1,700 archaeological sites appear in the Spanish swamps after three years of drought

For three years, the Spanish swamps were at least. In mid-December 2019, the Valdecanas Reservoir (Bohonal de Ibor, Caceres), revealed, for the first time since the 1990s, the remains of Roman city of Augustóbriga. what is known as the Spanish Stonehenge, dolmen guadalperal, A 5,000-year-old megalithic monument, which was also engulfed by the Valdecanas reservoir, appears in 2022. For its part, Bentia, the great empty city of Valladolid, and it showed its network of streets and a possible Roman temple, because the land dried up like never before. Nearly 1,700 archaeological sites have come to light in this three-year period, according to data from the Ministry of Culture and Sports, due to perpetual drought. Many of them are unknown. Their non-public sites are already stored in an open database for this purpose. “Fear is plunder,” says Angel Villa, coordinator National Monuments Plan. When we reached Izinjar Reservoir [entre Córdoba, Málaga y Granada]Los detectors They already looted it. And that no one knows it exists. For this reason, the authorities are working against time to draft a work protocol, which is supposed to end next December, “to regulate procedures related to emerging deposits.”

The lack of rain, in addition to causing a lower level of reservoirs and a flattering appearance of submerged sites, increases the effect of what archaeologists call differential growth. This consists of a very pronounced contrast of shades in the same area of ​​growth. When the fertile soil layer is very deep, and therefore the moisture is better stored, the plants have a green or green color, while when the soil thickness is small, due to the presence of stone structures near the surface, the color is closer to brown. This effect has always allowed archaeologists to easily find out, in spring and summer, where unknown building structures are hidden. But for a few years now, this phenomenon has occurred with greater frequency and greater variability in the north of the peninsula.

hope martin, Manager of several deposits in northern Spain, He acknowledges that the lack of rainfall allowed him to recently document a “huge building,” thanks to differential growth in Dessobriga (an empty city between Valencia and Burgos). “Drought, which is obviously not a new phenomenon, is actually very rare in recent years. It rains less or at the wrong time, which causes crops to grow scarce. It has happened to me in five or six places this year, including a very visible Roman camp.”

Mimbrellar site in the Iznagar Reservoir. Roman villa located in 2022 and stolen by thieves.Ministry of Culture and Sport

The archaeologist – who refuses to indicate the location of the last finds to avoid plundering – mentions, for example, that the lower water level in the reservoir of Luna (Lyon), allows us to see a new section of the Roman road. “I have known the area since I was very young and had never seen it like this. Call it drought or climate change, it doesn’t matter. But I don’t remember anything like that.”

Mimi Bueno Ramírez, Professor of Prehistory at the University of Alcalá de Henares, states that when the forecasts of the Tagus Hydrographic Union, the Junta and the Ministry of Culture warned of a significant drop in the water level in the Valdecañas Reservoir, Started with Enrique Cirillo, From the University of Complutense, an intensive exploration exploration project. This is how the so-called Guadalperal dolmen were found (end of the 5th-3rd millennium BC). “This part of Extremadura was a transit and settlement area for centuries for many cultures. The swamp has barely risen again, allowing us to locate within it 200 sites from all kinds of periods,” including megalithic ruins, Neolithic and Chalcolithic settlements, and Menhirs, as well as Paleolithic, Neolithic, and Iron Age items.

Roman site located in a municipality in northern Spain thanks to
Roman site located in a municipality in northern Spain thanks to “differential growth”.Hope Martin

The archaeologist explains that when the cistern was built in the 1960s, no prior archaeological study was done to determine if any site was affected. “It, fortunately, no longer happens that way.” And remember, once the dolmen was found, an inventory of the locations of the cistern was made thanks to the archaeological map (official document where the archaeological sites are indicated), historical references, aerial photographs before the construction of the cistern and, above all, data extracted from LIDAR images (laser photography) that can be verified given the continuity of excavations in the arc allowed in 2020 and 2021. And fill in until the structure is preserved.

For his part, Angel Villa explained that the reservoirs are under the responsibility of the hydrographic associations, which allows the Ministry of Culture and Sports to coordinate work on them. “Almost all reservoirs are very anthropic, since they coincide with historical fords, gorges or very fertile areas, such as the Iznájar, Serena or Valdecañas reservoirs. Every time I go to them, I am surprised, because they show a very high archaeological succession, ”emphasizes the coordinator of the national plan.

Drone image obtained of a possible Roman temple in Pentea (Valladolid) built next to an urban road.
Drone image obtained of a possible Roman temple in Pentea (Valladolid) built next to an urban road.Carlos Sanz

Villa believes the working protocol will be completed by the end of this year. “If it is about real estate, it will be grouped so that water does not damage it, as happened two years ago in Guadalphiral or the rises and falls of the water will be monitored. In the case of the movable remains, they are taken to Spanish Cultural Heritage Institute (IPCE) for their restoration and later deposit in museums, as happened in the Valdecanas reservoir.

“But what really harms the sediment is not the rising and falling of the water level, but the plundering. The detectors They are ahead. Water, going down, cleans the upper layer. What’s great for archaeologists is unfortunately also great for looters because it makes it easier for them to destroy sites. When we reached Iznagar, they had already plundered it, though the location was not known. terrible”.

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