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Portugal: Historical Setting
Library of Congress Country Study

Origins of Portugal

The Iberian Peninsula is a geographic unit that contains a number of distinct regions based on climate and geomorphology, such as Andalusia, Castile, Galicia, and Lusitania. Lusitania, which now encompasses the modern nation-state of Portugal, is generally set off from the other regions of the peninsula by areas of higher elevation that run parallel to the Atlantic coast, greater rainfall, and a more moderate climate. It was this regional distinctiveness, as well as the internal geography of Lusitania--largely open to the south but hemmed in by mountains on the east and the Atlantic Ocean on the west--that gave rise to a culturally and socially distinct people, the Portuguese, and later to an independent nation-state, Portugal.

 

Early Inhabitants

Lusitania has been inhabited since the Paleolithic period. Implements made by humans have been found at widely scattered sites. The Ice Ages did not touch Lusitania, and it was only after the disappearance of the Paleolithic hunting cultures that a warmer climate gave rise to a river-centered culture. At the end of the Paleolithic period, about 7000 B.C., the valley of the Tagus River (Portuguese, Rio Tejo) was populated by hunting and fishing tribes, who lived at the mouths of the river's tributaries. These people left huge kitchen middens containing the remains of shellfish and crustaceans, as well as the bones of oxen, deer, sheep, horses, pigs, wild dogs, badgers, and cats. Later, perhaps about 3000 B.C., Neolithic peoples constructed crude dwellings and began to practice agriculture. They used polished stone tools, made ceramics, and practiced a cult of the dead, building many funerary monuments called dolmens. By the end of the Neolithic period, about 2000 B.C., regions of cultural differentiation began to appear among the Stone Age inhabitants of the Iberian Peninsula, one of these being the western Megalithic culture. Present-day Portugal is thus rich in Megalithic neocropolises, the best known of which are at Palmela, Alcalar, Reguengos, and Monsaraz.

The Paleolithic and Neolithic periods were followed by the Bronze Age and the Iron Age (probably between 1500 and 1000 B.C.). During this time, the Iberian Peninsula was colonized by various peoples. One of the oldest were the LÌgures, about whom little is known. Another were the Iberos, thought to have come from North Africa. The Iberos were a sedentary people who used a primitive plow, wheeled carts, had writing, and made offerings to the dead.

 

Portugal: Historical Setting
Library of Congress Country Study

Historical Setting <<< Contents >>> Phoenicians, Greeks . . .

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More about Medieval Iberia

Index of Library of Congress Country Study Histories

Index of Electronic Texts

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