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A Neolithic village under the lake

When summer arrives, excavation works are resumed at the Neolithic site under the lake of Banyoles. It is one of the only three of its kind in the world.  Discovered 25 years ago, this site is a window open to life in a Neolithic village. Research there is complemented with a program of activities that enable the discovery of this Millenary past.

 

One of the bows made of yew wood. The red and white stick acts as a measure reference.Since 2008, the Institución Milá y Fontanals of the CSIC has been a partner of the team that leads the archaeological excavations of the Neolithic village of La Draga, on the shore of Lake Banyoles (Girona, Spain). This is a privileged place for studying the firsts groups of farms in the Iberian Peninsula 7000 years ago.

It is a peculiar site: as it is placed on the shore of the lake, the archaeological remains have been permanently covered by ground water levels. This has enabled the preservation of objects made of organic materials. “It has a very special character”, says Xavier Terradas, a scientist at the Institución Milá y Fontanals of the CSIC.. “Everything has been preserved within the sediments covered by water, in anaerobic conditions that have made it possible to find objects which would have been impossible to be found under different conditions.” This is the case of vegetal remains, mainly wooden objects such as tools, weapons and the tree trunks which were used to build huts. Until now, only two lacustrine sites of Neolithic similar to La Draga have been discovered in the world, which gives an idea of its exceptional nature. 

Xavier Terradas explains: “We analyze the growth-rings of the trees, what enable us to know when the trees were cut down, their age and the climate during those years. Comparing the different trunks and their position, we can know how huts were built or repaired…”. One outstanding finding is a set of three bows made of yew wood (one of them has been found complete) which are nowadays the most ancient Neolithic bows in Europe. 

The site was discovered by chance 25 years ago, in a farmland next to the lake and the works are coordinated by the Museo Arqueológico de Banyoles. The Autonomous University of Barcelona, the Institución Milà i Fontanals of the CSIC, the Archaeological Museum of Catalonia and the Underwater Archeology Centre participate in the project. Also, scientists from the Museum of Neuchâtel  (Switzerland), the Centre national de la recherche scientifique (France), the Universität Basel (Switzerland) and the University of York (UK).

The first farmers

Excavations in the site require previously pumping the water out, so the works can be realized in dry conditions. In the image, archaeologists on wooden planks working in the zone where water has been previously pumped out.Excavations in the site require previously pumping the water out, so the works can be realized in dry conditions. When work is finished, dams are opened to allow water to cover the site again. When the Neolithic village was built, the water level was between one and two metres lower than nowadays. Therefore the old shore, where the Neolithic huts were built, is now submerged. Researchers think that the entire village could be as big as 8000 square meters. Excavations cover several zones that together make 600 square meters.  Also, a submerged zone of 100 square metres has been excavated.

The particular conditions of the site allow innovative research lines.  It is the case of the study of fatty acids preserved in ceramic vessels, which were used for cooking animal products. The fatty acid analysis together with the analysis of the bones remains demonstrate the existence of an important livestock composed of sheep, goats, cows and pigs.

The oldest evidence of the origin of farming shows that this activity started in the East, 10.000 years ago. It is thought that the villagers of La Draga were, 7.000 years ago, one of the first groups of farmers in the Iberian Peninsula.

Other innovative studies are the ones related to the use of stable isotopes to study mammal bones. These analyses enable us to find out about animal diet and their breeding, as well as their parasites. Taken together, this information helps to establish a hypothesis about the diet of the villagers, their health, and the existence of zones with specific functionality.

From the excavation to society

This project also aims to offer engaging outreach activities. The reconstruction of two huts and a barn in the Neolithic Park of La Draga -which is linked to the Banyoles Archaeological Museum- allows visitors to discover how the ancient life was in the Neolithic village. Workshops  are also organized to show the Neolithic techniques to make pottery and stone tools. The workshops are addressed to people of all ages, even for the little ones. For the last ones, the workshops are conducted by puppets which represent children who lived in the Neolithic period. Another example of the interest aroused by the site is the historical novel “The first hero”, written by Marti Gironell. The novel, which is becoming a best-seller, is based on La Draga.