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Department of Archaeology

All Research Projects

Moncayo Archaeological Survey, NE Spain

A research project of the Department of Archaeology.


The Moncayo Archaeological Survey began in 2000, under the direction of Dr. Chris Gerrard, and is investigating population, economic and environmental change to the north-west of Zaragoza in the north-east of Spain. The area selected for study comprises a northeast-southwest transect of 33 km, stretching from the River Ebro in the north to the foothills of the Sierra de Moncayo in the south. The topographic units covered are varied and consist of the floodplains, channels and terraces of the Ebro and its south bank tributary, the Huecha, as well as the mountainous terrain of the Sierra de Moncayo which rises to 2313 metres. Borja, the only settlement of any size, is the local market centre.

This is an interdisciplinary project with major contributions from Dr. Keith Wilkinson (University of Winchester) and Isidro Aguilera (Museo de Zaragoza) which combines landscape archaeology with earth science methodologies and approaches. The basis for our reconstruction of landscape change is topographical maps, aerial photographs, CORONA satellite imagery and walk-over survey including the correlation of sub-surface deposits, the recovery of artefacts and 14C and luminescence dating. Early results suggest two episodes of significant landscape change which have identified from the geomorphological record dating to the Neolithic/Bronze Age and post-medieval period. These episodes are interpreted here as the result of human land-use change: that in the prehistoric period from clearance of woodland in the Neolithic and the subsequent expansion of agriculture in the Bronze Age, and that in the 19th century from the removal of upland woodland following changes in land ownership and management. Evidence for erosion and deposition was not found for either the Roman or medieval periods when archaeological and historical evidence indicate that local population was at its highest and agriculture most intense, nor from the height of the Little Ice Age when climate is thought to have been at its most extreme. Our preliminary results for this part of the project are already available.

Systematic field survey is currently underway. For this we record material by field/property; the numbers of walkers and the area of the plot dictating the time spent collecting. There is no discrimination by period or artefact type, a somewhat unusual approach in Mediterranean archaeology where less priority may be given to the later medieval, post-medieval and modern periods. A paper on our methodology has been published but the results clearly demonstrate the importance of irrigation on the gravel terraces of the Ebro and the Huecha; the central Ebro basin is the most arid inland region of Europe with an annual precipitation of just 314mm per year. In the simplest terms, the story of local irrigation is the history of transporting water in gravity-flow canals from west to east, bridging climatic and topographical transitions between a higher terrain where water is more plentiful and a lower one where water is scarce, unreliable and drought threatens. Understanding the capture, storage and distribution of water is therefore fundamental and our attention is now moving towards developing methods to date these hydraulic systems.

Fieldwalkers and finds, Maléjan, NE Spain

Published Results

Journal Article

  • Gerrard, C & Gutierrez, A (2012). Estudio arqueológico del Somontano del Moncayo: avance metodológico. Salduie: Estudios de prehistoria y arqueología 10: 259-270.
  • Gerrard, CM (2011). Contest and co-operation: strategies for medieval and later irrigation along the Huecha Valley, Aragon, north-east Spain. Water History 3(1): 3-28.
  • Wilkinson, K. Gerrard, C.M., Pope, R. Aguilera, I. & Bailiff, I.K. (2005). Prehistoric and historic landscape change in Aragon, Spain: some results from the Moncayo Archaeological Survey. Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology 18(1): 31-54.


From the Department of Archaeology

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