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The evolution of the human species on earth started some two million years ago in eastern Africa. In Europe, Man has been dated to later times and the chronology of homo antecessor began around 800,000 years ago. However, in the Sierra de las Nieves, as of today, science and historical inquiry can only place the presence of Man starting with the remains of the Cave of Tajo de Jorox which belong to the Solutrense cutural stage (between 20,000 and 15,000 B.C.) of the Upper Paleolithic.

We speak of primitive hunter-gatherer societies who used caves, abundant in the karstic system of the Sierra de las Nieves, as living spaces.

As has already been pointed out, historical research in our region is far from complete. As a result, we must take huge steps along the lengthy time line, continuing to the first traces that Man left in the Sierra during the Neolithic period. The first clues are the stone and pottery remains found at Surgencia de Zarzalones (Yunquera) and in Cueva de la Tinaja, near to Peñón de los Horcajos, some 5 km. from the town of Tolox where the remains of three ceramic vases were uncovered.

However, the most famous Neolithic site of the region, including outside its administrative limits, is El Charcón. Located on Ardite hill, within the municipal boundaries of Alozaina, we could be dealing with an extraordinary and unique site with an outdoor “Neolithic cave” culture. The chronology relating to this site has been dated to the sixth millennium B.C.

The most significant elements of the material culture of the El Charcón site are the cardium and almagra pottery, in addition to a number of polished stone tools, bracelets and pendants manufactured from sea shells. From those facts, we can deduce that we are concerned with people who, while still hunter-gatherers, tended towards sedentism and practised an early form of animal domestication. The “Neolithic Revolution”, to give it its former name, did not culminate in the practice of agriculture as was previously believed. Agriculture would not be fully emerge in this part of the world until the very advanced stages of the Bronze Age.

The next prehistoric period, the Copper Age (also known as the Chalcolithic or Eneolithic Age), is sandwiched between the Neolithic period and the Bronze Age. We set out a summary analysis.

One of the principal characteristics of the Chalcolithic Age is the use of metals, especially copper, in the manufacture of tools. Indeed, the period derives its name “Chalcolithic” due to that use of copper.

The oldest specimens of copper tools date from the last years of the Neolithic period in the third millennium B.C., and the use of such tools was widespread in the second and third millennia B.C.

We have a good many documented Copper Age sites in the Sierra de las Nieves, a number of them concentrated in Cerro Ardite and the surrounding area. Notable among the sites are the dolmens (architectural designs for collective burial built with large stones) of the La Cuesta de los Almendrillos and El Tesorillo de la Llaná, in Alozaina, and the Cerro de la Cruz Blanca, in El Burgo. They are clear examples of the phenomenon of megalithic construction ascribed to the Copper Age.

Turning to the Bronze Age, approximately between 2,000 B.C. and 1,000 B.C., several cist necropoli have been documented in the Sierra de las Nieves. In the estate known as Lobato in Tolox, tombs have been discovered with human remains in the foetal position, together with a number of copper hoops, which appear to date from the Bronze Age. Similarly, another necropolis has been documented in the valley of the Río Grande, sited on the municipal boundaries of Guaro and Coín. Some mines located in the municipality of Ojén appear to belong to the same era.

Along with the widespread working of bronze, agriculture and livestock, subsistence practices as ancient as harvesting, hunting and fishing continue to be seen. At this time, the first proto-states emerged which were characterised by the appearance of the urban phenomenon, with centralised control of production, featuring a managing authority and a hierarchical social structure.

From the 8th century B.C., Greeks and, above all, Phonecians settled the coastline to establish factories and colonies where they could trade with the indigenous population of the interior. It resulted in a process of endogenous acculturation of the population which lead it to the adoption of writing, the use of money and the working of iron, amongst other socio-cultural appropriations.

While there are other sites of the period in the region, it is the site at Los Altabacales that stands out. It is located in the basin of the Ríver Turón, in El Burgo, being dated between the 8th and 6th centuries B.C., and it consists of a living area and a necropolis. This site, together with many others, is found on the overland route to the Ronda Depression which includes the Sierra de las Nieves, connecting the coast with the interior via the valley of the Río Grande and Puerto Martínez (Casarabonela) and Puerto de las Abejas (Yunquera).

The territory of the Sierra de las Nieves underwent the coming and going of peoples and cultures, and the indigenous population was subjugated by Carthaginians and Romans, the latter settling here for approximately 700 years, beginning at the end of the 3rd century B.C. up to the end of the 4th century A.D.

We have some excellent illustrations of the Roman presence in the region. The Roman roads at Casarabonela and Monda, and the Roman bridge over the River Turón at El Burgo stand out alongside huge country villae and countless ceramics and coins. The fall of the Roman Empire and the Byzantine attempt to restore it ended with the arrival of the Visigoths in the area. They expelled the Byzantines from these lands at the start of the 7th century A.D. However, the Byzantine occupation was in name only. They established their centre of operations in Malaga. Byzantines and Visigoths left few traces in the region due to, amongst other reasons, the brevity of their occupations. Another culture was nearing, the other great culture that features in the history of the Sierra: that of Islam.

It was during the Islamic period that the Sierra de las Nieves reached its optimum social and economic splendour. Today’s population centres grew up around the fortresses ruled in turn by Omayyads (Emirate and Caliphate), Almoravids, Almohads and Nazrids.

That splendour was only disturbed by the revolt of the mozarabs, headed by the muwallad Umar Ibn Hafsun which menaced the Umayyad Emirate in Cordoba at the end of the 9th century. During that revolt of the Mozarab population, along with other sections of society opposed to Umayyad power, the Sierra de las Nieves became the stage on which historic events were played out, its people and fortresses having a decisive role.

The history of the region in the Islamic period is intertwined with the history of Al-Andalus as a whole, and the latter was subject to an obvious reduction of its frontiers under pressure from the Crown of Castile. In 1481, the final chapter began in the conquest of the Nazrid kingdom, the last bastion of what was Al-Andalus, culminating in 1492 with the taking of Granada. In 1484, the Castillians conquered Alozaina after weeks of siege. Each and every one of the fortified sites of the Sierra de las Nieves fell in the following year.

The Christian conquest did not involve the immediate expulsion of the Muslim population which, having converted to Christianity, had to bear constant flouting of the agreed terms of surrender. That situation, aggravated by the investigations of the Inquisition, ended in the rebellion of 1568 which affected the old Kingdom of Granada. In our region, the rebellion focused on Istán where the moriscos mutinied in the fort of Arboto where they were joined by moriscos from nearby areas. In September 1570, they were defeated by the Duke of Arcos and forcibly settled in the interior of the Peninsula the following year.

After the rebellion of the Moriscos in 1568, the Sierra de las Nieves did not suffer further convulsions worth noting until the start of the 19th century and the War of Independence (the Peninsular War) against the French. The French occupation devastated the Sierra de las Nieves, destroying castles and defensive fortifications, as occured at El Burgo, and pillaging the rich artistic heritage of the region. During the War of Independence, high command of the army that defended the Sierra from the French invaders was installed in the guard tower of Yunquera.

The fight against the French army unleashed a social phenomenon of profound importance in our region: banditry. In origin connected to the guerrillas who fought the French troops, it ended up as just another act of common criminality, at times moderated by an undercurrent of social justice: robbing the rich to distribute the proceeds among the poor.

To arrive at our times, Clio, the muse of history, must first cry over the fratricidal war which occurred in the 1930s. Today, Sierra de las Nieves has fully entered the Information and Communication Age without renouncing its excellent natural values and legacies that characterise it.

 

 

Association for the Rural Development of Sierra de las Nieves

Edificio Sierra de las Nieves, Paraje de Río Grande-Las Millanas, s/n - 29109- Tolox (Málaga) - Phone: 952 48 28 21 - Fax: 952 48 29 44

Email: agdr@sierranieves.com