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Quaternary Research 54, 359 –371 (2000

doi:10.1006/qres.2000.2154, available online at on

Middle Terrace Deposits of the Tagus River in Alpiarça, Portugal,
in Relation to Early Human Occupation
Paolo Mozzi
Dipartimento di Geografia, Università di Padova, via del santo 26, 35123 Padova, Italy

Maria Teresa Azevedo and Elizabeth Nunes
Centro de Geologia da Faculdade de Ciencias da Universidade de Lisboa, Edificio C2, 5° Piso, Campo Grande, 1700 Lisbon, Portugal


Luis Raposo
Museu Nacional de Arqueologia, Praça do Imperio, 1400 Lisbon, Portugal

Received June 29, 1998

a detailed geological survey of the region, aimed at understand-
The stratigraphy and sedimentology of the Q3 middle terrace ing the morpho-stratigraphy of the alluvial terraces, which
alluvial sequence in the lower Tagus river valley, Portugal, were characterize the lower portion of the valley. He recognized four
studied near the village of Alpiarça, approximately 40 km up- major terraces and related deposits, naming them, from top to
stream from the estuarine area. Two main stratigraphic units were bottom, Q1, Q2, Q3, and Q4. The terrace surfaces lay at
recognized, separated by an important uncomformity. The Lower
altitudes of 80 to 60 m (Q1 and Q2 “upper terraces”), ca. 50 m
Gravels unit (LG) consists of intercalations of medium to coarse
gravel deposits, mainly quartzitic, with coarse sandy matrix, or-
(Q3 “middle terrace”), and 20 –25 m (Q4 “lower terrace”). The
ganized in tabular bodies. The overlying Upper Sands unit (US) typical stratigraphy of each terrace consists of a basal gravel
consists of tabular sandy channel deposits and overbank fines, the unit, partially generated by colluviation of older terraces, cov-
latter containing well-developed paleosols and backswamp depos- ered by fluvial mud and sand, sometimes with intercalated
its, showing a general aggrading trend, apparently with varying gravel in the upper part. The formation of these four terrace
rates; available data indicate that deposition of the US took place levels was regarded as being due to alternating climate and
under temperate climatic conditions. Within US deposits are sev- eustatic sea-level fluctuations related to Pleistocene glacial/
eral paleolithic archaeological sites, the lower ones in the alluvial interglacial cycles. This model led him to formulate a scale of
stratigraphy being Middle Acheulian, whereas those embedded in events in which each terrace unit spans the second half of a
overlying deposits are, from bottom to top, Upper Acheulian and
glaciation and the first part of the following one, thus compris-
Micoquian. Some of these sites have been recently excavated. The
quartzite artifacts were apparently abandoned by early humans on
ing a full cycle.
the flood plain surface during deposition of the US unit and were This scheme of four terraces, inferred to correlate with the
subjected to limited reworking during their incorporation in the Günz, Mindel, Riss, and Würm glacial cycles (“cycle Sicilien,”
alluvium. TL/OSL dating of sandy-silty sediments, though impre- “cycle Milazzien,” “cycle Tyrrhenien,” “cycle Grimaldien”),
cise, support archaeological evidence pointing to an age of 150,000 was later exported to other regions of Portugal (Zbyszewski,
to 70,000 yr B.P. for the US unit. © 2000 University of Washington. 1958, 1985) and was adopted in the geological maps of the
Key Words: fluvial deposits; fluvial terraces; paleolithic; Serviços Geologicos de Portugal at the scale 1:50,000. The
paleosols; thermoluminescence dating; geoarchaeology; last well-developed Q3 middle terrace was regarded as having
interglaciation; Tagus River; Portugal.
formed between the last phases of Mindel glaciation and the
beginning of Riss.
Early interest arose concerning the Quaternary geology of
INTRODUCTION the Tagus valley, and more specifically of the area of Alpiarça,
because here a large number of apparently very old lithic
The Tagus river valley (Fig. 1) was the site of one of the first industries had been found, both in stratigraphic position and in
investigations of Quaternary fluvial valleys in Portugal. In the surface scatterings, by the end of the 19th century by scholars
middle 1940s the geologist Georges Zbyszewski (1946) made of the “Comissão dos Trabalhos Geologicos.” This evidence
359 0033-5894/00 $35.00
Copyright © 2000 by the University of Washington.
All rights of reproduction in any form reserved.

FIG. 1. Simplified geologic map of the lower Tagus valley (after Carvalho, 1968; Barbosa and Pena dos Reis, 1989, 1996; Serviços Geologicos de Portugal,

suggested the possibility of acquiring data on human prehis- and Zbyszewski’s studies had been based mainly on the
tory, as well as providing an independent way of dating the recognition of “characteristic artifacts” (i.e., “coup-de-
deposits. Zbyszewski and the French archaeologist Henri poing”) and on their degree of weathering. Although
Breuil studied the lithic industries and related them to cultural Zbyszewski’s morpho-stratigraphic interpretations retained
evolutionary models then in use in other European regions, many inadequacies (Daveau, 1993), virtually no recent in-
especially France. An initial chronology was proposed for the vestigations had been carried out concerning the geology of
different assemblages (Zbyszewski, 1943; Breuil and Zbyszew- Tagus fluvial deposits.
ski, 1942, 1945, 1946), linking archaeological evidence to the This paper concerns the alluvial stratigraphy of the mid-
morpho-stratigraphic setting. dle and lower portions of the Q3 middle terrace sediments,
In the following decades, intensive and detailed archae- which contain important and partially excavated archaeo-
ological work has been carried out in the Tagus valley, and logical sites. The investigations focused on the minor val-
some major palaeolithic sites have been excavated (Raposo leys of Vale do Forno and Vale de Atela, located south of
et al., 1985a, 1985b, 1993; Raposo, 1995). This has brought the village of Alpiarça and intersecting the middle terrace in
about a thorough revaluation of previous cultural, typolog- a direction transverse to the Tagus valley axis (Figs. 1 and
ical, and chronological assessments for the artifacts. Breuil 2).

FIG. 2. Map of the study area, comprising the tributary valleys of Vale do Forno and Vale de Atela. Asterisks indicate main paleolithic archaeological sites.
The almost flat bottoms of these minor valleys, cut into the Pleistocene alluvium of the Tagus River, represent the top of Holocene valley fills (Leeuwaarden
and Janssen, 1985); these confined floodplains extend to the Vale do Tejo alluvial plain, together representing one single geomorphic surface.

MIDDLE TERRACE DEPOSITS Gravels” (LG) unit, and a sand-and-mud unit designated the
“Upper Sands” (US) unit, in which sandy channel deposits are
In the study area, the best outcrops of the alluvium are found intercalated with fine-grained overbank sediment and a flood-
in the extensive gravel, sand, and clay pits, some of which are plain soil–sediment complex (Figs. 3 and 4).
still under excavation (Pedreira Hilario and, partially, Pedreira
do Barro), whereas others are now abandoned (Vale do Forno Lower Gravels (LG) Unit
and Vale de Atela quarries). In addition, several trenches were
dug, thanks to the collaboration of the Municipality of Alpi- The LG unit consists of coarse, heterometric, subangular to
arça, which provided a bulldozer for several days. subrounded quartzitic gravels with coarse sandy matrix; other
Stratigraphic sections were described in the field, and labo- lithologies, such as micaceous shale, granite, and ferruginous
ratory sedimentological analyses were carried out for several concretions comprise ⬍10%. The clast diameter ranges be-
samples, shown in cross section A–A⬘ (Fig. 3), in the strati- tween 0.5 and 30 cm.
graphic log of Figure 8, and on the map of Figure 2. LG gravels are organized in tabular bodies 2 to 3 m thick and
Two main lithostratigraphic units have been recognized, show clast imbrication and some planar cross bedding. Some
from bottom to top, a gravelly unit, defined as the “Lower minor channels with maximum depth of 1 m and width up to

FIG. 3. Stratigraphic cross section A–A⬘.

15 m were observed. Lenses of coarse sand with pebbles are Channel deposits consist of medium to fine poorly sorted
common, range from 0.1 to 1 m thick, and mainly are massive sand, sometimes with a low percentage of fine and medium
or have planar cross-stratification. gravels, mainly as channel lags. Sands are mainly massive.
The exposed part of the unit is ca. 12 m thick; although the Where sedimentary structures are present, planar cross-
lower part of the unit is not visible, evidence from wells drilled bedding and horizontal stratification are predominant; lateral
at the bottom of the Vale do Forno show that the thickness of accretion facies were not seen. Common rounded grayish to
the unit likely does not exceed 15–20 m. The LG unit lies on brownish mud balls 20 –30 cm in diameter appear mainly as
the pre-Quaternary bedrock, which consists of the Miocene channel lags but also are dispersed in the sandy levels, espe-
lacustrine claystone and marls of the “argilas de Tomar” for- cially in the basal portion of the unit. Most samples examined
mation (Serviços Geologicos de Portugal, 1952; Barbosa and with a binocular microscope are angular to subangular grains
Pena dos Reis, 1989; Barbosa, 1995). The upper boundary of of hyaline quartz (but also citrine, rose, smoky, and white) with
the LG unit is erosional and represents an important uncom- clear conchoidal fractures, lustrous surfaces, and abundant
formity traceable throughout the study area. impact marks. A small percentage of grains present a tarnished
surface and some are somewhat ferruginized. Other lithologies,
Upper Sands (US) Unit
including gypsum, muscovite blades, and jasper, are present in
In the study area, the US unit reaches a thickness of 20 m. a 5–10% average. The heavy mineral associations consist
Its deposits can be subdivided in two main classes, channel mainly of staurolite, andalusite, zircon, biotite, and muscovite
deposits and overbank deposits. as abundant grains; tourmaline and sillimanite are less abun-

FIG. 4. Stratigraphic cross section B–B⬘. For legend see Figure 3.

dant or rare. For the 3␾ and 4␾ dimensional classes, most


grains are angular to subangular, except for the zircons, which
are euhedral or subrounded. The clayey matrix of the sands can
represent up to 35% by total weight and is kaolinitic-illitic

Medium to
16A (%)

(6.9 –36%) and montmorillonitic and illitic (1–13%) (Table 1).
Overbank deposits consist mainly of laminated to very thinly
bedded intercalations of fine sand and silt, together with mas-


sive silts; clay deposits are less widespread. Organic-rich back-

swamp deposits and buried soils are embedded within the
overbank series. The clay fraction of the overbank deposits

have an essentially montmorillonitic character, this mineral


varying between 9.3 and 34.3%, associated with kaolinite
(9.1–27%) and illite (9.2–14.4%) (Table 1). Attapulgite is

Percentage of Clays Present in the Studied Samples and Their Respective Lithologies
present in some clayey strata in small quantities (1– 6%).

In cross sections A–A⬘ and B–B⬘ (Figs. 3 and 4), the lower
portion of the US unit consists almost exclusively of sandy

channel deposits. Their thickness ranges between 1 and 6 m

and generally decreases toward the east and southeast, being
dependent on the geometry of the erosive bounding surface


with the LG unit.

Directly on top of these channel deposits lies the more
important body of overbank deposits, with a thickness of 6 – 8




m and a lateral extension of more than 1 km along a north–
south transect. Remarkable is the presence of some fairly
well-developed, 1 to 1.5-m-thick, laterally continuous pa-


leosols, vertically stacked in the stratigraphic series and sepa-
rated by 0.5 to 2-m-thick overbank deposits. These soils were
described and sampled in different locations on freshly cut




profiles (sections AL1, AL2, AL3, AL4).

All buried soils have 30- to 70-cm-thick, dark-brown,

organic-rich A horizons, with wavy or irregular abrupt to clear


lower boundaries and mainly have medium to coarse prismatic
and blocky pedogenic structure; upper boundaries with over-

Fine to

lying overbank deposits are usually abrupt. Underlying B ho- 21.6

rizons are relatively thin (20 – 40 cm), light olive-brown to light
yellowish-brown, with gradual lower boundaries; root traces,


and 1- to 3-mm-diameter tubular pores due to bioturbation are

common. Redoximorphic features such as reddish and grayish
mottles and iron–manganese oxides are generally abundant and


ubiquitous, the latter both in the form of soft and hard concre-
tions (laterally continuous Fe/Mn oxide cemented horizons up
to 2–3 cm thick are sometimes present in both B and C


horizons) and as coatings in pores and on peds faces; the
structure usually goes from blocky to prismatic, but also a very
Fine to

coarse columnar structure was observed with 5- to 6-cm-thick

and 15- to 40-cm-long peds. The B horizons often pass grad-
ually downward to pale yellow C horizons through transitional
1A (%)


BC horizons.


Paleosols have clayey to loamy textures. Within each soil,
lateral variations of textures are present, probably related to a

changing granulometry of the parent material. The most sig-


nificant case is represented by the paleosols exposed at AL1,


which are markedly more clayey than those observed else-

where in the study area. Slickensides (surfaces produced by

FIG. 5. Lithic assemblage from the Upper Acheulian VF8 site (Vale do Forno, Alpiarça): (1) Tayac point; (2 to 7) sidescrapers; (8) denticulate; (9 to 11)
borers; (12 to 15) cores; (16) biface; (17) cleaver. All in quartzite, except 1 and 6 (flint) and 5 (quartz).

one soil mass sliding past another, due to the swelling of clays present in the uppermost part of the section. Within the channel
during changes in moisture content) crossing A and B horizons deposits 1- to 2-m-thick, tabular or slightly lens-shaped bodies
are very common and well developed in these more-clayey of laminated to massive silty overbank deposits are common.
paleosols. Some muddy infillings of abandoned shallow channels are also
Above the paleosol sequence lies a 20- to 40-cm-thick layer, present.
with a lateral extent of ⬎1 km, consisting of laminated silts and
muds containing a high percentage of leaves and carbonaceous ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITES AND ALLUVIAL
matter. These backswamp deposits should correspond to one of STRATIGRAPHY
the Q3 “gisement de vegetaux” described by Dr. Carlos Teix-
eira (Zbyszewski, 1946). He recognized leaves pertaining to Ten paleolithic archaeological sites found within the US
different kinds of Salix and rhizomes of Nymphea, while the sedimentary unit in the study area consist of scattered quartzite
pollen content was apparently restricted to Ericacea and Pinus artifacts. Among the four sites that have been recently exca-
(Montenegro de Andrade, 1944). Vegetal macrofossils, mainly vated (by L.R.), three are particularly significant because the
leaves, were observed by one of us (P.M.) in the muddy large number of artifacts allows for a sound cultural diagnosis
infillings of abandoned channels at the western end of cross of the industries.
section B–B⬘. VF1. In this site the lithic industry consists of a not very
In the field it was evident that the thick flood-plain sedimen- evolved Acheulian type (Middle Acheulian). Preliminary ty-
tary body just described is bounded at the top by a flat to pological analysis shows a high percentage of flaked pebbles,
concave-up erosional surface, probably in phase with the dep- unifacial choppers, and hand axes, commonly of quite rough
osition of the overlying channel deposits. The geometry of the manufacture, with many fewer implements on flakes.
different channel units in this upper portion of the US unit is VF8. The lithic assemblage of this level is very rich: in a 20
tabular, with thicknesses not exceeding 3– 4 m; the sediments m 2 excavation, about 3000 artifacts were collected. It is an
are mainly sandy, but medium to coarse gravels are locally Upper Acheulian industry with many tools on flakes. Common

FIG. 6. Spatial distribution of artifacts in the excavated area of VF8 site (contour line values express the number of retrieved artifacts; grid squares measure
1 ⫻ 1 m).

bifaces show a good flaking technique (Fig. 5). In Figure 6 a lying within the US basal channel deposits in an elongated lens of
plan-view perspective of the scattering of the artifacts on the fine gravel with sandy matrix, a few meters above the US/LG
excavated archaeological paleo-surface is shown. A concentra- unconformity. VF8 is incorporated in the overlying soil/sediment
tion along a NE–SW direction is evident. flood-plain sequence, apparently always beneath the major pa-
VF3. The 338 artifacts from this site, also known as Mı̀l- leosols and swamp deposits that characterize the upper part of the
haròs (Raposo et al., 1985a), have the characteristics of the section. The Milharos VF3 site is within the upper sandy deposits.
so-called Micoquian type (Late Acheulian) (Fig. 7). A predom- It lies outside the cross section of Figures 3 and 4, but corresponds
inance of evolved bifaces (lanceolate and Micoquian ones) stratigraphically to the archaeological level of the AL3 (Pedreira
with respect to the more archaic shapes (amigdaloides) and do Barro) section, where a few artifacts were collected (by P.M.)
enhanced flaking skills (bilateral and bifacial simmetry, re- from a slightly humiferous fine sandy horizon exposed on the
touched edges, use of elastic percussion instruments, produc- quarry walls.
tion of highly standardized flakes for tool making) contrast During this investigation two other sites were found (by P.M.),
with an apparent lack of specialization in the flake tools (rec- the VF8a site and a new site exposed in the AL4 section. On the
ognized by Zbyszewski, 1946), almost no use of Levallois basis of the stratigraphic relations shown in Figure 4, site VF8a
technique, and common presence of “culturally regressive,” appears to be an extension of VF8. A detailed sketch of the
i.e., simple, worked pebbles. sedimentary context of site VF8a is given by the log of section
In the LG unit, a small number of artifacts, commonly worn AL2 (Fig. 8). Here the artifacts are associated with a silty clay lens
out, have been recovered during several years of archaeological with common angular to subangular granules and pebbles. This
surveying. Further investigations have been seriously hindered by few-cm-thick lens lies in silty to very fine sandy overbank depos-
the building of a dam at the end of the Vale do Forno, which led its, at the base of a ca. 0.5-m-thick soil. A somewhat similar
to the creation of a small reservoir, the water of which covers most situation was observed in AL4, where flaked quartzite pebbles lie
of the LG sequence. Thus, the existence of still-older Lower at the bottom of minor (⬍1 m deep) scours filled with silt.
Acheulian and Clactono-Abevillian human occupation of the area
(Zbyszewski, 1946) has not yet been verified. TL/OSL DATING
Altogether, the paleolithic cultural sequence within the US unit
is well defined, with assemblages from Middle Acheulian to In order to assess the age of the VF8 site, an attempt was
Micoquian type. This sequence agrees very well with the different made in 1991 by one of us (L.R.) to date the visible sedimen-
stratigraphic positions of the sites in the alluvial series (Figs. 3 and tary sequence. In view of (a) the available samples (sandy to
4). The more archaic VF1 site occupies the lowermost position, silty sediments), (b) the expected ages, and (c) the international

FIG. 7. Lithic assemblage from the Late Acheulian, “Micoquian,” VF3/Milharos site (Vale do Forno, Alpiarça): (1) lanceolate biface; (2 and 3) micoquian
bifaces; (4 and 5) cleavers. All in quartzite.

interdisciplinary cooperation established between the National During this investigation, as new technologies became avail-
Archaeological Museum of Lisbon and the Department of able, we again tried to date the same deposits by TL/OSL,
Scientific Research of the British Museum, it was decided that together with VF8a sediments and younger parts of the US unit
the optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) technique, a vari- exposed in the upper portion of the AL3 section. Six samples
ant of the thermoluminescence method (TL), could be success- of silt to fine sand were collected by Dr. Debenham. Again, no
fully used (Aitken, 1985). precise results were obtained because of the lack of measurable
The most suitable levels were selected, after careful obser- TL signal in the sediments, due either to their age or to the
vation of the local sediments. Dosimeters with cleaned TL absence of sufficient solar exposure before burial.
signal were buried at these levels for one year in order to
measure the annual environmental dose rates by gamma radi- DISCUSSION
ation and cosmic rays. When retrieved, the dosimeters were
sent to the British laboratory, together with sediment samples The stratigraphic and sedimentological observations carried
collected in their immediate vicinity. The TL signal obtained out in the minor valleys of Vale do Forno, Vale dos Tejeiros,
during the voyage was controlled by another dosimeter used and Vale de Atela indicate the existence of two major strati-
only for this purpose. The laboratory measurements, carried graphic units (LG and US) separated by an important uncom-
out by Dr. Nick Debenham, are summarized in Table 2. formity. The alluvial architecture and lithofacies of the LG unit
In general, the results obtained are close to the upper TL/ are markedly different from those of the US unit.
OSL dating limit for the sediments, and hence they give The coarse, heterometric gravels of the LG unit show some
imprecise information. On the basis of probability, they allow imbrication and have a laterally persistent thickness which,
ages to be obtained between ca. 150,000 and 100,000 yr B.P. together with the absence of lateral accretion surfaces, indicate
However, it is not possible on the basis of these TL/OSL dates middle or lateral bar deposition in low-sinuosity channels.
to exclude dates beyond that limit. Overbank deposits are virtually lacking. The characteristics of

FIG. 8. Log of section AL 2, with VF8a archaeological site.

these amalgamated channel deposits suggest deposition by a belts are estimated to range between 2.5 and 4 km. The US
coarse bed-load braided river. overbank deposits represent vertical flood-plain aggradation.
Lithofacies in the US unit are more varied than those in the The thick body extending between ca. 19 and 27 m altitude is
LG, as both channel and overbank deposits are well preserved. the major flood-plain sequence in the study area. The presence
The essentially planar character of the sandy current structures of several fairly well-developed soils suggests that depositional
and the absence of epsilon cross stratification in the US channel events alternated with periods of surface stability or that ac-
deposits point to deposition in low-sinuosity channels with cretion rates were alternately higher or lower than the rates of
limited lateral accretion. The overall widths of the channel soil formation. This recurrent switching from one condition to

Thermoluminescence Measurements and Dose Rates for the US Unit in Vale do Forno (Site VF8)

Dated levels Dose Rates
(progressive numbers Natural
indicate top to bottom regen. dose Alpha Beta External Total
stratigraphic positions) (grays) (Gy/10 3 yr) (Gy/10 3 yr) (Gy/10 3 yr) (Gy/10 3 yr) TL age (years)

VF01 601 ⫾ 56 1.443 3.060 1.498 6.001 127,000 ⫹ infinite ⫺ 26,000
VF02 685 ⫾ 140 1.889 3.582 2.018 7.489 119,000 ⫹ infinite ⫺ 32,000
VF05 639 ⫾ 79 1.512 3.393 1.706 6.611 117,000 ⫹ infinite ⫺ 26,000
VF06 624 ⫾ 66 0.894 3.432 1.485 5.811 ⬎124,000

another may be related to migration of the river channels both US clays. On the other hand, the extreme hot, moist climate
away and toward this portion of flood plain following avulsive inferred from the Dal Cin diagram (Dal Cin, 1968) (Fig. 9) for
events upstream, and/or changes in the recurrence intervals of the LG unit does not strictly relate to climatic conditions at the
the largest floods and associated overbank deposition. The time of LG deposition. In fact, the sedimentological character-
scarcity of pedogenic features in the overbank fines of the istics of this unit suggest that it is mainly a product of rede-
upper portion of the US unit points to higher, more-constant position of the Upper Pliocene “Serra de Almeirim conglom-
aggradation rates. erates” (Carvalho, 1968; Barbosa, 1995; Barbosa and Pena dos
The abundant redoximorphic features in these paleosols Reis, 1996; Azevedo, 1997), the latter being a very coarse, 20-
indicate the presence of a shallow underground water table to 40-m-thick alluvial unit forming the large plateau within
with recurrent fluctuations that made B and C soil horizons which lie the Tagus valley and its Quaternary terraces (Fig. 1).
alternate between reducing and oxidizing conditions. The well- The same may apply to at least part of the coarse fraction of the
developed swell-and-shrink structures (slickensides) of the US unit. It, thus, follows that the diagram in Figure 9 reflects
clayey soils in AL1, also testify to the existence of wetting and average Pliocene–Quaternary environmental conditions.
drying cycles at the time of soil formation. A detailed discussion of the geological conditions that led
Available data on US pollen content (Montenegro de An- to significative changes in lithofacies and alluvial architec-
drade, 1944) have to be considered with caution, as they are ture at the LG/US boundary is beyond the scope of this
biased by methodologies that are inadequate compared to mod- paper. The magnitude of these changes is such that they
ern standards (Mateus and Queiroz, 1993). The interpretation most probably reflect the complex response of the Tagus
of US macrofloral assemblages that imply a “mild-temperate depositional system to changing external factors, such as
climate similar to that of the present day” (Zbyszewski, 1946) tectonic activity, climate, and sea level. Tectonics in central
should be tested in future investigations. Nevertheless it is Portugal during the last 2 myr are regarded as having
consistent with the observed sedimentological characteristics consisted mainly in a general uplift of ca. 200 –500 m, with
of the deposits, such as the high percentages of kaolinite in the maximum estimated rates of about 0.25 mm/yr, also result-

FIG. 9. Dal Cin morphoclimatic index (after Dal Cin, 1968).

Tentative Correlation of Sedimentary, Cultural, and Chronostratigraphic Evidence in the Vale do Forno Sequence
(Alpiarça, Portugal), in Comparison with Previous Interpretations (Zbyszewski, 1946)

Proposed scheme Zbyszewski (1946)

Stratigraphic Lithic Archaeological Stratigraphic Lithic
unit TL/OSL Age industries sites unit Lithology Age industries

C. 10 Sand and gravel Riss II
Last interglaciation (?)
“Upper Sands” (US)

(Isotopic stage 5)
Micoquian VF3 C. 8-9 Clayey sands and fine sandy clays
119,000 ⫹ infinite C.7 Sands, with lenses of fine to coarse Riss I glaciation Micoquian
⫺ 32,000 ytr gravels
Upper VF8 C.6 Yellowish clayey sands, greenish Mindel/Riss Upper
Acheulian gray or yellowish sandy clays interglaciation Acheulian
117,000 ⫹ infinite C.5 Gray clay with fossil floral remains
⫺ 26,000 yr
⬎124,000 yr Middle VF1 C.4 Greenish gray clay, with sandy Middle
Acheulian portions Acheulian
C. 3b Gravel lenses, within yellowish
(Isotopic Stage 6)
“Lower Gravels”

glaciation (?)

sands in the upper portion

C. 3a Yellowish white sands Lower

? ? C.2 Reddish gravels and sands, Mindel Clactono-
manganese oxides glaciation Abevillian
C.1 Yellowish sands

ing in the reactivation of pre-Quaternary tectonic structures with basal US coarse channel deposits. In this sedimentary
(Cabral and Ribeiro, 1989, 1990; Ribeiro et al., 1996). environment a higher degree of reworking could be expected;
Neotectonics, therefore, may have been active on temporal nevertheless, here, too, the artifacts generally have well-
and spatial scales broader than those relative to the evolu- preserved, sharp edges, suggesting only limited transport by
tion of valley fills, such as those preserved in the Alpiarça tractive flows in fluvial channels.
middle terrace sedimentary sequence. The deposition of the Recent archaeological revisions of the Vale do Forno lithic
LG and US likely took place under contrasting climatoeu- industries, and their regional comparison with other sites where
static conditions, possibly related to glacial/interglacial cy- identical stages of the same Acheulian techno-complex have
cles. been reported and are better dated (Raposo et al., 1993),
The stratigraphic positions of the three main excavated ar- suggest a much more recent chronological framework (Late
chaeological sites (VF1, VF3, VF8) correspond, from bottom Riss to Early Wurm of the Alpine chronology, i.e., ca. 150,000
to top, to increasingly recent lithic industries that show typo- to 70,000 yr B.P.) than that proposed by the traditional inter-
logical evidence of different cultural stages. The sedimentary pretation (Late Mindel to Initial Riss of the Alpine chronology,
context shows that the Upper Acheulian sites of Vale do Forno i.e., ca. 400,000 to 300,000 yr B.P.) (Zbyszewski, 1946; Ser-
were incorporated in the vertically aggrading US flood-plain viços Geologicos de Portugal, 1952). In the context of this
deposits. From reliable excavation data (site VF8), and direct disagreement, available TL/OSL dating results are of some
observation during this investigation (site VF8a, and section interest because, even if imprecise, they support the archaeo-
AL4), the artifacts are concentrated in thin and elongated logical arguments for last interglacial/early phases of the last
lenticular sedimentary bodies within the overbank fines. These glacial ages for the VF1, VF8, and VF3 lithic industries and for
lenses possibly represent deposition along minor drainage lines the US deposits that contain them (Table 3).
active on the flood-plain surface during and immediately after
flooding, fed by overbank waters. Notably, in all these sites CONCLUSIONS
artifacts have sharp, fresh edges, and small flakes were found
together with much larger worked pebbles. This suggests that The ca. 30-m-thick lower alluvial sequence of the middle
the archaeological materials were probably displaced from terrace in the Vale do Forno, immediately south of the
their original position, but that only limited reworking took village of Alpiarça, consists of two sedimentary units. The
place. lower (LG unit), consists of channel gravel deposits,
The more-ancient Middle Acheulian VF1 site is associated whereas the upper (US unit) consists of tabular sandy

channel deposits and overbank fines. These two units do referees of this journal for their comments and suggestions, which helped
not constitute a single, fining-upward depositional sequence, improve this paper.
as previously inferred, but instead they represent two dis-
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