Origin and evolution of a rural community

The site of En Balaguer is located in a mountainous area between the Gúdar mountains and the Maestrat coast, within the municipality of Portell de Morella in the region of Els Ports. En Balaguer cannot be defined as a single village but as a series of small rural nuclei where residents used local resources and worked in agriculture, livestock and storage.
In 2005, before the work for the construction of a wind farm in the region, researchers carried out in-depth surveys to identify the presence of archaeological evidence and recovered numerous materials from the surface. The perimeter of the site was delimited and remains from different structures were identified. Halfway through the following year the first archaeological campaign began to study the impact of this work would have on the area, while seeking to confirm hypotheses on the chronology of the complex.

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Archaeological documentation
Thirty manual probes were carried out over a surface area of 242 m2 and the material found reveals the existence of three levels of occupation: proto-historic phase (Early Iron Age), Ibero Roman period, and a building from the 19th century.
An additional campaign was carried out in 2008 to further examine sectors 1 and 2, relating to the first two phases of activity of the site. In addition to a grain store, the floor plan for a building with numerous interconnected rooms from the Ibero Roman period was identified in the first sector. In contrast, much of the complex built in the Iron Age I, including the Tower-House from the 7th century BCE was documented in the second sector.
The team in charge of the archaeological work also included specialists in conservation-restoration who at times carried out direct interventions in the structures while in others they encouraged the conservation of archaeological remains before finally preparing the site for its valorization. In contrast, the intervention in the north sector concentrated on documenting a post-mediaeval masía, Mas de Joan.

First phase of the Iron Age: Tower-House

The earliest occupation of the site was identified in the southwest of the area under study (Sector 2) where remains were barely visible due to the level of deterioration of the structures. In spite of this a building known as Tower-House is clearly made out. This rectangular floor plan is finished off with an apse at the end, which makes it appear semi-fortified. This construction is also the central axis for a subsequent urbanization period represented by the presence of several rooms adjoining to the north and south. The thickness of the walls suggests that the 45 m2 tower was two-storeys high. A large number of pieces of pottery were found inside the structure, mostly food storage jars, pots, kitchen pans and some finer objects such as vases and utensils from Iron Age I. These household goods were possibly located on a bench by the wall, suggesting the presence of living quarters there as early as the 7th century BCE.

Site with vestiges of occupation in the proto-historic, Ibero Roman and post-mediaeval periods

At a later stage this Tower was among other quadrangular structures built to the west and later extended southwards. In fact, near this area a growing number of pottery and bone remains have been found, as well as fragments of adobe still showing plant imprints (evidence that adobe was possibly used to build room walls and roofs).
This structural growth phenomenon is linked to a new occupation phase around the first half of the 6th century BCE, detected thanks to the find of another set of kitchen goods which has remained in situ in department 3. However, there is still much to research as on the surface there appear signs of other spaces which would have completed the complex under study.

Second phase: Ibero Roman

In the south area of the knoll of En Balaguer there is another archaeological complex relating to the appearance of housing and storage from Ibero Roman times, dating from the 3rd century BCE to 2nd century CE. Probes initially showed the existence of a small raised grain store that was part of a larger building. In the west area a section of smaller walls parallel to the building were found, probably part of a ventilation system to prevent the accumulation of humidity in the lower part. In addition, three vertical slabs were found leaning against each other in the central part, forming a cist. The perimeter of this sector, which was rather large at 600 m2, was outlined and divided into eight departments, although in some cases their actual functions could not be easily ascertained.

Raised grain store with a possible ventilation system to prevent the accumulation of humidity

Structural analysis strongly suggests that areas for living (Building 0) were the first to be built, followed by the construction of other spaces for agriculture, livestock, storage and accommodation.

Third phase, post-mediaeval era: masía Mas de Joan       

The third occupation phase in En Balaguer is well represented by the masía Mas de Joan, probably built using structures from earlier periods which also affected archaeological levels. This building, which was designed both for living and working, was used as a house. Its 220 m2 floor plan is divided into four rooms, with a wood-burning Moorish oven adjoining on the west side.

Masía Mas de Joan: a complex for domestic, agricultural and livestock activities

According to oral tradition, in the final stages of its occupation, this masía was inhabited by a very large family whose members worked on domestic, agricultural and livestock tasks.

Although there is no exact construction date it is thought to have been built between the last third of the 18th century and the early 19th century. It was built in a period when many mountain areas in the region were affected by demographic growth, which resulted in a need for spaces for agriculture and livestock, with a subsequent increase in the number of masías in Els Ports. In contrast, the second half of the 20th century saw an exodus to cities and the complete abandonment of crops and visible built heritage.

Material remains

As we have seen in the descriptions of the different sectors the material spans a very wide chronology: proto-historic, Iberian, Roman, Mediaeval and post-mediaeval eras. Although fewer fragments are found from the last two periods, in En Balaguer it is worth highlighting four major groups of pottery.

The first is located in the Tower-House (sector 2) in a closed setting, where items found included tableware items, food storage containers and cooking utensils (all decorated with different finishing techniques). Bronze remains - a sewing needle and gastropod seashell from the 7th century BCE - were also found.

The second closed complex was found in Department 3. Thirty pieces of handmade or thrown pottery were found (with some graffiti elements) as well as another type called els peus reixats (freestanding) which includes perforations on the circular base. Some metal objects were also recovered, including a double-clasp fibula, a curved knife and a grill in poor condition.

The third group of materials includes handmade and thrown pottery (from Iberian times), as well as some imports from the Roman Republican period: fragments of Calathus1 and limited remains of  Campanian2 pottery establishing a time period from the 3rd to the 1st century BCE. In addition to the vases, a bronze semi-spherical button and a La Tenè3 fibula were also found.

Tower-House, first structural nucleus of the Iron Age

Finally, the fourth group stands out from the others given the presence of some prestigious Roman pottery including terra sigillata4 (of Italic and south Gaulish origin) and some vases from the tableware, although most of the pottery was Iberian thrown, including amphorae, Calathus, paterae5, fragments of clay pots, pitchers and remains of handmade pottery. It is also worth noting the appearance of 7 pondera6 (identified in Sector 1) all of which display simple features, with the exception of one with inscriptions on the upper part.
The study of the different structures of the site and the wealth of ceramic, metal and bone remains found are just a few of the factors which have helped in the reconstruction of the context of En Balaguer. To these we must add geographical location, local resources, crops and means of communication, both for commerce and livestock. All the above show that the Tower-House was frequented from the early 7th century BCE, before a more complex building was inhabited in the 6th century BCE (with better living conditions to judge by the pottery remains found). Subsequently, between the 3rd century BCE and the 2nd century CE a phase of abandonment is noted before the occupation of the south part, which follows practically the same rural model: rooms with areas for work and living followed by another historic void up to the construction in the 18th century of the masía Mas de Joan, which survived until the 20th century, continuing to be used for agriculture and livestock.


1Calathus: Form of Iberian pottery cylindrical basket.
2Campanian pottery: Term used to identify a group of pottery production using black varnish and manufactured in Campania, Lazio, Etruria and Sicily but disseminated throughout the western Mediterranean. It is dated from the late 3rd century to the 1st century BCE. Three main types of Campanian pottery - A, B and C - are known.
3Culture of La Tenè: A culture from the Iron Age, also known as Iron Age II.

4 Terra sigillata: Latin expression meaning ‘sealed earth (or ceramic)’ referring to a characteristic type of bright red Roman ceramic. In use from 1st century BCE to the mid-3rd century CE approximately. 5Patera (pl. paterae): Shallow plate from the Roman era which was used in sacrificial rituals 6 Pondus (pl. pondera): Roman loom weight.

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