Waldren home | Underground News | Boquique Pottery| Son Oleza Dolmen | Contacts



William H. Waldren


This report deals with the recent discovery of Iberian 'Boquique' Bronze Age pottery on the Balearic Island of Mallorca, some 95 sea miles from the Spanish Mainland. It marks the 'maritime' spread of this distinctive pottery into a geographic area not yet recorded. It should therefore be of particular interest to Mainland investigators and others concerned with its geographical distribution as well as those dealing with long distant trade and possible kinship links during the period.

The find is further supported by the 'micaceous ' and 'quartz ' composition of the pottery clay fabric; as mica as a component of local indigenous clays is not known on the island. The presence of Boquique pottery with 'micaceous'' clay properties would strongly suggest an importation of the pottery either as a trade item or as part of the personal possessions of an individual , and as such it offers strong evidence of mainland, maritime cultural and commercial ties with the Balearic Islands. Along with other equally recent evidence of earlier trade in 'elephant' ivory items during Bell Beaker times, circa 2500 BC to 1400 BC, of which the Boquique pottery is another intrusive element into local Chalcolithic contexts (Waldren 1998), this new evidence stands as the first material proof of some cultural maritime interaction , either as demographic extension or commercial exchange of these items into the area (Boquique in the present case)

Furthermore, contextual radiocarbon dating surveys strongly indicates a 1950-1740 BC date for the pottery, a date in accord with both recent Iberian mainland dates and the local archaeological sequence in which it was found.


Until now, the distribution of Bronze Age Boquique pottery has been geographically limited to the coastal regions of the Spanish Province of Catalonia from Tarragona to Barcelona and in a narrow corridor north of the Ebro river and recently northwestward into small areas of the Province of Huesca (Figure 1A). In these regions, investigators (e.g. Maya and Petit 1986 and others) have reported its presence in caves and megaliths, as well as the occasional open-air situation. It has also been found in the contexts of Megalithic tombs like that of Mas Pla (Valldossera, Tarragona), first excavated by J. Maluquer in 1963 (Maluquer, Giró and Masachs 1963) and more recently by J. Mestres (Mestres 1979). In this site, it is found in Phase II, dated as circa 1600 BC, where it appears some time after the site's earlier Beaker levels (Phase 1), dated circa 2400-2100 BC. The report of the presence of Boquique pottery in recent years in a number of new areas throughout northeastern Spain (Maya and Petit 1986) demonstrates that the cultural and perhaps even commercial trading were even wider spread than once believed, as well of having a possible earlier origin in the late Cogotas culture. On the basis of the new evidence, however, the concept of its having an even wider maritime distributional spread appears to have been the case. Its wide spread throughout the region of the Ebro and elsewhere has been mostly accounted for by the traditional routes of transhumance. However this theory would no longer apply nor logically explain or account for the spread of Boquique presence into the Balearic Islands, where it appears in settlement contexts with the Beaker culture.

The material evidence of Boquique pottery in the Balearics Island is so far limited to only one site on Mallorca, that of the open-air Chalcolithic 'Old Settlement' of Son Oleza, part of the Prehistoric Settlement Complex of Ferrandell-Oleza-Mas, located near the village of Valldemosa in the island's northern Jurrassic Sierras (Figure 2 ). Here, radiocarbon dating, both for the site's use and duration of currency of the Beaker pottery, including the Boquique wares themselves, currently indicates a 1200 year duration, circa 2475 BC to 1300 BC (Table 1) (Waldren and Van Strydonck 1996). In this respect, the Olezian Chalcolithic Old Settlement is culturally unique as an unbroken, single cultural and chronological sequence in which the Boquique pottery evidence (see above and frontispiece ) is associated with the final phases of its occupation, circa 1750-1300 cal BC. It takes its place in the site's Late Beaker pottery assemblage, one of five different incised and impressed wares (Figure 6; Waldren 1982 and Waldren 1998), thus, in itself, forming part of a useful typological framework .

According to some mainland investigators (e.g. Maya and Petit 1986 and others), Boquique pottery has been assessed as being directly related to earlier pottery of the Cogotas complex. However, for most investigators, Boquique pottery and its distinctive decorative motifs of incised and impressed designs (see photos) show independent development from similar designs of other Iberian groups, as well as differences in general typology and in chronology, (Maya and Petit 1986, p.60). Although, in the opinion of the present author, it would be surprising if some regional variation did not occur through time. Nevertheless, despite any expected slight regional variations, the exclusiveness of the designs and the distinctive technique of their execution makes this pottery easily identifiable and leaves very little doubt as to its origins. At the same time, in the assessment of the Bronze Age pottery generally, one can be confidently assured that other strong parallels exist between Mallorca and Catalonia which leave very little doubt of contact (circa 1750 BC) between the two regions (see Figure 118 , examples from the Mallorca rock shelter of Son Matge and the Cova Fonda (Salomó), Waldren 1998, which clearly show such close parallels).


Boquique pottery is distinguished by single and multiple, draped or fringe-like, deeply incised lines (guirnaldas) and crescent, stabbed or tick-like impressions (flecos), executed on moist clay (see photos). Despite its otherwise distinctive designs and technique of application, its chronological age and duration of currency as well as origin have been the basis of considerable theoretical discussion over the years. As pointed out above, in most of the areas of the mainland it appears to fall generally into the latter stages of the Bell Beaker Complex in most geographic areas, which correlates well within the context of Balearic Boquique pottery. Locally, radiocarbon dating places its age at circa 1950-1750 cal BC and represents the late Beaker phases of the site, circa 1750 cal BC and preceding its abandonment, circa 1300 cal BC (Waldren, Ensenyat and Cubí 1994 and Waldren 1997). The recent Balearic Boquique context of 1750 cal BC for the Olezian pottery would coincide with findings by Castells, Enrichy Enrich (1983 ) in a burial situation at Serra de Clarena, where a date of 1750 ±110 BC has been recorded.

The recent discovery of Bronze Age Boquique pottery outside the Iberian Peninsula and its evident southeastern distributional spread to the Balearic Islands is a completely new development. It is one that is both rare and provocative as well as, simultaneously, stimulating. Its presence in the Balearics, not only adds significantly to our knowledge and understanding of its movements within the present constraints of the mainland areas, suggesting new hypotheses regarding maritime movement and trade in this area during the Bronze Age, but also alters ideas concerning trade links and possible demographic movement into and out of the Balearics Islands themselves.

The possibility of intense or even frequent contact between the islands and mainland areas in prehistory has never been universally or favourably accepted and the general concept has been one advocating relative isolation over long periods and a general lag in progress and development behind that of the peninsula. If the present evidence is any indication, it would seem that much more casual contact and actual exchange, both socially and commercially, took place than has been hitherto assumed. Bearing this later aspect in mind, rather than solely its signifiance and implications in the extension and its general distributional pattern on the mainland, it is the Boquique presence in the Olezian Chalcolithic Old Settlement and what we can learn from it and what this suggests locally in terms of demographic expansion and commercial interests that is important, particularly as it relates to the latter part of the site's Beaker period and the beginning of the Bronze Age proper. What is demonstrated here is provocative in that we have a choice of interpretations for its local presence: (1) as an imported item as part of commercial transaction, (2) brought in as a private possession or (3) manufactured locally by an artisan with experience of the technique and knowledge of the region from which it originated or (4) actual cultural presence on the island on a larger scale than indicated.

Analytical evidence of the fabric of the Olezian Boquique pottery shows that it contains a high proportion of micaceous temper (inclusions) which can be seen as light particles in the photographs shown here, unknown in the local prehistoric wares. This would equally support the hypothesis that the pottery was being imported as a completed item of exchange or part of an individual's personal possessions. However there are also some fragments that do not contain this distinctive clay component and which have all of the characteristics of local clays. This in its own right this would suggest some local manufacture, after the arrival of the first original micaceous product, rather than frequent long range commercial exchange. Because of its rareness to date and these other factors, the probability is more likely of its being a sign of kinship or marital exchange and that the pottery was a personal possession or gift. In any event, there seems little doubt that some contact did occur between these two widely separated areas, perhaps as part of some minor demographic or commercial exchange during this period.

In another, more important respect, it is strong evidence that geographically the Balearics were not so isolated and separated during prehistoric times as thought by some investigators. Furthermore, it demonstrates the probable routes, the direction of contact and exchange, along with the fact that it probably took place more frequently and may have been more important than formerly assumed, despite the open sea distance of 95 sea miles existing between the islands and mainland. Along with other evidence during the earlier Beaker period in the Balearics, circa 2400-2000 BC, as shown by the local presence of elephant ivory objects, along with the significant Beaker pottery and other finds (Waldren 1979 and Waldren 1998), this interaction can be shown to have also been present even earlier .

In certain respects, one need only to consider the strategic location of the islands in terms of their proximal mainland areas to become aware of the directness of any potential routes into the islands. In the present case, this can be seen in the location of the mainland coastal Boquique areas and that of the recent Mallorcan find (Figure 1). Meanwhile, additional research as well as investigation in the form of further radiocarbon dating carried out on the stratigraphical contexts in which the Boquique pottery has been found, along with further analysis of its clay fabrics, are needed, all of which should give more details regarding the question and degree of its presence and influence in the islands.

Acknowledgements. Thanks are extended to collegues Josef Ensenyat, Jaime Orvay and Robert Chapman for comments and especially Mark Van Strydonck for the radiocarbon dating undertaken by the Koninklijk Instituut voor het Kunstpatrimonium in Brussels and lastly to the Baden-Powell Quaternary Research Centre, Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford University where pottery sectioning and chemical analysis were carried out.


Maya, J., L. and M. Angels Petit, 1986. 'El grupo del nordeste. Un nuevo conjunto de cerámicas con Boquique en la Península Ibérica', Anales de prehistoria y Arqueología, 2, Secretariado de Publicaciones, Universidad de Murcia, pp 49-571.

Maluquer, J.; Giró, P. and Masachs, J. M. 1963. ' Excavacions en sepulcres megalítics de Valldossera (Querol, Tarragona)' Excavaciones Arqueologicas en España, Tomo 20, pp. 1-11

Mestres, J. 1980. 'El sepulcre megalític de Mas Pla (Valldossera) Querol, Tarragona', Pyrenae 15-16, pp. 126-143.ß

Castells, J. ; Enrich,J. and Enrich, J., 1983. 'El Túmil I de la Sierra de Clarena (Castellfollet del Boix, Bages) en Excavacions Arqueológiques a Catalunya,4. pp. 55-81.

Waldren, W.H. 1979. 'A Beaker Workshop Area in the Rock Shelter of Son Matge, Valldemosa, Mallorca' World Archaeology, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, Vol 11, No. 1, pp. 43-67.

Waldren, W.H. 1982. 'Balearic Prehistoric Ecology and Culture: The Excavation and Study of Certain Caves, Rock Shelters and Settlements', British Archaeological Reports BAR International Series 149 (ii) Appendix 3A, pp. 675-711. Oxford, pp.267-312.

Waldren, W. H., Ensenyat, J. and Cubí, C. 1994. 'Prehistoric Archaeological Elements, Ferrandell-Oleza Chalcolithic Old Settlement', DAMARC 21, Donald Baden-Powell Quaternary Research Centre, Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford University, England.

Waldren,W.H., and M. Van Strydonck 1996, 'Prehistoric Sanctuary of Son Mas....a radiocarbon analysis survey, dating the activity sequence of the sanctuary', DAMARC 24, No5, Donald Baden-Powell Quaternary Research Centre, Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford University, England.

Waldren, W.H. 1997. 'The Definition and Duration of the Beaker Culture in the Spanish Balearic Islands: a radiocarfbon survey.' oxford Journal of Archaeology, Vol.6 NO.1 Blackwell Publishers, Oxford ,pp.25-48

Waldren,W.H., 1998. Beaker Culture of the Balearic Islands, British Archaeological Reports BAR Series 709, Western Mediterranean Series 1, Oxford, pp.1-375.


Waldren home | Underground News | Boquique Pottery| Son Oleza Dolmen | Contacts