Wednesday, January 12, 2022

The Government of the Canary Islands is to carry out the first archaeological study of the watchtowers of Tenerife

View of Igueste de San Andrés from the path to the Semáforo de Anaga
Robert Wirrmann, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The project begins a new line of research within Historical Archeology in the Canary Islands

Since the sixteenth century, there are multiple historical references to the watchtowers or lookout posts installed at strategic points of Tenerife to notify the population of the arrival of enemy ships and thus anticipate possible naval attacks. According to the documentary sources, this defensive strategy was carried out by means of an interconnected network of watchtowers that sent and repeated signals of fire and smoke. However, there are practically no archaeological studies on its location and its material characterization.

Against this background, the General Directorate of Cultural Heritage is promoting the first study and inventory of watchtowers and surveillance spaces from an archaeological and historical perspective. This is the first phase of the 'VIGILANT' project, focused on the northeast of Tenerife and directed by a multidisciplinary team from the University of La Laguna and the Catalan Institute of Classical Archeology, in collaboration with research staff from the University of Seville and the University of Barcelona.

The work on the ‘Archeology of the Surveillance Spaces and Watchtowers of the Northeast of Tenerife’, better known as ‘VIGILANT’, has a historical interest related to the visibility of what was the first line of defence in the capital area; and has an archaeological interest in applying new lines of study within Historical and Landscape Archeology. Similarly, it also has a scientific interest in shedding new data on the operation of this network and the creation of the first cultural landscapes after the conquest.

The watchtowers have very specific criteria, "they require visibility between enclaves and must be accessible, among other characteristics," explains Francesc C. Conesa, co-director of the ‘VIGILANT’. Regarding the documented network, the first watchtower started at the Montaña de Tafada and from there it went to the Montaña del Sabinal, the Atalaya de Igueste de San Andrés and the Atalaya de San Andrés. News reached the Castillo de San Cristóbal in Santa Cruz and travelled to the Montaña de Taco and the Montaña de Ofra, the latter now disappeared by urban development. Then they would arrive at the watchtower of San Roque, possibly located in Mesa La Gallardina, and that of San Lázaro, in the current Montaña del Púlpito. From there, the northern notices were received through the Caldera la Atalaya and La Atalaya at the top of the Mesa de Tejina.

The study of the documentary sources is undoubtedly one of the most important aspects to know the historical evolution of the watchtowers, since it allows a reconstruction of the surveillance points and their main uses. After the recovery of fifty historical documents, a geospatial analysis of the territory was carried out that included the recovery of toponymy and the reconstruction of the lines of visibility between watchtowers, at the same time that an archaeological survey program was developed.

The team has determined several types of watchtowers. Jared Carballo, co-director of the project, “there are natural watchtowers, without material evidence but located by toponymy or textual sources, and watchtowers with construction and material remains. In this case, the structures can be small “furnaces” or structures dug into the rock, and in some occasions the heat-altered soil is appreciated”. It should be noted that "the prospects have been superficial, but in a second phase we are going to prepare an excavation project with a view to its possible preservation and conservation and even, in the long term, its integration into new cultural routes", advances the archaeologist Conesa.

El Gobierno de Canarias desarrolla el primer estudio arqueológico de las atalayas de Tenerife