Since the Neolithic the tradition of burying the dead in burial chambers beneath an earthen mound extended along the Atlantic façade of Europe.


The King's Mound


This tradition was particularly entrenched in Galicia and continued for a very long period from the Neolithic (4000BC) to the Bronze Age (1500BC). During this long chronological period the structural traditions changed, as is logical, due to changes in mentalities and the religious evolution of the societies that created these monuments.



This burial tradition has normally been associated with large stone tombs, known as megaliths. However, after analysing different cemeteries in Galicia the most commonly repeated element of these tombs is the mound of earth (also known as a tumulus) that covers them, rather than the existence of a megalithic or non-megalithic funerary chamber (in many cases these have disappeared due to quarrying over a long period). Consequently researchers today prefer to refer to the culture that created these monuments as the Tumulus Phenomenon (Fenómeno Tumular).


Mound of Bougon, Poitou-Charentes, France


In the Atlantic region there are two significant foci of this cultural phenomenon –Brittany (with more than 200 megalithic monuments, including the important sites of Barnenez, Table dus Marchands, and Gavrinis), with its Irish (the Neolithic complex of Brú na Bóinne) and British branch; and Portugal, with burials of this type found throughout its territory, in the Beira region and Serra da Estrela (Carapito, Orca de Fiais…), as well as further south, in Tras os Montes and in the area of Évora (Almendres…). It appears that influences from these two regions reached Galicia, an intermediate zone, which displays a wide range of funerary manifestations with the most significant megalithic expression on the Costa da Morte, especially in the Municipality of Vimianzo, which has the greatest number of tombs with a monumental funerary chamber (Forno de los Mouros, Casota de Berdoias, Arca da Pioxa…).


As mentioned, these tombs were widespread in Western Europe between the 5th and 3rd millennia BC, and although the Galician examples do not reach the same size as those in Andalucía, Portugal, or Brittany, they are the oldest example of monumental architecture in Galicia.



Later in the Neolithic the domestication of animals and plants was fully established. Excavations of sites of this period in Portugal, the Meseta, and Galicia, have shown that cereals of Mediterranean origin were being cultivated: wheat (triticum, hordeum), collard greens (kale-brassica), beans, peas, lentils …

As well as cattle rearing (Bos taurus), with stock used as draft animals and for dairy products (ceramic sieves used in the cheese-making process have been found during excavations), the remains of sheep, goat, and pig have also been found.

Their diet was also complemented by the gathering of forest fruits: acorns, hazelnuts… and to a lesser extent by hunting. The use of coastal resources cannot be discounted.

Model of mound

With the evolution of agriculture people were increasingly recognising the astral bodies and their influence on crops, and consequently on the lives of people. From an early date the religion of the dead (reflected in the mounds) already valued the rising and the setting of the sun and the recognition of the solstices. The chambers of almost all of the tombs are oriented to the east and southeast, to the rising of the sun, with all its associated symbolism, illuminating the funerary chamber, and leading to “rebirth”.

Clothing technology also developed, as witnessed by the appearance of loom weights which suggests that they wore woollen and linen clothing.

The appearance of foreign pottery (e.g. Beaker and Penha pottery appearing during the Chalcolithic, around 2500BC) indicates the possibility of commercial relations with other parts of the Peninsula, trade that surely included textile products and weapons in the form of arrowheads…

Viewing from Coto da Arca



This was an already evolved society, with social compartmentalisation associated with work and ideology, which can be deduced from the creation of these monuments, and the objects found within them, where different architectural structures and grave goods reflect working relations and differentiated technologies (stone work, pottery making, lithic production, shamanism…)

The construction of these tombs would have required strong social cohesion, not only for the development of a religion based on death, practiced for more than 2000 years, but also for the design of the tombs. It is probable that the burial ceremonies were also collective activities.

Grouped into tribes, population density was probably reflected in the quantity and variety of tombs and cemeteries that are found (in some cases tombs occur as isolated monuments, while other times there are considerable numbers, such as Chan da Cruz, which is categorised as a necropolis or cemetery).



Their settlements were comprised of perishable structures, with huts made from wood, straw and clay, typical of a nomadic or itinerant culture. The use of organic materials means that these structures are poorly preserved in the archaeological record, resulting in their invisibility in the landscape and consequent poor understanding of settlement practices of that time. With the improvement of cultivation systems, especially with respect to grazing of lands, a more sedentary way of life gradually took hold.

In the present case, the settlements were located in the environs of the burial areas, particularly in the vicinity of fertile land and water sources (the toponym of Poza da Lagoa [spring of the lake] is particularly illustrative).



The “cult” of the dead and associated funerary rituals is as old as human beings, recorded since the Upper Palaeolithic around 30, 000 BC.

For the Tumulus Phenomenon, there is evidence of a developed religion, based on a cult associated with the death and the transcendence of that state to the afterlife.

It can be assumed (at least in the case of the large monuments, such as King's Mound in the cemetery of Chan da Cruz) that many of the mounds were open tombs for the burial of the dead of the community


Grave goods
The people who were buried were accompanied by a rich array of grave goods, composed of objects that the deceased would need in the next life: Polished axes, of all types: Axes, Adzes, Chisels, Pottery,Cups, Jewellery, Collars, Bracelets, Tools, other than axes and adzes, Sickles, Stone knives, Bow and arrow...

Grave goods found in a burial


While archaeological excavations reveal the end result of the burial ceremony, it is impossible to know what the ceremony itself was like. However, we can speculate about these ceremonies, drawing on anthropological information about modern primitive societies, and other social rituals which have their roots in all the societies of the world.


Funerary structures
The funerary structure basically consist of a hemispherical mound of carefully selected and sieved soil, the tumulus or mámoa, which often has in its interior a funerary chamber–a more or less complete structure made from large stones (orthostats). To the exterior, the mound can also be enclosed by a ring of stones and covered by a stone mantle.

These monuments are nearly always collective burials, belonging to a group or family, normally erected in the zones of passage in the mountain, so it is common to find them associated with traditional paths and roads.



There are more than 40 mámoas of different type and size on Monte Penide/Monte Mirallo, with a notable concentration of 36 tombs in the necropolis of Chan da Cruz, also known as Chan das Formigas. To the north and south of this site, mámoas extend throughout the mountain as far as the necropolis of Candeán, on Monte Vixiador in Vigo.

This cultural phenomenon is also found in other parishes of the territory of Redondela. Of particular note, due to its size, is thand Mound of Guizán in the parish of Vilar, on the border with the Municipality of Mos.





During the mid-3rd millennium BC, the groups of people that inhabited Monte Penide/Monte Mirallo received new inventions in the form of metal tools (among other things) which resulted in the establishment of new styles and new social relations. The most well-known and representative of these changes are the petroglyphs, artistic representations carved into the rocks.

They are commonly attributed to a chronology between 2500-1700BC, corresponding to the cultural periods of the Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age. While some depictions of weapons can be accurately dated to these periods, the majority of the art is abstract with no parallels with recognisable objects.

Similar rock art extends throughout Europe, with particular concentrations in Scandinavia (Alta, Norway; Tanum, Sweden), Italy (Val Camonica), Ireland (Derrynablaha, Kerry; Isle of Doagh, Donegal); or in areas as distant as Australia, South America, or Africa. It appears that at a comparable societal stage people depicted the same types of symbols and carvings. The Galician group of rock art, as it is known in archaeological research, is related with the Atlantic region and the Atlantic roots of the cultures of the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age.

With respect to volume and number of representations, one of the most important sites is located in the Pontevedran municipality of Campo Lamerio, where PAAR, Parque de la Arte Rupestre de Galicia (Rock Art Park of Galicia), is located, an ambitious cultural facility created under the ambit of the Red Gallega de Patrimonio Arqueológico (Galician Network of Archaeological Heritage).





The implantation of metallurgy was very gradual and the result of a long process of inventions and commercial exchanges. The first metal that appears in the archaeological record is copper, initially processed by beating and later by smelting. Later there was a quantitative change with the invention of bronze, the result of the alloying of tin and copper.

Image of a deer at Campo Lameiro

Traditionally in archaeology the arrival of metal is associated with the rise of individualism and chiefdoms in societies. It is logical to think that people and groups who were in possession of metal tools and weapons would attempt to elevate their position with respect to other groups lacking this technology. Archaeological research suggests the development of a warrior class.

These new inventions also resulted in advances in agricultural production and subsistence systems, which enabled demographic expansion during this period. This population increase meant that larger tracts of land needed to be cultivated, which resulted in increasing competition between neighbouring groups.

It is at this juncture that petroglyphs appear, not just as the symbolic representations of the people who created them, but also as a form of territory appropriation by tribes and groups inhabiting the area.



The settlements and structures of these early metal-using societies did not change significantly with respect to earlier communities of the Neolithic, with houses still made from perishable material, and settlements of a non-permanent nature. As agricultural intensification depleted the land (increasingly more slowly as a result of agricultural advancements), people had to move to new territories.

Defensive systems began to appear gradually, most clearly in the cultures of Southern Iberia, both in Portugal and Spain. It appears that this form of nomadic lifestyle gradually disappeared to be replaced by stable, permanent settlements, anticipating what was to come later on in the Bronze Age and Iron Age.



The implantation of a warrior caste, connected to the development of bronze metallurgy, resulted in the disappearance of collective burials throughout Europe, although initially the practice of placing mounds over burials continued, although now these tombs were smaller, closed, individual burials. These are known in Europe as the princely tombs.

This gradual process was accentuated over time. In the case of Galicia and Monte Penide, small tombs without chambers or with small chambers or cists belong to this period.



In parallel there were also changes in ideologies and religion. With the development of agriculture people were increasingly recognising the astral bodies and their influence on crops, and consequently on the lives of people. From an early date the religion of the dead (reflected in the mounds) already valued the rising and the setting of the sun and the recognition of the solstices, the chambers of almost all of the tombs are oriented to the east and southeast, the rising of the sun, with all the symbolic charge that contains with relation to the illumination of the funerary chamber and “rebirth”. This “shamanism” implanted since the Neolithic evolved towards new representations, in this case artistic; we must remember that during the megalithic period there were already the first artistic manifestations on the rocks that formed the chamber.



Image of boat-shaped quern
in Coto do Corno, Monte Penide

The artistic depictions are very varied, with the largest group consisting of abstract symbols, in the form of concentric circles (commonly known as circular combinations), lines, dots (called cupmarks or “coviñas”)…. Labyrinths and spirals, also occur, but are not that common.

Other motifs include zoomorphs, anthropomorphs, reticulates, crosses, etc.



A unique case is the depiction of weapons, as at Poza da Lagoa in Monte Penide. They are not very common but their “realism” helps to identify the chronology of the carvings, as the examples depicted can be compared to artefacts found during archaeological excavations.

In the case of the Rías Bajas there is another unique and enigmatic representation, the navicular (boat-shaped) quern. This type of quern is a very special manifestation within Galician rock art. Analyses suggest that they were use in ritual practices, for the grinding of small amounts of material, to produce paint, potions,… In Monte Penide there are 4 examples of these engravings.



The location of these motifs, whether placed on vertical or horizontal rocks, or rocks level with the ground, has been of particular interest to researchers, as it affects how these motifs are viewed, encountered, and found.

The rock art panels of Monte Penide tend to be sited in areas with very good visibility and visual control over the immediate area, close to paths and passage routes, and oriented towards panoramic views of their surroundings.



There is an important group of petroglyphs in Monte Penide/Monte Mirallo, but these depictions are also found in other parishes of the municipality, including the petroglyphs of O Viso, those of Pedra das Rodiñas or Fonte do Allo, the depictions of schematic horses with a “naïve” appearance, along with abstract circles and dots at Ventosela, and the large complex of rock art, consisting of circular combinations and other abstract motifs, of Amoedo, in Pazos de Borbén, on the border with Redondela ..


Viewing from Castro de Negros




Castro warrior sculptures in the
Archaeological Museum of
Guimarães, Portugall


With the invention of iron smelting (appears in Galicia in the 9th and 8th centuries BC) the trends already glimpsed during the Bronze Age are accentuated – settlements are fortified and a warrior society is fully established (as reflected in the sculptures of the period).

The time of carving petroglyphs has passed, and it appears that there was relative social peace during the Middle and Late Bronze Age; the disappearance of weapon motifs during these periods may point in this direction, according to archaeological investigation.

The fact that during the Iron Age there is a return to the use of fortified settlements throughout Galicia, in northern Portugal as far as the Duero, and part of the territory of western Asturias, indicates that in this particular zone there was a demographic increase and new tensions over property, over implanting in a territory, or even over the particular interests of individual groups.



Known as the “Castro Culture of the Northwest”, it is particularly characterised by the system of settlements known as castros. In most instances they are located on land with good defences and visual control over the immediate territory. Natural defences were increased by the construction of defensive structures in the form of walls and ditches, and in some cases they were true works of military engineering.

Within the settlements there were circular or square dwellings, of stone construction with roofs of thatch (straw from cereal crops) and mud/clay, and later on tegula (roof tile during the period of Romanisation. With a primitive urban organization, the settlements appear to be divided into family units or sometimes into neighbourhoods.

The castros tend to have zones differentiated according to their magnitude, with names like: “croa” (the central part or inner enclosure of the castro), antecastro, gates, defences…


Dwelling in the Castro of Briteiros, Portugal


This was an agrarian economy, based on the cultivation of cereals and stock rearing, although the gathering of forest fruits and vegetables, as well as fishing and the collection of molluscs and shellfish from the coast, still formed an important part of the diet.

Iron smelting was already known, with a rich display of jewellery surviving in the archaeological record.

The Castro Culture did not collapse with the arrival of the Romans. In fact the opposite occurred, with the Castro Culture reaching its apogee of splendour during the Roman period, with some castros growing in size to the extent that they can be considered proto-cities.

Through the art that they left behind, in particular in northern Portugal and Ourense, we catch a glimpse of a warrior society, with their male warriors depicted armed with a sword and shield, dressed in a short skirt and bodices bordered with reticulates and zig-zags of varying complexity.

Another of the artistic representations that they left behind are known as “piedras hermosas”, or “formosas” (“beautiful stones), which were monolithic façades for thermal structures, to which they attribute a religious uses, full of relief ornamentation of chords, lines, frets… and complex labyrinths that characterise this Iron Age culture.

Piedra “Formosa” from the Castro
of Briteiros, Portugall



The burial rites used by the people of the Castro Culture continue to be a mystery, with the absence of inhumations suggesting that they may have favoured cremation or burials in rivers or in the sea. The appearance of deposits of weapons in Galician rivers during the Bronze Age could point in this direction.



The two castros catalogued for the Municipality of Redondela (Castro de Negros and A Peneda, with the latter on the border with Soutomaior) appears to be a very small quantity for this area if we compare it with the 23 documented castros in the neighbouring municipality of Vigo. Redondela has toponyms that are undoubtedly of Castro Culture affiliation such as Cidadelle or Castro Ferreiro in the environs of Penide. Future surveys may redress this shortfall of sites of this period, which are so common in other areas in the immediate vicinity.