pictorial layout of the paintings in the catacombs of Rome or the frescoes of the Baptistery of Barcelona (2nd half of the 6th century AD). (…) Fragments of a buttress were also identified near the baptistery and in the central apse, in the possible zone of the altar, and in the small basin situated to the north of the baptistery.
(…) As a rule, the baptistery is part of an architectural complex in which various spaces have specific functions in the organisation of the ritual. In most known cases, the baptistery was situated next to the main Basilica, or between two churches in the case of episcopal groups. In the case of Mértola, with the available data, it is not possible to clearly determine the type of building to which the baptistery was attached. (…) Chronologically speaking, (…) it seems plausible that the baptistery II may be placed from the second half of the 5th century onwards, not ruling out the possibility that it remained in use in the following centuries and was contemporary to the one previously discovered”.

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