The ‘orca’ of Portugal

This post title is deliberately misleading, sorry! When travelling along the road near the town of Carregal do Sal there is a large wooden billboard that alludes to a nearby ‘point of interest’, specifically one that refers to the ‘Orca de Santo Tisco’. When passing it I would think ‘What? Killer whales in Portugal?!’ and so I had to find out what it was all about. One day last week Dad and I decided to go on a bike recce and… we found it! It was on top of a hill in the middle of a forest.

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My Portuguese is not brilliant (I am learning!) and a lot of the letters had rubbed away over the years, but this is the gist of it:

‘This is a pre-historic grave that is 5500 years old. It is a simple open polygonal chamber with a symbolic ‘corridor’, wrapped in an artificial mound. The second pillar of the north side of the chamber is the solar ornate and is painted in a red ocher.’

I don’t know what an ‘artificial mound’ or a ‘solar ornate’ might be, so I’ll leave that to your imagination! Also, I don’t know where orcas come into it. Maybe it was a sacred grave for the orcas that used to walk the land? Who knows!

So taking note of the fact that this was somebody’s grave and that it was a protected area, up I climbed:

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It reminded me of when my family and I visited Ireland and I came across a similar structure. This was taken when I was an ickle seventeen year old. I was in Ireland, so needless to say it was raining at the time:

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I did a bit of research when I got home and found out that this is just one of many. I still couldn’t work out where orcas came into it.

Whilst sitting on top of the rock, I relished in the fact that nobody else was around and that my Dad and I could enjoy this little piece of history. I wonder what sort of person might have been buried here and what kind of life they led. It also made me think about how overcrowded England is. All very deep stuff. Although, I now understand why they put railing around things…

Tags: cycling, history, Orca de Santo Tisco

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Comments

    • shas
    • October 21, 2013
    Reply

    I'm not sure what the 'solar ornate' would be referring to in that context – the only solar I know of that is vaguely comparable would be using the word to refer to a 'private' room located on an upper floor of a medieval house – but the 'artificial mound' means that it was at one point a barrow, with an earth mound raised over the top of the stone structure (I think!). Inside would be a burial of some kind – I'd imagine a cremation burial, but honestly have no real idea. Barrows were a big thing (in England) in the late Stone and early Bronze Ages, and later reused (although how, and why, they were reused is a really interesting question (also, more barrows were built: think Sutton Hoo)) in the early medieval period.

    A quick google seems to suggest there's been a bit of research that briefly involves your barrow, (http://www.pia-journal.co.uk/article/view/pia.405/518, which looks at the orientation of the 'corridor' of the structure), but not much. I've also not found much about why it's called an 'orca'.

  1. Reply

    Orca means "barrow", like the one near Avebury, in Wiltshire, and it's a pre-historic tomb. In other places of Portugal and Galicia, they are called "arcas" or "dolmens" as well.

      • Laura
      • March 5, 2014
      Reply

      Hi Arabella, thank you for that! I used to live very close to Avebury and visited it many times so I know exactly what you mean. I hope you're enjoying my website. :)

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