(Chapter III, section 4)

The midden-dwellers of the Tagus

Although during the last century, many skulls have been removed from caves in various parts of Spain, not one of them may be assigned with complete security to the Mesolithic period. Since Spain was apparently the main if not the only highroad of migration northward from Africa into Europe during the Mesolithic, this gap in our knowledge is ex tremely unfortunate particularly in view of the parallel deficiency in orocco.

Late Mesolithic skeletons have, however, been found in Portugal, in a series of shell-heaps which lie on a raised shore near the village of Muge, on the eastern bank of the Tagus River, some fifteen miles upstream from the head of tide-water. At the time of occupation, the shellfish which the midden-builders ate lived in salt water,14 and the land must have lain several meters lower than its present level. This sinking may probably be correlated with the formation of the Litorina Sea, which lasted in what is now the Baltic from 5600 to 2500 B.C. If this dating applies to Portugal, the Muge middens were probably formed nearer the end of this period than its beginning. The safest dating for this site is immediately pre-Neolithic,15 if not early Neolithic, in the third millennium B.C.

Over two hundred human skeletons have been removed from these middens at various times during the last eighty years. Of this number, however, only nine have been measured and published in such a way that we may profitably consider them here.16 In the past, many curious ideas have been circulated about the racial types represented by these remains and these notions have been widely credited and frequently repeated. The principal misconception has been that the Muge crania include two types: a non-European negroid, and a hyperbrachycephal variously called Alpine and mongoloid.

Actually, there is no evidence to show among them a greater negroid tendency than is commonly found among many living Europeans of Mediterranean extraction, while the so-called “brachycephalic” skulls are probably all or almost all mesocephalic, since some were badly warped by earth pressure, and others were improperly measured; while still others have been lost or mislaid.17

The cranial series from Muge, as it is known at present, is reasonably homogeneous. The cranial index ranges from 69 to 80, or possibly 82, with most of the skulls in the low seventies. One may postulate a mean of about 75 to 77 on the living. The brain case is of medium size, but relatively high; ovoid in form, flattish on the top, and gently rounded in the occipital region. The female crania have vertical foreheads, while those of the males are sloping; the frontal bone in both is always strongly curved. On most of the male skulls, the browridges are well developed in the median segment, but not on the sides, while on the female specimens, the supraorbital region is usually quite smooth.

The orbits are low, but not especially narrow. The nasal dimensions are small, yielding a mesorrhine index; the lower border of the nasal opening is usually sharp, but in some cases it is rounded, and in one guttered. The face is mesoprosopic, being both low and extremely narrow. In the photographs, the zygomatic arches appear to be delicate, and closely aligned to the temporals. The mandibles are of moderate height, but narrow, while the palates are quite large for the total size of the skulls, and the teeth are also large. Most of the skulls show a slight alveolar prognathism, which in a few instances is quite marked.

Among the nine crania measured by Vallois, the females equal the males, or approach them closely, in all dimensions. Sex differentiation, therefore, is practically absent from the metrical standpoint, but the difference in browridge development is apparently sufficient to permit the craniologist to distinguish them readily. The long bones, studied apart from the crania, to which they cannot be matched, give a reconstructed stature of 160 cm. for the males, and 152 cm. for females. Despite this short stature, a limb form found among some Upper Palaeolithic peoples is repeated here—the distal segments are long when compared to the proximal.

The racial position of the Muge population cannot be finally determined until more evidence, both internal and comparative, is at hand. Yet from present indications there seems every reason to believe that the Portuguese midden-dwellers were very similar to, or identical with, the late Natufians of Palestine, and that both represented a northward thrust from a Mediterranean racial homeland somewhere in southwestern Asia, northeastern Africa, or both.


14 Obermaier, H., Fossil Man in Spain, p. 325.

15 Obermaler, op. cit., p. 325, says: “The fauna of these deposits does not include any domestic animals—except perhaps the dog—and consists of wild cattle, deer, sheep or goat, horse, swine, dog or wolf, felines, badger, civet, and hare.” (Italics are mine.) The Iberian Peninsula is not known, at the period in question, to have sheltered either wild sheep or wild goats. The only animal which could possibly have been mistaken for either is a diminutive ibex, the bones of which are much smaller than those of either sheep or goat. Unless the bones in question are actually those of ibex, the Muge midden-dwellers must have already met the first waves of the Neolithic economy from North Africa. Agriculture and domestic animals did not necessarily enter the Iberian Peninsula in one magnificent sweep; scattered families of herdsmen may have wandered over as an advance guard.

16 Vallois, Henri V., Anth, vol. 40, 1930, pp. 337—389.

17 Vallois, op. cit.