Skip to content
IUScholarWorks Journals
22.03.12 Quirós Castillo (ed.), Arqueología de una comunidad campesina medieval

22.03.12 Quirós Castillo (ed.), Arqueología de una comunidad campesina medieval

This 2019 volume, edited by Juan Antonio Quirós Castillo and with contributions from more than two dozen authors, is impressive and a bold statement by both the main editor and the University of the Pais Vasco’s press. While Spanish university presses enjoy more leeway to publish volumes in the true spirit of not-for-profit academic publishing, the volume is a testament to the hard work of a team of archaeologists and, tacitly, an ode to the ten universities whose researchers and scholars labored on the dig. It is difficult to unpack exactly what kind of impact the extensive excavations of a small village in the foothills of the Pyrenees might have in the long run, since it is usually in the aggregate that dig sites like these bring about a major shift in the scholarly landscape. Having said that, however, the volume presented by Quirós Castillo is impressive in its scope and in the depth of information provided. The results of a field school of this nature are better deployed as a proof, Quirós Castillo argues, against two notions: first, that depopulated villages have nothing of substance to teach us about the medieval past, and second (but perhaps more tacitly) that student-driven field work and publications cannot rise to the level of substantial scholarship. On both fronts, Quirós Castillo, his faculty colleagues, and the students who coauthored several of the chapters can celebrate a resounding triumph.

The contents of the volume cover a broad array of important sub-sections of the excavation’s production. Major sections examine the village’s location and its natural conditions, the occupation of the village and its extent, the material record discovered in the various trenches, the church site and its cemetery, the role played by a village (Udala) on the other side of the hill on which Zornoztegi is situated, and the proposed interpretation for the site that serves as a summary of the finds and their importance. The multiple authors for the body sections and the numerous illustrative charts and tables that present the findings present a wide array of data that, for specialists, is sure to provoke interesting comparisons. For the general reader of these reviews, however, we should note that the reconstruction of the village provides a clear case that the inhabitants made a lasting impact on their region. The depopulation of the village in the fifteenth century, like that of so many medieval hamlets, should not be read as a reason to abandon the site but rather an invitation to view it as though it were a time capsule.

Because the village of Zornoztegi lies in the region to the southeast of Bilbao, it might seem quite peripheral to much of the historical development of the wider Iberian or Occitan worlds. Presenting the evidence of the volume, however, it is quite clear that the region’s history has been unreasonably overlooked. While it is true that the eclipse of the Kingdom of Navarra in the thirteenth century issued in a long political demise, we should not be so naïve as to suspect that there were no people living in the farming villages near Bilbao, Vitoria, or the Miranda del Ebro. While non-Hispanists might pause to try and recall something historically significant about Bilbao, specialists know that Vitoria and Miranda del Ebro were on the fault lines between a resurgent late-twelfth-century Castile and a Navarra that was striving to define itself in an age where it was being outflanked geographically but still retained a crucial position as the doorway kingdom to the Iberian Peninsula. Excavations like those at Zornoztegi remind us of the importance of the Pais de Vasco as a crucible for much of the medieval history of the northern part of the Peninsula and the Christian kingdoms that came to dominate it.

As a final note, it should be said that much of this volume is technical in its nature. The 325 figures and 82 tables, while a proof of the extensive field work performed, can become laborious to trace. For non-specialists especially, the burden of reading and applying these tables to a concept can often lead to outright confusion. One suspects that summaries of these tables would have been too repetitive in a narrative fashion, given the context of the figures and tables in the chapter, and that adding a secure file link for specialists to download the data as comparanda for their own work proved an impossibility with the press or appropriate university officials. As a result, there are several chapters that border on being unreadable in the traditional historiographical sense, and that require a different approach. This is not an altogether difficult request, but does take deliberate forethought by the reader, so that some adjustment can be made. Still, the breadth of the data presented makes these contributions vital to the success of the volume, and there are, on some scholarly occasions, “no good solutions, only better ones” and this seems to be the case.

Arqueología de una comunidad campesina medieval is an important contribution to a series of wider studies produced from field schools in small rural locations. For medieval scholars who know too well that the majority of our medieval subjects lived in rural places that are now under- if not entirely de-populated, the overreliance on urban-produced (and often elite-written) sources can be corrected with material like that presented in the six hundred pages edited by Quirós Castillo. For that, we should be very grateful to the many who worked on the site and its excavations to help produce such a rich and detailed study of the small village of Zornoztegi in the region of Alava.