Interview with Pau Sureda, chief archaeologist of Arqueobarbaria

Archaeological site Cap de barbaria II

Pau Sureda, Arqueobarbaria’s chief archaeologist

Pau Sureda is a researcher at the Institute of Heritage Sciences (INCIPIT-CSIC) and the figure in charge of leading the successive archaeological excavation campaigns at the sites of Cap de Barbaria, with special attention to the largest of them, the site of Cap de Barbaria II.

Remember that on our website you have information about all the archaeological sites on Formentera, including Cap de Barbaria I, II and III, and the magnificent burial site of Ca Na Costa.

A few weeks ago we contacted him to ask him some questions about the latest excavations carried out in Formentera, the data they have been able to collect about the first inhabitants and the areas of archaeological interest that he believes are the most interesting on the island.

Cap de Barbaria II archaeological site, Formentera
Cap de Barbaria II archaeological site, Formentera

If you want to learn a little more about the history of Formentera do not miss this interview.


AllFormentera – What are the earliest records (i.e., the oldest found so far) of human activity on Formentera?

Pau Sureda – The earliest direct evidence of human presence on Formentera currently comes from the Ca na Costa burial site and corresponds to the dating of human remains from approximately 4,200 years ago (2,200 BC). Other evidence, in this case remains of domestic fauna (goats) from the Es Riuets and Es Fum caves have also been dated to around 2100 BC.

All Formentera – Do we know where these first settlers came from or if they had contact with the mainland or North Africa?

Pau Sureda – Based on similarities in the artefacts and objects used by these early settlers, we know that their most likely origin was the Languedoc area in southern France or the north-east of the Iberian Peninsula.

All Formentera – What were the climatic conditions at that time in terms of temperature and sea level? Was the island of Formentera different from the way we know it now?

Pau Sureda – This is a very interesting topic on which there is still much work to be done. However, we know that the sea level was similar to what it is today and that, most probably, there were already two main islands in what we now call the Pitiusas. The information available tells us that the separation of Eivissa and Formentera took place some 8,000 years ago.

If we talk about the climate, we can think that it was also similar, perhaps a little more humid because the island was able to maintain species such as holm oaks (Quercus ilex), which today have disappeared or are practically non-existent. In general terms, the landscape was similar to today’s, dominated by pine forests, junipers and Mediterranean maquis.

All Formentera – We find this comment on the separation of Eivissa and Formentera very interesting. We know that this is more of a geological question, which is perhaps beyond your knowledge, but could you expand on it? 8,000 years in geological terms is very little time, so you mean that the two islands of Ibiza and Formentera 8,000 years ago were closer than they are now, or almost together, and are they still separating today?

Pau Sureda – Indeed, it is a geological issue, and what this chronological proposal says is that the islands may have ‘separated’ at an undetermined time between 10,000 and 6,000 years ago. From what I have been able to read it is believed that the islands remained joined by an isthmus and that due to the mainly sandy composition of the rocky substrate, through erosion, once a first passage of water was opened the separation would have been quicker.

In fact, it is an erosive process that is still alive and well and that we can observe today, for example, in the area of Es Trucadors in the Ses Salines Natural Park, where sometimes a third island is currently forming between Formentera and Espalmador.

All Formentera – Did these primitive societies use a language to communicate? Do you have records?

Pau Sureda – These societies undoubtedly had the ability to communicate and must have had some kind of shared language or tongue. We have to think that in other areas of the planet, writing already existed as early as the 4th millennium BC, but in this case, we don’t have any kind of record that would allow us to delve into these questions.

All Formentera – What did they look like compared to today’s human beings, in terms of height, physical complex, the fabrics they used for clothing?

Pau Sureda – They were societies very similar to ours. Logically, they had more robust complexions due to the physical work they carried out and, perhaps, they were shorter on average compared to us. It is reasonable to think that they were quite complex, sedentary societies that already knew, for example, metallurgy. They may well have been dressed in textiles made from animal derivatives such as leather, or plant derivatives such as esparto grass.

Unfortunately, organic remains are not usually preserved in the archaeological record and we only have evidence of their buttons and other ornaments that we have been able to document.

All Formentera – A few months ago you closed a new excavation campaign at Cap de Barbaria II. What findings have you been able to study?

Pau Sureda – The site of Cap de Barbaria II is an open-air settlement that allows us to delve deeper into what daily life was like for these early Formentera societies during the Bronze Age (approximately 4,000 to 3,000 years ago). We have been working in the field for 11 years now, and we know that the inhabitants based their subsistence on agriculture, livestock, bird hunting, fishing and the gathering of marine molluscs. In addition, they organised themselves socially in a more or less egalitarian way and in collaboration with the rest of the communities around them.

In the same way they maintained occasional contacts with other Mediterranean communities from where they obtained resources absent in Formentera such as flint or copper and tin needed for the production of bronzes.

All Formentera – Cap de Barbaria II is one of the most studied sites on Formentera, if not the most, but would you single out any other site for its importance? If you had free rein to decide where to carry out a new excavation campaign, is there any site on Formentera that you would definitely like to study?

Pau Sureda – Possibly, in addition to Cap de Barbaria II, the dolmen of Ca na Costa stands out for its uniqueness in the framework of the prehistory of the Pitiusas and the Balearic Islands as a whole. However, right now I believe that it is still a priority to prospect and to involve the whole of society in archaeological monitoring, as it is possibly as important, or even more, what we do not know than what we have documented in the archaeological maps.

However, to answer your question, if I had to choose just one prehistoric site on Formentera to excavate, perhaps it would be Sa Murada de Sa Cala in La Mola. I think it is a site that still raises many questions as to its functionality, chronology and that may have some surprises in store for us.

All Formentera – The remains of the Talayotic culture are famous in the Balearic Islands, but there is no evidence of them on Formentera. Do you know why?

Pau Sureda – The Talayot, or Talayotic culture, are societies from the 1st millennium BC (approximately between 900 and 123 BC), typical of the local dynamics of the islands of Mallorca and Menorca, each with its own particularities. The Pitiusas, at the same time, were nevertheless colonised by Phoenician societies, where they founded several settlements and, therefore, saw the evolutionary sequence and social dynamics of their indigenous inhabitants interrupted. In this way, they were integrated into the dynamics of urban societies, of a state character, with technology, writing, culture, language and characteristics completely different from the pre-existing model.

If you want to know more about the works at the Cap de Barbaria sites, you can visit  the official blog, or Pau Sureda’s profiles on LinkedIN and ResearchGate.

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