At the top of a hill from where the views over the region of A Terra Chá Galician are privileged, an old fortified village is erected, Castro de Viladonga. A new discovery has called into question what was known so far about this archaeological site located at 535 meters above sea level in the municipality of Castro de Rei (5,000 inhabitants), 23 kilometers northwest of Lugo. It is the finding of a cistern of more than 70 square meters and four deep with capacity to store more than 150,000 liters of water and supply more than 300 people, in the northeastern area of the castro. The deposit was built in the 3rd century BC. C., unlike most of the structures discovered so far in the place, which were manufactured in full Roman period, between the II and V d. C. The cistern excavated in the rock and found under a wall of this fortification, considered an Asset of Cultural Interest since 2009, is the spearhead to delve into the pre-Roman past of the Castro culture.
The discovery led by the archaeologist Miguel Ángel López in this hill shows, according to the experts, the "development" that already existed then. "It is the first time that a cistern appears inside the walled area of the fort of Viladonga", Says Lopez, the director of the work. Two weeks ago Lopez and his team of 10 specialists discovered seven steps in very good condition in the second wall and a tower more than five meters in diameter. But nothing so important as this finding made in the framework of the excavation approved by the Consellería de Cultura of the Xunta de Galicia and executed by the company Terra-Arqueos.
The fact of having water could have allowed the inhabitants to resist in case of attack, López explains. "In the castreños settlements it is not usual to find water supply systems," says Galician archaeologist Ángel Concheiro, waiting for the Xunta to confirm the results of this finding. Water supply was a fundamental issue in ancient societies, it was not as easy as opening the tap, explains Concheiro. This was necessary not only to drink, but also to wash, for livestock, for pottery and textile crafts. The deposit collected rainwater and was supplied by an old spring.
The operation has been very complicated, according to Lopez, known for his work in the temple of Amenophis III in Luxor (Egypt). In addition to the damage caused by the passage of time and human abuse, the structure is very damaged by landslides, which makes it difficult to distinguish the walls. To uncover the underground construction, it took two months of work in which archaeologists extracted more than 340 cubic meters of earth and more than 120 tons of stone. The excavation, which still has not finished, and which has a budget of almost 200,000 euros, 80% from the FEDER program of the European Union, has allowed to extract all kinds of objects, among which are pieces of common pottery and luxury like terra sigillata, pieces of iron (nails, sickles), some of bronze (plates, fragments of cauldron), as well as animal bones.
The location of the old water deposit, which was found under one of the walls, allowed López to assume that it was built before. And the carbon 14 tests made him conclude that it was built in the third century of the pre-Christian era.
His discovery completely changes the history of Castro, according to López. "A pre-Roman cistern tells us that this archaeological site was already powerful, sophisticated and that it housed an important community," says Concheiro, and explains the importance of this discovery not only for the knowledge of this fort built in the second Iron Age, but also for the castreña culture in general. "This tells us that the pre-Roman castreño world knew the water supply, collection and storage systems, and that it developed complex and monumental architectures to solve this problem," he adds.
The old village consists of a large central acropolis, two main passages that cross it from north to south and from east to west, an inner round that surrounds it, and houses organized in neighborhoods, all surrounded by walls and pits. The first excavations began in 1971 and were followed by other campaigns in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s.
So far the oldest data, dating from the 2nd and 1st centuries BC. C., had been found precisely in that area of the castro. But there were few that allowed to suppose that there was an important settlement at that time, most of the structures and buildings discovered until now are later. Its quadrangular shape, many of them with corners in right angles, give account of the Late Roman period. The same goes for other objects, such as clay tiles.
The northeast area of the fort was the most forgotten, since the eighties had not been excavated. At that time one of the corner of the well had already been excavated but had not been identified as a water tank. But Lopez realized that the piece of wall that was coming out was not that of a habitual home. When distinguishing the different types of stone present in the construction (of foundation and wall, of wall and cistern, of roof and counterweight) he saw that it was a cistern. It is not the first time you work with this type of construction; he had done it before in Castro de San Cibrao de Las, 18 kilometers west of Ourense, and in the old tobacco factory in Gijón.
For Concheiro, this shows that "the ancient iron society had nothing simple, poor and backward, but was a developed society, with a sufficient degree of development and monumentality and wealth." For López, the finding is a very important starting point to continue advancing in the knowledge of the Castro culture.