Celts in southwest Spain and Portugal

Documentary sources, notably Strabo and Pliny, strongly suggest the presence of Celts in the south-west of the Hispanic peninsula, and epigraphic evidence from the Roman occupation equally endorses this conclusion. Archaeologically the inference has been that Celts expanded from the territory of the Celtiberians, both south-westward and north-westward into the region of the Castro culture, but the dating of these episodes or sequence of episodes remains uncertain.

Settlements in south-western Spain and southern Portugal are commonly enclosed by defensive walls following or reinforcing the natural contours of a hill. They range from univallate or partial enclosures to multivallate sites or citadels with outer circuits of walls. Some display monumental construction with bastions and towers, ditches and entrances. Internally the evidence for an organized plan or public buildings that might indicate a progression towards urbanization is limited to a few sites where such a layout might be reconstructed. At Pedrao, buildings back the defensive wall that cuts off the most vulnerable access to the site, leaving an open space within the interior, a simple layout that is matched elsewhere in Spain and beyond from the later Bronze Age. At the more complex hillfort of Capote, on the other hand, from at least the fourth century bc, a network of streets creates what appear to have been public areas, adjacent to which one remarkable structure has been interpreted through excavation as a shrine (Berrocal-Rangel, 1994).

In general, the material inventory of the south-west reflects that of the Meseta, with the qualification that fewer numbers may reflect the relative paucity of excavated cemeteries rather than a significant dilution of the material assemblage. Swords of La Tene and fronton type are only minimally represented, with more of the Iberian falcata type, notably from Alcacer on the lower Sado. This site has also given its name to the local variant of antenna sword, dating from the fifth and four centuries bc. La Tene brooches are also represented, in La Tene 1, La Tene 2 and La Tene 3 (Nauheim) variants, but the distribution is again distorted by the concentration of finds from Vaiamonte in the upper Alentejo. The more representative regional type is the annular brooch, which in its variant forms spans the fifth to second centuries bc. Finally, belt-clasps include a variant with three hooks and lateral open-work, cognate to one of the principal Celtiberian forms, together with examples of Iberian derivation. Most striking among the south-western metal artefacts for their combination of stylistic influences are the small gold plaques from the castro of La Martela (Figure 9.8, 2), possibly intended as a dress embellishment or some form of pectoral. The principal elements in each, arranged in slightly different composition, are human and equine heads, and a floral rosette, enclosed by geometric circlets and zig-zags. The technical and stylistic affinities of the plaques are generally accepted as Mediterranean and orientalizing, but the representation of features of the heads show remarkably similarities to La Tene face-masks and zoomorphic representations from Celtic Central Europe. In particular, though rendered in a different technique, the hair-style of the faces recalls Central European models, and the lentoid eyes of the equine face likewise has close parallels in the La Tene inventory. Dating from the fourth century bc on the basis of ceramic associations, these pieces were evidently commissioned from craftsmen working locally but familiar with the stylistic fashions of the Celtic as well as the Mediterranean world.

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