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La Draga (Catalonia, Spain)

Early Neolithic Alpine Lake Dwelling in Catalonia

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Location Map of La Draga

Location Map of La Draga

Base map from Jotomar

La Draga is an early Neolithic site and Alpine lake dwelling, located partly underwater and partly on the shoreline of the eastern shore of Lake Bayoles in Catalonia, Spain. The site was occupied for between 80 and 100 years at the end of the 6th millennium BC (between 5300 and 5150 cal BC, or approximately 7,200 years ago). Within the portion of the site that has remained below the water table, the preservation of organic remains is remarkable.

La Draga was located along the shoreline of Lake Bayoles for some 100 meters, and originally included an area of over 8,000 square meters (sq m), with a population of about 100 living in 16-20 huts. The best-preserved part of the site has been the focus of archaeological investigations, and it is now fenced off and in the process of being converted into an archaeological park.

Excavations have shown that all of the structures at the site date to the early Neolithic, although there are several superimposed layers, some covered by flood deposits. At the end of the occupation, the site was burned and abandoned.

Hut Construction at La Draga

To date, the excavations have identified nearly 900 trunks, stakes and building timbers representing the remains of large rectangular huts constructed of oak posts. The density of the posts (in some places more than 1.23 posts per square meter) has made identification of the buildings somewhat difficult. Nevertheless, the huts were likely rectangular, with a central row of trunks supporting a thatched roof. They likely measured approximately 10-12 meters (32-40 feet) long by 3-4 m (10-13 ft) wide. The huts stood on stilts, raised above the water line a height of approximately one meter (3 ft).

The huts were built of three to four rows of oak pillars, each some 12-15 cm (5-6 in) in diameter and 80-90 cm (30-35 in) apart. The bark on the pillars was left intact, and the lower end was modified into a bevel or point to allow it to be driven into the ground to depth of up to 2.7 m (9 ft). The top ends were fork-shaped to support the main roof beams, which were lashed to the pillars with wild clematis. The walls were constructed of branches thatched together and covered in mud and straw. Floors in the huts were made of planks and split logs, and a small hearth of pebbles and charcoal warmed the interior.

The huts were arranged in two rows between the shoreline and about 30 m (100 ft) inland. At least six phases of construction have been identified by dendrochronology, all within a period of 80-100 years.

Other Structures

Oval structures located at ground level within a relatively high and dry area and paved with stone slabs are interpreted as granaries. Within these structures were found the charred remains of wheat, barley, peas and broad beans. A palisade line was constructed which may have protected the granaries, and a causeway may have connected the lakeside house area with the higher part of the site.

Thirty-five external pit hearths, measuring between 60 and 180 centimeters (~24-30 inches) were identified at the lake edge. These are shallow pits, lined with charcoal with an upper layer of quartz pebbles. These were used to cook meat within the layer of hot pebbles, and to roast grain.

Middens were identified at the site in irregular ditches; no cemeteries have been identified to date.

Artifacts from La Draga

Plants recovered from La Draga include cereals such as wheat and barley, peas and broad beans, and fruit such as wild grapes, blackberries, pine nuts and hazelnuts. Domestic animals includ cattle, goats, and pigs.

An enormous number of wooden tools has been recovered from the site, as well as ceramics, chipped flint, and polished stone objects. Bone and horn tools include bowls, combs, rings, eyed needles, spatulas, spoons, and bird bone tubes. Several bone arrowheads, ranging between 7-12.5 cm (3-5 in) were recovered. Most of the bone came from deer, sheep, goats and cattle.

Ceramic pots were hand-built from local clay tempered with quartz and mica. Most were small and medium-sized round pots, suitable for cooking. Large cylindrical jars with convex bottoms were used for storing food. Surface decorations on the pots include cockleshell and comb impressions, and applique.

Chipped stone tools were made from flint and quartz crystals brought from outside the area. Tools include sickles, piercers and scrapers made of microliths set into the handles of bone or antler. Groundstone adzes have been identified, as have small hand-operated mills for grinding grain.

Personal ornaments carved out of shell or animal teeth include beads, rings and bracelets. Numerous baskets made of twined sedges and rushes and reinforced by hazel branches were also found.

Excavations at La Draga

La Draga was discovered in 1990, and excavations have continued since then with the support of the Museu Arqueològic Comarcal de Banyoles (MACB) and the Centre d’Investigacions Subaquàtiques de Catalunya (CASC) and under the direction of Àngel Bosch, Júlia Chinchilla and Josep Tarrús (MACB) and Xavier Nieto, Xim Raurich and Antoni Palomo (CASC).

Sources

This glossary entry is a part of the About.com guide to Alpine Lake Dwellings, the Neolithic, and the Dictionary of Archaeology.

Palomo A, Gibaja JF, Piqué R, Bosch A, Chinchilla J, and Tarrús J. 2011. Harvesting cereals and other plants in Neolithic Iberia: the assemblage from the lake settlement at La Draga. Antiquity 85(329):759-771.

Tarrús J. 2008. La Draga (Banyoles, Catalonia), an Early Neolithic Lakeside Village in Mediterranean Europe. Catalan Historical Review 1:17-33.

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