Minorca's Stones

02/12/2016 10:31

Minorcan prehistory was written with stones, medium sized blocks lined up one upon other forming burial structures in inverted vessel shape and cyclopean stones supporting others in a characteristic megalithic structure only in the world. They all make up what has been called the Balearic talaiotic culture.

The name comes from talaiot meaning watchtower. They are buildings generally conical tower shaped and are spread throughout the island. They named the period of the Bronze and Iron ages particularly rich in funerary, worship and defensive architecture. There are about 1500 sites in which have been recorded two hundred and sixty talaiots, twenty five taules, sixty four navetes and six hundred ninety-one various findings. Most of them are situated in the southern part of the island and the reason is probably due to the proximity of the limestone quarries.

The oldest talaiots date back about 2000 BC; were built with dry stones laid without mortar to join and their function should generally be monitoring and defence the communities inhabiting around. Most were solid but some had small interior rooms. Taules are horseshoe-shaped structures in the centre of which there are two large blocks of stone, a column supporting a capital of almost similar proportions, giving the appearance of a large letter T. Probably had some unknown religious function and possibly supported a lighter structure made of wood or fabric. Navetes are named for the building shape reminiscent of an inverted ship. There were found remains of multiple burials. Talaiots and taules were not isolated structures but were built in villages inhabited and usually surrounded by a wall.  

Leaving Mao and taking the old road towards Sant Lluís, founded during the French occupation, comes after a mile the talaiotic town of Trepucó. Occupies a considerable area, five thousand square meters. Some fragment of wall and a pair of towers remains from their defences. Where once stood three talaiots just are still standing, in the centre the largest, 85 feet in diameter, and the smaller has an interior passageway leading to the roof. Next to the first rise a large talaiot and an impressive taula exceeding twelve feet high and almost reaching nine feet wide. The enclosure forms a semi-circular apse that was excavated in the thirties by the English archaeologist Margaret Alice Murray and was rebuilt in the early seventies. In 1871 the village was used as headquarters for French and Spanish troops led by Louis Berton de Balbe de Quiers, Duke of Crillon, to besiege San Felipe castle, bastion of English troops during the British occupation.

Also, close to Mao but two miles towards Alaior is Talatí de Dalt, a village where lived likely no more than one hundred people. As in other settlements talaiots were locate beside the walls and there is a central one on the highest point.

Between Alaior town and the southern coast of the island there are other notable prehistoric villages. Torre d'en Galmés is the largest throughout Menorca, occupies more than six hectares. Its three talaiots, as usual, are located in the highest point inside the city walls. Beside the greater is the taula’s sanctuary in a closed perimeter where was discovered a statue of Imhotep, the Egyptian architect who was deified as the god of medicine and now is exposed at the Museum of Minorca in Mao. In the late nineteenth century French archaeologist Emile Cartailhac visited the prehistoric monuments of the island, eventually published in 1892 Monuments primitifs des îles Baléares and here was particularly interested in an area of homes that now bears his name, Cartailhac Circle. This had a portico access where there was a kitchen space ready to smoke food and a barn in a pillared hall. Other circular dwellings exploit the uneven ground to distribute radially their various rooms. One house reaches forty feet diameter around a central courtyard. The village had a system of rainwater collection that was stored in underground tanks. Not far away is Torralba d'en Salort, whose highlight is a twenty five tons taula. Near was uncovered a bronze figurine depicting a bull and another two Punic terracotta corresponding to the goddess Tanit.

At the other end of the island and near Ciutadella there are two notable villages: Torre Trencada and Torre Llafuda. The first has some graves in an artificial cave, a pillared hall and a cistern. The taula is particularly for the additional column that helps to support the cyclopean capital slab, topped by a stone wedge. Torre Llafuda is surrounded by oaks and its walls had several entrances shaped breezeway. In one of the hypogeum were found slinger bullets. These fighters were appreciated in the Roman army. They demonstrated expertise in the use of their arms hindering the landing of the Republican armies in the islands.

Naveta des Tudons is the best example on the island of this kind of collective burials. The dates are around the first millennium BC when it should be used as a mausoleum. Excavations in 1959 discovered the remains of a hundred people besides grave goods and ornamental bronze objects. Inside, once crossed a corridor, the chamber is divided into two floors. A construction of this kind has not been left out of the popular imagination that has attributed a legendary origin. In this case there were two giant young who pledged to woo a maiden. They agreed a unique contest: one had to lift a boat-shaped building, the other drill a well in this rocky area. After days of work one of them warned that he had found water at the precise moment that the other carried the last stone that would complete his work. Furiously, he threw down the block killing his competitor but being this way unable to complete his building. They say the missing stone that left unfinished the naveta is still in the bottom of the Well of Sa Barrina.

Near Mao also worth a visit the Talaiotic village of Cornia Nou, the monumental Talaiot of Torello, Binici Nou hypogeum and towards Alaior, the Sanctuary of So na Caçana and the outstanding funeral navetas Rafel Rubi and Biniac l'Argentina. Many of the objects found in all of them are exhibited in the Museum of Minorca, Mahon, and in the Museu Municipal de sa Font Bastió in Ciutadella.

Time did not end suddenly the talaiotic villages after the conquest of Rome. In some cases there was a gradual abandonment while in other occupation lasted until the Middle Ages, under Al Andalus rule.

© J.L.Nicolas


See more pictures