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Science And Nature

Menorcas houses of the dead reveal these ancient secrets

Published July 28, 2022

15 min read

From atop Menorcas megalithic stone towers, watchers could have witnessed the tides of history roll over the island with the successive waves of the ancient Mediterranean superpowersthe Phoenicians, Greeks, and Romans.

But a long time before those heavyweights stepped ashore, the hawaiian islands humble pioneers carved out a life on the windswept, largely treeless landscape. Those towers, called talayots, were built from the raw material those first inhabitants and their descendants within abundanceblocks of limestone. Simply by making do using what that they had, the Menorcans created a legacy occur stone.

To many, Spains Balearic Islands could be better known for the jet-set beach destinations of Ibiza and Mallorca. But tranquil Menorca, the easternmost link in the chain, combines that natural splendor with a distinctive treasure trovethe archipelagos greatest repository of ancient architecture. Within these towers along with other cyclopean structuresmade from unhewn, mortarless stoneslies an island history knit together over a millennium, leaving its mark on the Menorcan landscape and identity.

The initial signs of the distinctive architecture are linked with burial mounds that probably date to 2000 B.C. Those simple megalithic tombs, or dolmens, eventually gave solution to the initial cyclopean constructionsdwellings shaped like upside-down ship hulls called navetasaround 1600 B.C. 500 years later, talayots, produced from the Arabic talaya(watchtower), sprouted up and lent their name to the Talayotic island culture that created them.

The widespread rise of the unique truncated cones coincided with the growth of local communities. Beginning with a talayot center, funds gradually fanned out, and as time passes new building designs appeared: taula shrines that for some evoke the Stonehenge pillars, circular dwellings, and extensive walls.

(Find out about Stone Age megalithic monuments in the uk.)

Today these remnants of the Talayotic Menorcan culture certainly are a candidate for UNESCOs World Heritage List, a designation of global cultural value. (Your choice have been scheduled for a June meeting of the planet Heritage Committee in Russia but has been postponed because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.)

Architectural legacy

Experts divide this fruitful culture that endured for pretty much 2,000 years into four periods, its long haul ending in 123 B.C., the entire year a Roman fleet conquered the island alongside Mallorca and started to colonize them. It changed the span of Menorcas history, but its architecture remained, and perhaps was used even until the Islamic period, which began in the 10th century.

The buildings stick out not only because of their diversity but additionally as the island has among the worlds highest concentrations of archaeological sites, which range from the building blocks blocks of small dwellings to well-preserved village centers. Within an section of just 270 square miles, Menorca includes a total of just one 1,574 inventoried spots.

The island houses 9 percent of Spains Assets of Cultural Interest, with just 0.13 percent of its land, in accordance with Margarita Orfila, an archaeology professor who co-authored the planet Heritage application. Inclusion in the list would elevate the hawaiian islands international profile, enhance conservation measures, promote new research, and foster tourism beyond the busy summer months.

Making use of their sheer numbers, the icons may also be omnipresent. In all of those other world, Orfila highlights, most comparable archaeological landscapes come in national parks or reserves, where there’s little human activity, plus they arent prominent.

But throughout Menorca, and particularly in the nine proposed areas for designation, there’s a fantastic living archaeological landscape, that is fully integrated with lifestyle in 21st-century Menorca. The colossal stones stand among fields of crops and grazing cows and sheep, seemingly murmuring ancient tales concerning the islands first inhabitants.

Island identities

But who have been they? They originated from the northeast of the Iberian Peninsula or the region [in todays France] round the Gulf of Lion, suggests Joaquim Pons, an archaeology specialist at the Island Councils Department of Culture. The final outcome is founded on two factors: prevailing winds and currents could have carried boats to the hawaiian islands, and Menorcas burial sites are oriented toward the sunsetthe identical to those round the Gulf of Lion, whereas in all of those other Mediterranean theyd face sunrise.

They reached the coast of Menorca in the next half of the 3rd millennium B.C. aboard rudimentary boats, alongside some domesticated animals and basic utensils, he adds. Perhaps they made a decision to undertake this type of risky journey since they were fleeing hostile situations on the mainland.

The perilous sea voyage took them to a rocky and largely unfertile land with limited resources in which a tough life awaited them. In accordance with studies of graves using carbon dating and DNA analysis, 1 / 2 of the kids under five yrs . old died of disease, and even though adult life span could reach 50 years, it usually didn’t exceed 25. Those same studies revealed a dietary surprise: despite being surrounded by the ocean, they consumed no fish or seafood, instead counting on meat, grains, and legumes.

With settlements clustered inland and the shoreline reserved for burialswhich gradually moved nearer to the sea and finally into coastal cliffsit was as though the ocean was sacred, an infinite expanse that merged with the sky in a location comparable to the afterlife.

The initial settlers buried their dead collectively in hypogea, caves dug in to the rocky terrain, or in dolmens, probably following traditions from their ancestral homeland. The grave goods and the usage of collective burials suggest a society that lacked hierarchy.

Soon, though, the islanders would utilize the ubiquitous stone, which ultimately result in the hawaiian islands first cyclopean constructions, many of them unique to Menorca.

The initial of the was the naveta dwelling (Catalan for small ship), shaped as an inverted boat. It typically measured between 16 to 66 feet long by 10 feet wide, providing shelter for large families. Inside they cooked and warmed themselves around a central fire, sitting on stone benches mounted on the walls.

Throughout this era, referred to as the Naviform (produced from naveta), between 1600 and 1200 B.C., the populace settled in small villages and centered on agriculture and livestock. These societies also learned to extract copper from their prehistoric mines and, by mixing it with imported tin, they forged an extremely versatile material to make tools and utensils: bronze.

House of the spirits

Although they continued to utilize hypogea, they soon begun to build monumental naveta tombs, with the Naveta des Tudons being the very best known. The similarities between your naveta houses and the funerary navetas force us to think about a symbolic translation, Joaquim Pons says. The houses of the dead took externally type of the houses of the living.

These naveta tombs were always built definately not the village and out of view. The planet of the living was separated from the planet of the dead, Orfila explains. Down the road, the dead were buried in caves carved into ravines that crisscross the island, and gradually those were made ever nearer to the coast, as though to create the dead to the ocean.

(What new research on mummies in Spains Canary Islands reveals.)

In the late Bronze Age and the first Iron Age, between 1200 and 500 B.C., a rise in population caused a landscape transformation by means of the talayots, which required a colossal collective effort to create, an indicator of advancing civilization.

In the centuries that followed, another unique Menorcan feature emerged: the taula (table in Catalan) in a horseshoe-style enclosure. Regarded as a host to worship, having an apse-like floor plan and cyclopean walls, the taula was at its center, a T-shaped slab structure 4 or 5 meters (13 to 16 feet) high. The ritual and religious function of the shrines, says Orfila, is documented by the current presence of fire, the remains of sacrificed animals, and bronze statuettes, and also the direction they face.

This is a rather peculiar fact, echoed in the [southwest] orientation of tombs in the French region of Languedoc, where in fact the islands first settlers could have result from, says Antoni Ferrer, an archaeologist at the Menorcan Institute of Studies. All but among the taulas (of the 31 documented, seven remain standing), however, face south.

The late British archaeoastronomer Michael Hoskin theorized that the structures were built-in places having an uninterrupted view of the southern horizon and may have already been oriented to see the seasonal Centaurus constellation.

In a later period, another design revolution in the hawaiian islands prehistoric architecture appeared in the idea of a dwelling with a circular floor plan, organized around a central courtyard, bound by six columns. Constructed with double-faced walls and a clay and earthen roof, theyre more technical compared to the naveta houses. Some even had cisterns to get water.

End of isolation

Simultaneously, cyclopean walls begun to proliferate round the villages. The Mediterranean was then along the way to be colonized by the Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, and Romans. For the Menorcan society that had lived in peaceful isolation for years and years, the ocean represented a method to achieve wealth through trade, but it addittionally brought the dangers of pirates and the fleets of rival powers.

From the fifth century B.C. onward, many teenagers from Menorca and Mallorca, skilled with slings, were recruited as mercenaries by the Punic armies, until these were absorbed by Rome after nov Carthage: Both islands, says Ofila, had become called the Balearic Islands, a name produced from the Greek baleo, this means to throw.”

Historical sources make reference to the Balearic slingers, including Strabo in Geographica: [T]heir trained in the usage of slings was previously such, from childhood up, they wouldn’t normally so much as give bread with their children unless they first hit it with the sling. That is why [Roman commander] Metellus, when he was approaching the hawaiian islands from the ocean, stretched hides above the decks as a protection contrary to the slings.

Talayotic culture found a finish in the ultimate years of the next century B.C., giving solution to a long amount of Romanization that could end with the invasion by the Vandals in A.D. 455 The Byzantine Empire overran the island in 534, and in 903 it had been the turn of the Moors, who remained for 400 years before arrival of King Alfonso III of Aragon.

From the 14th century onward, the descendants of the Talayotic people emulated their ancestors because they build mortarless walls as boundaries for farms. Today a veritable great wall of Menorca remainsabout 11,000 kilometers (nearly 7,000 miles) of the beautiful walls snake through the island, exactly the same distance that separates its town of Ciutadella from Santiago de Chile in SOUTH USA. Through its most essential material, the island connects its show its prehistoric past, the eternal bond between your Menorcan people and their land.

This story was adapted from National Geographics Spain edition.

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