MOTILLA DEL RETAMAR. 5000 YEARS OF HISTORY AT PAGO LOS CERRILLOS

The origins of any property, are ultimately in the very origins of the earth. This could be described with tons of bibliography and documents, but let’s focus on the most immediate past, of “only” 4,200 years ago … (after all, it is estimated that the earth is more than 4,500 million years old, then, what do 4.200 years mean in such long life…)… To explain this, we will go back to the year 3,000 BC, the Bronze Age, and what in our region was called “Motillas culture”. The so-called “Motilla del Retamar” dates back from that time, it is entirely located in Pago los Cerrillos and currently it is being the the centre of deep archaeological studies, since it is estimated that it can show us wonders of that Age, even more relevant than those already shown to the public in the nearby “Motilla del Azuer”, in Daimiel, also province of Ciudad Real.


The wheat that stood the test of climate change 4,200 years ago.


An investigation reveals how the ancient farmers of La Mancha counteracted the devastating effect of very low temperatures.

Publicado en El Pais, Madrid 29.11.2019

The rain disappeared for centuries, the rivers dried up, the valleys mutated into deserts and finding water became a chimera. Permanent drought was not the only problem for those who inhabited this planet 4,200 years ago. The notable drop in temperatures made them face severe climatic changes and learn to survive in extreme conditions. In the area that we know today as La Mancha, the inhabitants designed new structures called motillas that helped them to control the available underground water and to store cereals. An investigation led by archaeologist Luis Benítez de Lugo, a professor at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, has just discovered charred wheat seeds that managed to adapt to the change.

The discovery was made in the Motilla del Retamar, built in the Guadiana river banks, in Argamasilla de Alba (Ciudad Real), and surrounded by the exceptional vineyards of PAGO LOS CERRILLOS. The seeds were inside some ceramic containers, although they already correspond to the Bronze Age, the prehistoric period when tools with this metal were first developped. The research confirms that wheat grains were exposed to much lower temperatures than we know today and still resisted it. This way, the population knew how to overcome the adversities of a climate change in which mankind footprint had nothing to do. Those human beings based their livelihood on livestock and agriculture.

To avoid the effects of climate change on their livelihoods, the inhabitants of La Mancha found a successful solution: they realized that, if they dug a little in the ground, they could find large reserves of water. To control them, they built the Motillas. A network of monumental wells built for the service of a cattle community dedicated primarily to raising sheep. At present, 45 motillas are known, the most important being the one called Del Azuer, in Daimiel (Ciudad Real). This site was declared an Asset of Cultural Interest in 2013, an objective that Benítez de Lugo also pursues with the motilla del Retamar located in PAGO LOS CERRILLOS. “These monuments do not exist anywhere else. The important thing is the Network. We must avoid destruction and looting in one of the first regional architectural manifestations ”, he emphasizes.

Millennial structures

Motillas are facilities built in flat areas, with a circular floorplan, with a double or triple wall and a central tower. Inside there is a large well made with the rudimentary means of the time. The objective was to reach the underground water reserves. Its existence has been known since the very old times, but the first written references are not found until the end of the 19th century. The Motilla del Retamar began to be studied archaeologically in 1984, and the last actions date back to the 90s. The works carried out during September and October 2019 by Benítez de Lugo’s team have been financed by the Government of castilla la Mancha, the town of Argamasilla de Alba, a private sponsor and the collaboration of Bodegas Montalvo Wilmot.

“It is proved that motillas, in addition to being sources of water supply, were places where grain was stored. They must also have been endowed with a strong sacred and symbolic charge, because there are burials around these wells, probably to legitimize their ownership and use, ”confirms Benítez de Lugo. In his opinion, the motillas are the reflection of a deep social change, because they represent an increase in inequalities and the beginning of social hierarchy. Everything is linked to the scarcity of resources, that fully limited access to water. The archaeologist maintains that the objective of the investigation was to find out the formulas that the societies of the Copper Age used to face a climatic contingency. And that is how they discovered some seeds that will be analyzed by Leonor Peña, an archaeobotanist from the Spanish Council for Scientific Research (CSIC). Benítez de Lugo indicates that the grains belong to two varieties, triticum durum and triticum dicoccum, capable of resisting extreme climatic conditions. And, as has been shown, also to keep our ancestors alive.

THE ORIGIN OF THE POLEAXE 

The excavation of the Motilla del Retamar has also helped finding an exceptional instrument, a reflection of a society subject to tensions and violence: the poleaxe. It is an long metal piece made of a copper and arsenic alloy, that is being studied by Ignacio Montero, an expert in archeometallurgy at the CSIC. Poleaxes are characteristic of the early stages of the Bronze Age, when Motillas appeared for the first time. Although they are fragile pieces that could have a ceremonial character, in general they are instruments specifically designed to cause death by inserting it into the neck.

Poleaxes weapons were widely used by infantry troops much later, during the Middle Ages, to fight against the cavalry. In China they were used since the very old times and until now it has been accepted that they were introduced in Europe in the 14th century by Teutons and Scandinavians, although it was the Swiss mercenaries who gave it fame. The Poleaxe, Benítez de Lugo indicates, is the remote origin of the pikes that the Spanish used in Flanders.

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