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MAKING HISTORY

    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 the public.
Tomb at Los Millares
    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.
  He builds 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:

Neolithic

Argaric
 
Partial view of museum
 

Manuel Salas Barón may be contacted directly, preferably in Spanish, at:
Avenida 28 de Febrero, 67
04410 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

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