Chavella hillfort (?): Back in the field

The archaeological season has begun at Costa dos Castros with a second excavation at Chavella hillfort and new challenges to interpret this unique hillfort have arisen. We can’t seem to get our head around Chavella, to the extent that we are considering stopping calling it a hillfort!

Location of Chavella hillfort and its relationship with the surrounding landscape

What do we know about Chavella?

The first excavation campaign at Chavella hillfort revealed a silent site; a nihilist hillfort that denies itself.

Its logical location has visual control over the harbour in Oia – the largest harbour at Costa dos Castros – and also the natural entrance to the inland and the lands surrounding the lower Miño River (the Baixo Miño lands).

From a structural viewpoint, a monumental defensive wall encloses the hillfort and inside it there are five distinct areas, some of them also enclosed by large stone structures.

The defensive wall follows the same pattern as Cabeciña and Cano dos Mouros hillforts: the three of them have a stepped stone wall which was built on top of a stone platform; a constructive style characteristic of Costa dos Castros but rare outside this territory.

muralla chavella

Chavella hillfort’s monumental defensive wall

However, Chavella is located higher up than Cabeciña and Cano dos Mouros, and it also has a different shape, which even before the first excavation lead us to suspect it’s a different type of hillfort.

And what did the first dig reveal?

The results of the first dig at Chavella hillfort were totally unexpected. Inside all these monumental constructions, all we found was a enormous empty space. No structures, no objects, no stratigraphy.

Of course, we only opened two test pits and it could be that we were just unlucky, but what is even weirder is that we only found six pottery shards, when usually you would expect to find hundreds in a hillfort with such large defensive structures.

The campaign rose more questions than answers, and we will try to solve them in this second campaign.


Pottery shard found in the first excavation at Chavella

What’s happening at the second dig?

During the second excavation we will open two new test pits inside the hillfort, each one in a different terrace from last years’.

Our aim is to see if the occupation of the hillfort happened in the terraces facing the sea, but mainly, we hope to find in such a silent settlement something that will allow us to date it more precisely. So far all we have is some pottery shards that place the hillfort in the Iron Age sometime between the 8th century b.C. to the 1st century a.D.

We have already started digging the test pit located on the southern terrace. This terrace has undergone a lot of modification and is well orientated, and it looks like there was a reason for it having been built.

Should we stop calling Chavella a hillfort?

And back to our first question. It’s still early to draw conclusions, but our main work hypothesis is that Chavella is a unique site in the Iron Age in Galicia.

When we think of the Iron Age in Galicia we tend to think of castros (hillforts). But we are learning more and more about other types of sites: harbours, factories, sanctuaries, non-fortified settlements… There are different types of sites that have different uses.

pezas Chavella

Iron Age pottery found at Chavella

So far at Chavella we have a fortification without inhabitants, that might have had a very specific function. Could it be related with the Castro do Bosque (‘Hillfort of the Forest’), which is located very nearby? Or maybe it was part of a complex large-scale occupational strategy related with the castro of Santa Trega, a sort of ‘capital’ of the region?

We will have to wait until we can start coming to any conclusions, but stay tuned to the excavation process because any small find could reveal a lot of information.

And remember that you can participate in our crowdfunding campaign to help us continue carrying out these types of activities as part of the Costa dos Castros program. You can also visit us at the site at any time. Also on Saturdays and Sundays until the 5th of June at 12:00 we offer free guided tours.