Talayotic Menorca, Spain

The reflection of an insular Mediterranean prehistoric society

Torre d’en Galmés (2023) by Prehistoric Sites of Talayotic MenorcaUNESCO World Heritage

Talayotic Menorca encompasses the main prehistoric archaeological sites of Menorca, along with the landscapes that surround them. Located in the western Mediterranean, this Spanish island has an area of only 700km2, however more than 1,500 prehistoric sites can be found here.

Dolmen of Ses Roques Llises (2023) by Prehistoric Sites of Talayotic MenorcaUNESCO World Heritage

It is only 4,500 years since humans first settled in Menorca. Megalithic tombs are the most visible legacy of the first inhabitants, although, as farmers, they may have already begun to transform the landscape of the island even before these first constructions were built.

Bronze Age settlement of Son Mercer de Baix (2023) by Prehistoric Sites of Talayotic MenorcaUNESCO World Heritage

By around 1600 BC, the number of inhabitants on the island had grown considerably and the first cyclopean constructions, built out of large irregular blocks, began to appear. These elongated houses, known as navetas, can be found clustered together in small settlements.

Coastal settlement of Coll de Cala Morell (2023) by Prehistoric Sites of Talayotic MenorcaUNESCO World Heritage

Some of the settlements from this time are located on coastal promontories or small elevations, and are walled for protection. Despite it being an egalitarian society, there was a constant threat of conflict between the different communities.

Naveta des Tudons (2023) by Prehistoric Sites of Talayotic MenorcaUNESCO World Heritage

Some navetas were used for funerary purposes. While they are not dissimilar in appearance to the houses, they do look much more monumental. Each one belonged to a different group of people, who would place the remains of their dead inside. They can only be found in Menorca.

Cova des Coloms, the largest cave on the island (2023) by Prehistoric Sites of Talayotic MenorcaUNESCO World Heritage

Underground caves were also used as collective burial spaces. In some cases, the entrance to the tomb was sealed using a cyclopean wall, leaving only a small opening. Some of these caves are located in steep ravine walls and are difficult to access.

Wooden comb, found in the Cova des Càrritx (2023) by Prehistoric Sites of Talayotic MenorcaUNESCO World Heritage

Complex rituals took place inside the burial caves. One ritual involved dying the hair of the dead using a red pigment. A strand of hair was then cut off, placed inside a wooden or leather tube with a decorative lid and left next to the body.

Talayot of Cornia Nou (2023) by Prehistoric Sites of Talayotic MenorcaUNESCO World Heritage

Around 1200 BC, a new type of cyclopean building began to appear in Menorca: the talayot. These large, conical towers, which lend their name to the talayotic culture, can measure up to 10 metres in height and 25 metres in diameter.

Two talayots, Sant Agustí Vell (2023) by Prehistoric Sites of Talayotic MenorcaUNESCO World Heritage

The talayots are a characteristic feature of the landscape of the island. 393 of these constructions have been identified in total, meaning there is an average of one talayot for every two km2 of land.

Monumental in appearance, they made the villages stand out, defining the structure of the terrain.

House with a central courtyard, Torre d’en Galmés (2023) by Prehistoric Sites of Talayotic MenorcaUNESCO World Heritage

Talayotic society underwent major changes around 500 BC, due to an increase in contact with the Carthaginian culture. 
The Talayots continued to preside over their settlements, but also began to build new structures, such as houses with a central courtyard.

Internal view of a house with a courtyard, Torre d’en Galmés (2023) by Prehistoric Sites of Talayotic MenorcaUNESCO World Heritage

Unique to Menorca, the houses with a central courtyard are large in size, which suggests that private spaces grew in importance during this period, compared to communal areas. They feature large monolithic columns around the courtyard, giving them a very monumental appearance.

Hypostyle hall, Torre d’en Galmés (2023) by Prehistoric Sites of Talayotic MenorcaUNESCO World Heritage

Occasionally, these houses are found alongside constructions known as hypostyle halls, which also feature large monolithic columns but, rather than an open courtyard, they have a roof made out of large slabs, that, in some cases, is still preserved in situ.

Ceramic container, found in Torre d’en Galmés (2023) by Prehistoric Sites of Talayotic MenorcaUNESCO World Heritage

Just like their buildings, the objects which were produced by the Talayotic communities of Menorca are also unique. While the potter’s wheel was already in use in neighbouring regions, the inhabitants of the island continued to produce ceramics manually up until the Roman era.

Taula enclosure in Trepucó (2023) by Prehistoric Sites of Talayotic MenorcaUNESCO World Heritage

Taula enclosures, again found only in Menorca, are the religious sites of this period. Their characteristic central T-shaped element was formed using two large stones and, in some cases, reached a height of five metres. Their symbolism is, still today, a subject of discussion.

The bull of Torralba (2023) by Prehistoric Sites of Talayotic MenorcaUNESCO World Heritage

We have learnt about some of the Talayotic divinities thanks to the figures that have been discovered in the taula enclosures. The bull of Torralba and the Imhotep of Torre d’en Galmés, a figure that was Egyptian in origin, are some of the pieces that stand out.

The archaeo-astronomical phenomenon of So Na Caçana (2023) by Prehistoric Sites of Talayotic MenorcaUNESCO World Heritage

Ritual banquets were held in the taula enclosures, and meat and wine were consumed. An archaeo-astronomical phenomenon has recently been discovered: during the winter solstice, a ray of sunlight enters one of the enclosures and illuminates its most sacred place.

Talayot and taula enclosure, Talatí de Dalt (2023) by Prehistoric Sites of Talayotic MenorcaUNESCO World Heritage

The taula enclosures are generally located near the talayots, which had been built during the earlier period, probably in an attempt by the islanders to seek a connection with their ancestors. Today, the settlements are integrated into the island's agricultural landscape.

Settlement wall, Son Catlar (2023) by Prehistoric Sites of Talayotic MenorcaUNESCO World Heritage

Some settlements had walls built around them during this period, indicating that there was a certain amount of conflict. The inhabitants of Menorca and Mallorca were known for their skill with the slingshot, which led to them being recruited as mercenaries by the Carthaginians.

Necropolis of Calescoves (2023) by Prehistoric Sites of Talayotic MenorcaUNESCO World Heritage

Funerary proceedings during the final periods of the Talayotic culture of Menorca were very peculiar. The Menorcans dug out artificial caves in the rocky walls of ravines and coastal cliffs, creating  necropolises which contained, in some cases, close to 100 collective tombs.

Cave in the necropolis of Cala Morell (2023) by Prehistoric Sites of Talayotic MenorcaUNESCO World Heritage

Some burial caves are large in size, with pillars carved into the rock. Despite the multiple social changes that had been endured by the Menorcan communities, burials continued to be collective, just as they had been during the early periods of the island’s prehistory.

Taula enclousure of So na Caçana (2023) by Prehistoric Sites of Talayotic MenorcaUNESCO World Heritage

The archaeological sites are today open to the public and relevant information is provided. At some sites, it’s possible to see archaeologists at work. The most emblematic pieces of Talayotic Menorca are showcased in the island’s museums, on view to be appreciated by all.

Talayotic settlement of Torretrencada (2023) by Prehistoric Sites of Talayotic MenorcaUNESCO World Heritage

Watch the documentary of Talayotic Menorca, an insular cyclopean odyssey here.

Credits: Story

This exhibit was created by Talayotic Menorca Agency:  www.menorcatalayotica.info/en/

More on Talayotic Menorca and World Heritage: whc.unesco.org/en/list/1528

Photos: Talayotic Menorca Agency, Projecte Entre Illes, Can Saura. Museu de Ciutadella, Equip d'investigació Cornia Nou, Museu de Menorca, Enrique Vidal Vijande, Antoni Cladera/Photopills, Myriam, Isabel Perelló, xesco62, Aeroview.es/GustavoTaboada.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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