Monday, March 19, 2012


Archaeologists, and palaeoanthropologists, like one to one correspondence between bits of earth, the lumps of rock and bone that they find in them, and the time. This coherence keeps things simple. They like to be able to say ‘this was a Neanderthal site from 55ka and so we know that the parietal bone of this and therefore neighbouring populations was slightly more robust than in Northern Europe, the disposition of at least one of the bodies tells us that they buried their dead, further symbolic behaviour is shown by the paintings on the walls, the metal rings which might have been put on their fingers, the traces of ochre with which they painted their faces and we see that they also ate shellfish, possibly in a ceremonial fashion…’

Believe it or not, they like to be able to say things like that. But there are sites, many sites, which are not clearly and pristinely associated with one time and people and activity, but are more like these mysterious young women who at the age of 18 have 5 children by 6 different fathers, and 3 of their former boyfriends and at least two of their current ones are in prison for beating up blokes they caught her with in the toilets at the disco. Like her, such sites are ‘associated’ with just about anything and anyone who set eyes on them. (I say mysterious because, although they are all over the Daily Mail, and entire neighbourhoods seem to consist of nothing else, when I was young they were bloody hard to find.)

Anyhow, one such place is Oretum, in the south of the province, a hill on the very banks of the river Jabalón. It’s primary interest is as the capital of the Iberian tribe the Oretani, but from the Neolithic onwards, it seems everyone has been using it. The Iberians, Celtiberians, Romans, Visigoths, Arabs and the mediaeval and modern Christians have all been there and left traces of their occupation.

You need someone to tell you what all the bits are, and to try to string together the story of the place and relate it to the rocks and the river and all the rest, and to other events in other places. I didn’t have that, but it’s fun to have a look around. I had ridden there and had to ride back, so it was a quick covering of the ground, during which I discovered I had no battery in the camera, and I had to start pedalling again. But it’s curious to think that thousands of years’ worth of individuals have lived and dies at that spot, in a great variety of ways.

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