The site’s History
With the data we currently have, we believe the occupation of the settlement of Monte Bernorio would extend, uninterruptedly, from the 9th or 8th century BC, until the 1st century BC, when the Roman Conquest takes place.
The first archaeological intervention made in Monte Bernorio was carried out by the Marquess of Comillas, who ordered Romualdo Moro to excavate the oppidum in 1890 in search of antiquities. Taking advantage of the frequent news about findings during agricultural works, Moro started his work on the digs discovering a tumular necropolis from which he recovered, amongst other pieces, the noted weapons placed as grave goods, now called “Monte Bernorio daggers”.
During Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) the place was fortified, taking advantage of the city’s walls. Several confrontations took place in the oppidum, in order to maintain or gain control of the location, which worked as an important emplacement to control part of the so-called Northern Front. In that time the road that leads to the upper part of the oppidum was built.
The second archaeological intervention, directed by Julián San Valero Aparisi, took place in the years 1943, 1944 and 1959. During these seasons, various areas of the site were excavated, and the oppidum’s wall, three of its entrances and diverse structures inside it were documented. Two incineration tumulus were excavated in the necropolis’s area, from which metallic grave goods were recovered.
In 1992, it was declared Good of Cultural Interest, with the category of Archaeological Area.
There were no new digs since San Valero’s until 2004, when “Monte Bernorio in its Environment” Archaeological Project started.
Monte Bernorio oppidum
Monte Bernorio is an oppidum or hillfort, one of the biggest population centres that worked as heads or capitals of the villages and ethnic groups that populated the area during Iron Age. According to researches that have hitherto been carried out, there are signs of a first occupation during Chalcolithic and Bronze Age (c. 3000-2000 BC), but its occupation is continual from the 8th until the 1st Century BC, when the Roman conquest takes place.
Its natural location is characteristically well-defended, with steep slopes that can even show vertical escarpments. Remains of walls and ditches (partially excavated on the rocks) have been found on its hillsides as well as some other remains of the fortifications: ramparts and trenches encircling the top where the oppidum is located. The occupied enclosure on the top of the plateau, which covered the upper area of the plateau, was walled and had several access roads and gateways.
The external spaces of the oppidum are highly affected by erosion, agricultural work and Civil War combats (1936-37). That is why archaeological remains are so scarce. However, Iron Age mills, ashlars from the base of the houses’ walls, and pottery pieces have been recovered from the piles of stones that surround cultivated lands. Many archaeological remains have been recovered from eroded areas, drains and mole burrows in the northern, eastern and southern areas. Both closer to the walls and in the inner part of the oppidum. The remains of mud from the walls, baked by the fire that destroyed the oppidum, are especially relevant.
Evidences indicate that, after the roman troops took the oppidum, the population centre was destroyed by a fire, whose evidences are visible in the archaeological strata. These data indicates that, after the fire, both inner structures and defences were systematically destroyed all over the plateau, except the northeaster area. In that area, the highest, the constructions were destroyed, but not the defences. Part of the wall, ditch and the fortification that protected its gateway were kept and used to build an ager or fortification using a wall the way roman legions used to. It encircled the castellum a roman fort used to watch the surrounding territory (controlling the lines of communication), as well as stopping the place from being occupied again.
One of the most iconic structures of this fortification is the one know as “Casillete”. Tower-shaped, its plan is irregular, and its remains are located on the highest point of the plateau. Before the fortifications developed during the Civil War (1936-37) were built, its height was better preserved, and an important part of the construction was dismantled and used to build the trenches. It is a complex polygonal structure, dug for the last time by J. San Valero in 1959. This building is interpreted as a watch tower, probably used to fortify a gateway from the castellum to the inner part of Bernorio’s plateau as well.
Other archaeological sites in the surroundings
Near the oppidum, there is a spot known as “El Castillejo” (Pomar de Valdivia, Palencia), the teams of IEPAC, directed by E. Peralta Labrador, located and documented a roman camp of great dimensions (probably the biggest of Europe) from which the attack that caused the destruction of Monte Bernorio hillfort started, during the conquest campaigns against the cantabrians and asturs (late 1st Century BC).
Nearby, we must highlight the important Iron Age sites of Monte Cildá (Olleros de Pisuerga, Palencia), the Archaeological Area of Santibañez de la Peña and the castrum of Las Rabas (Celada Marlantes, Cantabria).