Esposende and the Sea (T3 Grant)

Ivone Magalhães, Ana Almeida, Richard Furuta, Filipe Castro, Anna Linderholm


Esposende is a Portuguese city since 1993, with a population of around 34,000. Located on the coast, it has a long standing connection with the sea. Although the region has been occupied since the Paleolithic and is rich in archaeological remains, Esposende was sparsely inhabited throughout the Middle Ages and was only granted a chart as a village in 1572, by king D. Sebastião (1554-1578).  The population of Esposende grew slowly, from around 4,000 inhabitants in 1800, slightly above 30,000 in 2000.  But the region was continuously inhabited through the Roman and Medieval periods.

Mahesh Naidu, Alicia Kincaid, Richard Furuta, Naveed Khimani, and Kyle Pence at work (October 2019).

The Texas A&M involvement with this municipality stems from the Belinho 1 project, the study of a 16th-Century shipwreck that has partially washed ashore at Belinho beach, and is being studying as a long-term project by an international team.

Given the wealth of archaeological (and anthropological) information available, we decided to develop a project to share it in several different ways. Our ultimate goal is to create a dynamic historical map that conveys the stories of the peoples that lived in this landscape from as many viewpoints as possible. When we look at the area and the diversity of peoples that seem to have occupied it in the last 20,000 years, we believe that it is worth trying to tell their story in a simple and accessible way, trying to understand their relation with the environment and the ways in which their subsistence patterns influenced their worldviews.

Natural and anthropic remains in the area of Praia do Moínho (Almeida and Magalhães 2015).

During the last 20,000 years the coastline moved around 40 Km east, profoundly changing the landscape, the fauna, the climate, the subsistence patterns, the carrying capacity of the area, and the ways of life of its inhabitants.  Geological studies suggest that the coastline stabilized around 3,000 BCE, in the Neolithic.

This project is a work in progress and it is unlikely that this webpage will ever be completed.  We expect it to change quite often, and at this point we are considering the format options we have to illustrate the texts with maps and images without making it too long, to complicated, or too confusing. Our intended audience are first the local and visiting public, the stake holders that are the guardians of the region’s cultural heritage. But we would like that this site be a good learning environment for people around the world to enjoy the story of Esposende and understand that the social value of archaeology is in the personal interpretations of the data related below. Archaeology is an adventure into the human history, and it provides landscapes on which we can imagine living and, in doing that, try to better understand ourselves. 


The team integrates faculty and students from the Departments of Computer Science, Visualization, and Anthropology at Texas A&M University, and archaeologists Ivone Magalhães and Ana Almeida from the Esposende municipality.


As mentioned above, we propose to develop a set of computer tools that present Esposende’s maritime landscape to a wide public, from as many viewpoints as possible, trying to give voice to those who traditionally remain silent in the villages’ histories.

Esposende and the mouth of river Cávado (Google Earth).

Our methodology is to map the region, tag the sites in terms of their function and meaning, develop a GIS-based chronology of the occupation, and try to understand how this landscape has been perceived and used through time by the local population, visitors, neighbors, and foreigners.

This region has been occupied since the Paleolithic. Traces of human occupation have been recorded through the last centuries, and provide us with a rich set of data to develop this experimental project.

The earliest inhabitants

It is likely that the area where now lies Esposende was continuously inhabited during the last 20,000 years.  Around 12,000 years ago, the end of the last Ice Age triggered a rise of the sea level, and the actual coast of the region was created around 100 m above the previous levels, and about 40 Km distant from the lowest waterline.  During the Little Ice Age (1300-1800), a dune system formed along this stretch of the coast, covering a thick layer of cobble stones that may indicate the presence of a river (Almeida and Magalhães 2013).

As mentioned, the coastline seems to have stabilized around 3,000 years BCE but in the last decades a process of transgression has destroyed the sand beach that covered the zone and is destroying the dune system, exposing lower layers of the stratigraphy and revealing several levels of human occupation.

An interesting collection of stone tools – picos asturienses – has been found in the region, namely at Praia de Rio de Moinhos, on the bottom of the Aguçadora Formation, a silted area that corresponded intermittently to a lagoon in the Holocene (Monteiro-Rodrigues, 2013). Radiocarbon dates place this lithic production  into two intervals: circa 4615-4320 BCE, and circa 3622-3024 BCE.

It is likely that the region remained occupied through the Neolithic. Stone tools from both the Acheulean period and the Holocene picos asturienses, dated to the Epipaleolithic and believed to be associated with the consumption of mollusks, have been retrieved from this area. A number of Neolithic monuments, dated to the fourth/third millennia BCE (3,800/3,700 to 2,700/2,500 BCE), pepper the landscape and attest its occupation during this period. Megalithic monuments – tombs and phallic monuments – continue into the Calcolithic and up to the late Bronze Age (Brochado de Almeida 2013, 36-45).


During the late Neolithic and the Portuguese Copper Age (the 3rd millennium BCE) this region was occupied by small settlements without protective walls, located in the planes, presumably surrounded by agricultural gardens.

One of these small settlements was located near Monte da Cerca, on a rugged place full of boulders, but with a view over the coast and the sea, and a view over the nearby  fertile plains. Another of these settlements  was located near Bitarados. Yet another settlement was probably located at Maindos, as suggested by Calcolithic ceramics. The forth and last of the unprotected settlements was located at Gandia, in Bouça do Senhor farmland.

A necropolis was located at Quinta de S. Martinho, and circa 20 burial mounds (mamôas) pepper the area and a site on the border between Gemeses and Vila Chã.

Bronze Age

This area conserves an important set of megalithic (funerary) monuments, as well as one menhir, dating to the Bronze Age, which in Portugal starts around 1,800 BCE and ends in the 7th century BCE, with the appearance of the Southwestern Script.  Its archaeological importance in the region was understood in the 19th century, when the first sites were object of archaeological interventions. It seems that during the Bronze Age the population in this area did not change its subsistence patterns – farming and herding, hunting, fishing, and collecting mollusks – but started mining the landscape. There were gold and tin on the hills of Palmeira, the Cávado River sands, and the alluvial strata of Lagoa Negra.

The most important vestiges are settlements located in protected places and sometimes surrounded by protective walls. It seems that the region’s mining activity generated an elite that could afford the protection of the newly built settlements.

The most interesting of these settlements are the Castro de São Lourenço and the Castro do Senhor dos Desamparados. The first was occupied in the Bronze Age as suggested by the findings of a bronze axe and ceramics dated to this period, and the second dated by the existence of silos, a funerary structure, and Late Bronze Age ceramics.

São Paio de Antas Menhir

 São Paio das Antas Menir (Photo from the internet; see below).

Dating to the 3rd millennium BCE, this granite menhir stands 1.65 m tall near the local church. It is one of three still standing in the region – the other two being located in São Bartolomeu do Mar and Forjães – and it is located near a settlement which could have coeval roots.

With a phallic shape, this menhir is not decorated and is thought to have been associated to a fertility cult. Common in Western Europe, many menhirs and megalithic monuments were destroyed after the Christianization of the region.

Iron Age

In Portugal the Iron Age starts around the 7th century BCE and ends with the arrival of the Romans, in the 1st century BCE. During this period

The Castro de São Lourenço

Was inhabited from the 4th century BCE to the 4th century CE, and reoccupied in the 14th century. (refs here)

The Castro do Senhor dos Desamparados

Was inhabited through the Iron Age and Roman periods.  It was a small village protected by walls.  (refs here)

Megalithic Necropolis of Vila Chã

Dating to the … this site was first excavated in the late 19th century and (refs here)


São Bartolomeu do Mar Menhir (refs here)

Arribadas Dolmen (refs here)

Portagem Dolmen

This is a funerary monument dated to…

Rapído III Dolmen

Dolmen do Rapído III (Photo from the internet; see below).

This complex includes three megalithic tumuli. It has been dated to… (refs here)

(refs here)


The Roman Period

There are some vestiges from the Roman period in this area.  Even though the thickness of the sediments is generally thin, Roman tegulae and amphora shards attest to the existence of some kind of occupation in the area of present day Esposende during this period.

We also know that a roman road passed near the Barca do Lago area, where the river Cávado was probably crossed by boat, and there may have existed a temple – fanum – where now is Fão.

Furthermore, undated old graves with ceramic materials were found near the site of today’s chapel of Nossa Senhora da Saúde, which replaced an older chapel of São Sebastião, suggesting that this may be a local of continuous worship.

Ribeira do Peralto

An exceptionally low tide exposed an area with ceramics and shale weights at Ribeira do Peralto, in the winter of 2005. Alerted to the importance of this site by its finder, Ricardo Soares Abreu, a closer inspection of this area revealed a rich archaeological complex, which encompassed the remains of a wall, large rectangular depressions excavated in the shale, in the shape of reservoirs or salt pans, and a concentration of ceramic shards that seems coherent and compatible with the occurrence of a shipwreck in the area,  dating to about xxxx.  In all, circa 1,460 ceramic shards were recovered and handed to the Esposende municipality. In the area of approximately 50 m², where the ceramic fragments were found, there were

Some 10 timber fragments with 2 to 4 m were also reported in the area, buried in a silty layer beneath the sand. One of the timbers looked like a ship frame.  Shale weights, probably from nets, were also abundant in this area.

In the subsequent years another area with reservoirs excavated in the shale was surveyed to the north of this site. Some of the reservoirs were connected by channels carved on the shale.

Between the two areas of reservoirs excavated in the shale the survey team observed an old silty layer with tree stomps – some with cut marks – that was later dated to circa 6,000 BP, possibly corresponding to  the same area found at Rio de Moinhos and mentioned above.

In the winter of 2012 and 2013 a number of grinding stones were found in the sea off Praia do Peralto by diver Mr. Manuel Silva.

Additional finds in the area probably belong to a later period and encompass a timber that may have belonged to a ship, and an olive jar, typical of the late 16th century.

The Middle Ages


Early Portugal


The medieval cemetery of Fão conserved 144 graves, dated from the 11th to the 14th centuries.  Skeletal remains were studied (refs here)



The Early Modern Period



The 18th Century




The 19th Century


The 20th Century



Bettencourt, A., 2013. “Conjunto megalítico do planalto de Vila Chã, Esposende” in The Prehistory of the Northwestern Portugal. Braga:  CEIPHAR/CITCEM.

Monteiro-Rodrigues, S., 2013.  “A indústria macrolítica holocénica da praia de Rio de Moinhos (Marinhas, Esposende, NW de Portugal). Apresentação de um estudo preliminar,” in GALLÆCIA 32: 87-108. (accessed Jan 2020)