The archaeological sites known as Las Motillas are probably the most remarkable type of prehistoric settlement on the Iberian Peninsula. Located in the central area of Spain called La Mancha, they date to the Bronze Age, approximately 2200-1500 cal. BC. This type of site is characterised by artificial tells measuring between 4 and 10m in height, produced by the destruction of a complex fortification with different lines of concentric stone walls. Another important feature is the regular distribution of these sites over the plains of La Mancha; settlements have been found every 4 or 5km and are normally associated with the river basins and low areas, where until recent times there were often ponds (Figure 1). These features are especially related to the adaptation to the peculiar ecological conditions of La Mancha's environment (Martín et al. 1993; Nájera & Molina 2004a, 2004b).
Well-known since the end of the nineteenth century, these sites were believed to be funerary barrows until the 1970s, when the systematic excavation of La Motilla del Azuer was undertaken. The nature of the fortified settlement appear clearly defined from the start of the fieldwork thanks to the documentation of a central fortification surrounded by a small settlement and its necropolis (Figure 2).
The site of Motilla del Azuer is located a few kilometres from the town of Daimiel (Ciudad Real), on the left bank of the Azuer River. Since 1974 a research team from the University of Granada, under the direction of T. Nájera and F. Molina, has undertaken 14 archaeological seasons and different consolidation and restoration projects (Nájera et al. 2004). The first research phase took place between 1974 and 1986. Following a pause of several years, fieldwork restarted in 2000 and is still in progress.
The recent archaeological seasons have significantly increased our knowledge about the spatial and functional organisation of this site. The fortification, with a diameter of 40m, contains three clearly differentiated spaces: a central stone tower, a large open area defined as a court (patio) and two concentric enclosures separated by walls (Figure 3). The tower is quadrangular in shape and has walls measuring over 7m high. Access to the tower is by ramps located in narrow corridors (Figure 4). The patio area with a trapezoidal shape is located in the oriental area of the fortification next to the tower. Inside the patio an impressive well with 16m depth has been documented. This hydraulic structure cut through the natural terrace until reaching the phreatic level and thus finding water (Figure 5). The well has been used throughout the different occupation phases of the settlement.
Regarding the two enclosures, the inner one is located in the western area of the fortification between the intermediate wall and the corridor that gives access to the tower. The functionality of this space has changed over time; although it was used occasionally as a pen for sheep, goats and pigs, its most important function was the storage of cereals. Different storage systems have been documented in this area; rectangular structures built of stone and mud in the earliest times and containers made of pottery and esparto grass during the more recent phases.
Inside the outer enclosure, well delimited by circular walls, several vaulted, circular and oval ovens built of stone and mud have been documented, in addition to rectangular storage pits for cereals. The outer line of the fortification stands out for its interesting constructive characteristics. The inclination of the walls towards the interior of the fortification raises important questions currently under investigation about the constructive system and its dynamics. In the last phase of this outer wall the constructive systems change dramatically, incorporating the use of impressive cyclopean stones (Figure 6). Narrow corridors parallel to the walls give access to the fortification from the inhabited area.
The settlement area surrounds the fortification in a radius of approximately 50 metres (Figure 7). The oval and rectangular dwellings were built with stone foundations and mud walls normally associated with timber posts. Between the dwellings wide open-air areas with a high concentration of pits, ovens and hearths related to storage and production activities were common. In this context an area with large pits for animal waste stands out. Especially noteworthy is the high percentage of horse remains, mostly hooves, skulls, large bones and jawbones, probably from the butchering of these animals.
The Motilla del Azuer necropolis is located within the settlement area, which was the usual distribution pattern during the Bronze Age on the Iberian Peninsula. The funerary ritual usually involved individual inhumation in pits, occasionally covered with stonework or slabs (Figure 8). Nevertheless in some child burials the ritual makes use of pottery urns. The bodies always appear in a flexed position and the sepulchres are normally placed next to the dwelling walls or near the outer line of fortification. Grave goods are scarce and not very representative, although some adults have been found buried with pottery vessels and copper daggers or awls. Anthropological analyses inform us about the pathologies of this population, which were mostly infectious processes caused by nutritional stress and poor health conditions.
The results of the fieldwork carried out in Motilla del Azuer make it possible to infer that these archaeological sites were occupied by a small number of people living in dwellings around the fortification. The large amount of labour involved in the construction and maintenance of the impressive fortifications far exceeded the requirements of the social group that inhabited this type of settlements. In addition, these fortified settlements carried out an important function in the control and management of critical resources, especially water, obtained through the excavated well, and large quantities of cereals. Other resources such as livestock and manufacturing activities like pottery production were also important activities. All the available evidence needs to be considered in a broad scale of analysis. The settlement pattern characterised by the regular location of the sites on the plains of La Mancha and their relationship with contemporary settlements located at the tops of the neighbouring hills seem to indicate a complex political system with an important relation of interdependence between sites and social hierarchisation (Nájera & Molina 2004b).