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Geoparque Granada | Castellón Alto - visit an Argaric settlement

in Galera Municipality in Granada Province, Andalucia, Spain
By Nick Nutter | 20 Apr 2020
Castellon Alto Argaric culture (Map courtesy Archaeological Museum Galera) Reconstrution of Castellon Alto Terraced housing Cyst burial at Castellon Alto Reconstruction of Argaric house

Between about 2200 BC and 1550 BC, the inhabitants of an area that roughly covered the modern-day province of Almeria and extended through eastern Granada and into Jaen province developed an expertise in using bronze, particularly for weaponry, and sophisticated pottery and ceramic techniques. They also mined and worked silver and gold. Their burial rites differed from previous peoples. The tholos tomb was abandoned in favour of individual burials in cysts, often beneath the occupied dwellings. As far as can be established from examination of the deceased, there were three levels of society, the upper class who dispensed favours and rewards to a middle class who were responsible for trade, storing surplus food, collecting tithes and the safekeeping of metallic tools, implements and weapons, and a lower class who were basically slaves. The refinement of their work in metals and pottery allowed these people to extend a trading network established by their predecessors, the people of Los Millares. These people are known today as the Argaric people and their culture is called the Argar culture. About 1900 BC the Argaric people built a fortified settlement near Galera in Granada province.

Castellón Alto

On a craggy spur on the banks of the river Castillejar, near the modern town of Galera in Granada province, is an Argaric settlement site called Castellón Alto. The site covers about half a hectare and overlooks a fertile plain known as the Baza – Huescar plateau. Castellón Alto is one of four Argaric sites in the valley, each separated from the other by 2 or 3 kilometres. At its height, Castellón Alto housed about 80 inhabitants. The settlement was established around 1900 BC, developed and grew until about 1600 BC, at which time it was abandoned.

Constructing Castellón Alto

The settlement was built into the spur. Terraces were cut out of the rock to provide a flat surface on which the houses were built. A low stone foundation course sat on the bedrock. Posts, made of pine supported the walls and roof. The posts were set in the bedrock and held firmly in place with wooden wedges. Two further posts acted as door jambs, the door itself being an esparto grass mat. The walls were cane or interwoven branches of tamarisk, broom, poplar, willow or rushes, bound together with mud or gypsum plaster. The flat roof was a frame of pine supporting interwoven material thickly impregnated with mud that then baked in the sun. The inhabitant’s position in the social structure determined on which terrace they lived. The construction of the settlement, around a buttress of rock, made defence easy, the whole structure resembles a fortress.

The Acropolis

Crowning the settlement is an area called the Acropolis. This walled area enclosed the dwellings of the community leaders. A total of nine graves, all cyst type burials beneath the dwellings, have been found within the Acropolis, compared to a total of 130 tombs on the whole site. One of the Acropolis tombs contained a bowl, a carinated jar, a halberd and a short copper sword, all indicating the high position held by the deceased. Unfortunately, the other tombs on the Acropolis have been affected by erosion and clandestine digging. The Acropolis had its own cistern that would have been kept topped up by the serfs. Naturally, the serfs themselves had to bring their own water from the river.

Developing Castellón Alto

As with modern towns, the settlement was not full built to start with, rather it developed over the whole period of occupation. The various phases of construction are well explained at Castellón Alto. The majority of the site is well preserved and a huge amount of information has been gleaned about the Argar people and their culture. Anthropological study has shown that the people of Castellón Alto were typical Mediterranean, of average height and slim build. The average height of a man was 1.67 metres and that of a woman 1.57 metres. A new-born child could expect to live about 23 years with only 3.5% surviving to the age of 60 years. The diet was primarily vegetarian with a little meat. Not unexpectedly the upper echelons of society tended to live longer and eat more meat.

Why Castellón Alto was abandoned

The reason for the abandonment of Castellón Alto is not definitely known. It anticipates the breakdown of the whole culture by some 50 years, a final breakdown probably caused by the unsustainable social structure created by the Argar elite. Or this specific abandonment may have been a planned relocation, a pattern adopted by other Neolithic societies in Europe, that has more to do with the productivity of the land than social tension.

During the early Argar period, extending down the valley sides beneath the settlement, to the irrigated land along the river, was a thick growth of holm-oak and Aleppo pine. The Argaric people denuded the valley sides of trees that they used for fuel and building. The cleared land was then used for growing crops. After many years the land was exhausted and could not produce the food necessary to sustain the settlement. It is possible that this is the reason for the abandonment of Castellón Alto after only 300 years.

Tours of Castellón Alto

Tours of the site are conducted and occur at set times and days that vary throughout the year. Please check with the official website for opening times. The numerous informational plaques around the site are, unfortunately, only in Spanish, which is a pity because they display masses of information. The guide also only speaks Spanish. However, if when you book the tour, you ask for information in English, you will be presented with a plastic folder containing 16 sheets of A4 paper, each one a translation of the information on the plaques.

About the Granada Geoparque (Geopark or Geoparc) project

A geoparque (geopark or geoparc) is a well-defined territory, home to a valuable natural geological heritage. The most important parts of a geoparque, due to their scientific, aesthetic, or educational value, are called geosites.

In the north of Granada, surrounded by some of the tallest mountains of the Iberian peninsula, what we know today as the Basin of Guadix or the Guadix - Baza depression or basin was, for 5 million years, a lake with no outlet to the sea. Sediments, brought down by the mountain streams, were deposited in the basin in horizontal sheets. 500,000 years ago the basin drained to the west and new streams carved out the canyons, ravines and badlands that characterise the area, the most southerly desert in Europe, today.

Castellón Alto is a geosite due to it being the archetypical example of an Argar fortified settlement.

Please check website for opening days and times

Return to Geoparque Granada travel guide
Go to: Granada province
Go to: Granada city
Go to: Galera town

Places to go in Galera municipality

Geoparque Granada | Tútugi Iberian Necropolis

Villages in Galera municipality

Geoparque Granada | Guide to Galera a village on the Altiplano of Granada

Find Castellón Alto on the map

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Submitted by Sandy on 31 Dec 2019
As a resident here in Galera, and having taken the tour in Spanish odd Castellon Alto, it is so illuminating to read your narrative in English... to validate what I gleaned and to fill in some gaps. Thank you. I do recommend a visit here, and to the nearby Necropolis. Galera has many cave-houses for rent too, so an amazingly unique and historic opportunity all wrapped up in Spanish sunshine and local wine accompanied by free Tapas. Look forward to reading more... thank you.

Reply by Nick Nutter:
Hi Sandy, Thanks for the comment. I will be writing an article about Galera itself in the near future.

Submitted by Nick Williams on 30 Dec 2019
It great to learn new and recent information about the rich ancient culture of this amazing region. Thanks for sharing your great insight.

Reply by Nick Nutter:
No problem, glad you enjoy the articles.

Submitted by Valerie wright on 30 Dec 2019
Very interesting. Look forward to more info about the region and also any about Atapeuca in English.

Reply by Nick Nutter:
Hi Valerie, Thanks for the comment. Unfortunately, Atapuerca is in Burgos, Castile and Leon, not Andalucia. Iwould love to visit Atapuerca but I do have to concentrate on Andalucia at the moment.

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About the Author

Nick has lived and worked in Andalucia for over 20 years. He and his partner, Julie Evans, have travelled extensively and dug deep into the history and culture, producing authoritative articles on all aspects of the region. Nick has written four books about Andalucia and writes articles for other websites and blogs.

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