ABC World History: Andorra

Today we start the writing project that we are dedicating the rest of the year to, which is the ABC of World History! We are going to be writing every week and bringing you posts from all over the world following the letters of the alphabet. These were completely picked at random: we opened a list of countries in the world sorted alphabetically and rolled a die for each letter – no fumbles either so we are going with whatever came up first! With this e hoped to open new horizons, keep things a bit less Eurocentric and more diverse. This is also a great opportunity to get our mojo back on the writing game as we have been putting a lot of our energy on the podcast, so we really hope you enjoy it. And, without more delay, today we start with a for ANDORRA!

Having been born and brought up in Spain, Andorra is that country you are aware of, but not many people pay much attention to, unless you like skiing. So I started doing some reading into the history of Andorra and hit my first barrier: languages! This is a recurrent theme when we explore certain topics but, in case you wanted to know what the issues affecting Andorra are from a linguistic viewpoint here we go. First of all there isn’t an awful lo written on the history of this country, due to its size and the fact that has always been wedge between Spain and France, so politically speaking it gets buried under a lot of border and frontier changes. And then, there is the language issue: there is barely anything writing in English. Most sources I have used for this post were written in Catalan (or the Andorran variant of Catalan), a few more in Spanish, but the majority of the useful sources and reports I was able to use were in French. Now that we have cleared this out of the way, I’m going to take this chance to call up some Andorran historians to the front! This is a cool niche that deserves some recognition! And now that we all know where we stand, I’ll tell you more about what the blog post will be about: the prehistoric origins of this region.

Prehistoric Andorra

According to Abel Forto Garcia the anthropological investigations of human remains found in Andorra suggest that there are at least 4 Neolithic cists in this region. However, he also highlights a common issue that was also experienced in Spain with the conservation of patrimony which perhaps has led to the loss of more sites. The fact is that there wasn’t a proper law encouraging the conservation of Andorran cultural heritage until 1983, and it wasn’t until 2003 where the same legislation was amended to promote the archaeological work on certain sites to bring evidence to light. So, as much as perhaps this is bad news, there is the hope that with the years to come more discoveries will surface in the area. And, in fact, they already are! In 2019 was the first time where a dolmen was actually found and identified as such in this region (or at least the remains of one). The location for these dolmen remains is known as Encamp, which is at 2000m above sea level following the Route del Orris. So, this gives an insight into some of the challenges that we may encounter when investigating the Andorran past: the geography of the Pyrenees may have many mysteries hiding in the wild. And this is something that becomes more apparent when we look at the first few settlements of the area.

Settlements in Andorra started as far back as 9500BC and many of them are located in the vicinity of the Valira river. One of the most well-known ones is La Balma de la Margineda, located in the eastern side of the Pyrenees and current home to the Instituto Español de Andorra. In the settlement there have been found remains of houses as well as a necropolis according to the research carried out by Juan Maluquer De Motes and Miguel Fuste. There are also many evidence of pottery and a human burial, seemingly of a male, that is perhaps the oldest Andorran burial found to date, although the precise dating is uncertain. Other early settlements in Andorra include El Cedre (which is believed to be from the Bronze Age, but the difficult access hasn’t allowed its proper study) and El Antuix in Escaldes-Engordany.

Another very prominent area for prehistoric Pyrenean studies is located in the high Pyrenees containing the glacial valleys, particularly at Madriu-Perafita-Claror Valley – Vall del Madriu-Perafita-Claror. This site is protected by the UNESCO due to its importance for the conservation of rare wild life and endangered species as the valley isolated and has been a kind of sanctuary since time immemorial, which may have been what attracted the settlers in the first place. The valley itself accounts for 9% of the total area of the principality of Andorra. Camp del Colomer de Juberri is one of the most prolific excavations in the area, providing a great deal of stone tools recovered including some flint heads, from which the research suspect the Neolithic camps where established there since 4000BC.

Feixa del Moro also in the area of Juberri, is considered one of the most important Neolithic sites in the Pyrenees. Located at 13335m of altitude, the excavations started in the 80s with Pere Canturri as their leader.3 tombs were discovered, and the carbon dating placed them at 5000 years of age. The importance of the site lies in the rites performed there which suggest a strong believe in the afterlife. Finds in these burials suggest a connection between the basin of Barcelona and even the French Alps, and although the archaeologists and anthropologists studying he area are unsure yet of their exact meaning, these artefacts seem to be a sign of either migratory movements or a trade network these people had. Finally, one of the most recent studies shows the importance of farming communities in this area, proposing that this may have been the first farming community in the Pyrenees and Andorra.

Fascinating as all this is, I wanted to finish our findings for today with a bit of myth and legend which is only proper of remotes places like this and that also reflect the continued use of some of these sites and their importance in Andorran society. For this we travel to Roc de les Bruixes  (literally meaning The Witches’ Rock) in the area of Canillo. This site is known for its funerals, ancient scripture, and engraved murals. It is believed to be dated to Bronze Age and with continued occupation until the middle ages (as reflected by some of the carvings of human figures which do not correspond with older depictions). Some of the first forms of writing in Andorra are believed to be found there. We also know that the majority of the carvings are shaped like a V, perhaps representing pots or holes, although we are uncertain what this mean. Whichever the case, this was an important place for the natives for the extraction of stone powder to make ointments. It was rediscovered in 1962 by Pere Canturri who was trying to document local legends of the area, where we find the origins of the site and its name. The tale says that the carvings were done by the Devil himself! It seems he had a violent dispute with some witches there, and as they casted him away, he scratched the rock and so the carvings remain…

And that concludes our first letter of the alphabet and first post of our world history series. Follow us through 2021 to find out more about all sort of histories and places around the world!

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