Abandoned medieval settlement in Spain was devoted to growing grapes, archaeologists finds

Archaeologists have discovered an abandoned settlement in the Basque Country of Spain that seems to have been turned into a medieval version of a factory-farm in order to concentrate the cultivation of vineyards.

Zaballa, which is located in the northern Spanish province of Álava, was fundamentally changed when the monastery manor was built in the 10th century. The settlement built terraced fields for the intensive cultivation of vines. Juan Antonio Quirós-Castillo, director of the UPV/EHU’s Cultural Heritage and Landscapes Research Group, explains “Archaeo-botanical studies of seed remains found in the excavations and pollen studies have provided material evidence of the existence of vine cultivation in a relatively early period like the 10th century.”


Zaballa was abandoned around the 15th century. It is now one of 300 abandoned settlements in the region that archaeologists are exploring to better understand how agriculture was practiced during the medieval period. Quirós-Castillo adds that “the important thing is not just their number, but that in the decade that we have been working on this project, extensive work has been done on nearly half a dozen of them, and work at other levels has been done on nearly a hundred.”

In comparison with Zaballa, “Zornoztegi has a completely different history,” he pointed out. “Even though it was founded at more or less the same time, it is a much more egalitarian social community in which such significant social differences are not observed, and nor is the action of manorial powers which, in some way, undermined the balance of the community.”

In Quirós’ view, these microhistories constitute small windows into the past that allow one to analyse relatively complex historical processes directly, bottom upwards, “in other words, to see how the peasant community itself gradually adapts to the political and economic changes that take place in the medieval era and later.”

What is more, the analytical study of these places of production allows one to abandon those more traditional points of view of history which “conceptualize the high medieval periods as a time of technical simplification, as a meagre period in economic terms, since they point to considerable social and economic complexity. Specifically, it has been possible in these studies to see that there are various important moments in the Basque Country, 5th to 6th centuries and 10th to 11th centuries, which were decisive in the construction of our landscapes.”

Source: Basque Research

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