On the outskirts of the Andalusian
city of Almería, capital of the Spanish province bearing the same
name, the unpretentious little village of Benahadux lies amongst the orange
groves. It has no particular "cachet" and is too far from the sea
to be able to attract tourism. However, some of the old cortijos
have been bought by people from the capital as recreational properties.
Manuel Salas Barón is a carpenter.
His family runs a small furniture store on the main street of Benahadux.
But for the past fifteen years or so, Manuel has dedicated a great deal
of his time to another ancient trade. He has no workshop,
wheel or kiln, yet Manuel is a potter.
Not far from Benahadux is "Los Millares", an archeological
site which has proved invaluable because of the quantity of excavated prehistoric
pots of the period dating from about 3000 to 5000 years BC.
Many of these pieces could be found in the Museum of Almería together
with reconstructed tombs and skeletal remains, but unfortunately these
can no longer be seen because the museum is being rebuilt at the present
time and it will take about two more years of work before it reopens to
Tomb at Los
Benahadux, too, boasts of its own museum, dedicated
to the work of Manuel Salas Barón, the village carpenter whose deep
interest in local prehistory and able hands brought him to reproduce the
pots of Los Millares in situ. With no formal training he decided
to embark on a prehistoric adventure and re-create the work of his far-off
ancestors, using only the clay from the actual site and a hole in the ground
to fire his pots.
Manuel has experimented incessantly with various
types of clay and sand found around Los Millares, mixing them until he
has found an exact match for the type of pot he wishes to replicate.
his pots using a combination of pinch and coil methods, as can be seen
in the photo on the left. Once the form has been completed, some
pots are merely smoothed over while others are burnished with a piece of
cane or leather until the surface acquires a uniform mirror-like
shine. Some pieces are decorated by incision with a sharp instrument, for
others small motifs are impressed onto the surface. Sometimes the
incisions are filled with white clay to give contrast to the design.
For firing the finished work, Manuel uses two methods: "open fire"
where the pots are placed in an uncovered hole in the ground so that the
embers from the wood cover them and an atmosphere of oxidation is maintained,
or covering the pieces completely with sawdust and letting them smoulder
in a reducing atmosphere. In the first type of firing, most
of the pieces become a reddish brown colour, whereas in the second type
the clay takes on black and grey hues. Both types of firing
may last as long as 24 hours.
Manuel's museum is just down the street from the
furniture store. It was not open when my son and I visited
him in June, 1997, but I had phoned in advance for an appointment and met
him in the store. Manuel is a friendly, unpretentious man in
his forties with an engaging smile. He was already aquainted with
my son, Nicolás, who is studying prehistoric pottery for his university
degree in humanities. As the museum in Almería is closed,
the best way for those interested to see neolithic, Bronze and Copper Age
and Argaric pots, is to visit the little museum at Benahadux where Manuel
and his brothers, Jesús and and Antonio, have arranged a comprehensive
display of beautifully crafted pots, virtually indistinguishable
from the originals. Here are some examples:
Partial view of museum
Manuel Salas Barón may be contacted directly, preferably in Spanish, at:Avenida 28 de Febrero, 6704410 Benahadux(Almería)Spain
copyright F.Melville 1997
Background music is Tárrega's "Capricho Arabe" arranged by Carlos Tchiang
Go to my home page if you wish to see some of my own pottery