The “Spanish Stonehenge” has risen from its watery grave for the second time in the last 3 years

Increase / The Guadalperal Dolmen is fully visible in July 2019 due to low water levels in the Valdecañas Reservoir.

Last week we told you about flurry of recent coverage renewal of the 2018 news about the reappearance of the so-calledhungry stones” due to the extreme drought in Europe. We also noted that Europe is once again in the midst of a historically severe drought. Now, the ancient site known as the “Spanish Stonehenge”, which has been underwater in a reservoir for decades, has been fully reopened for the second time since 2019 due to low water levels in the reservoir.

The site is also known as Dolmen Guadalperal, a circular group of 150 large vertical granite stones (called orthostats) dated to 2000-3000 BC. However, Roman artifacts found at the site—a coin, pottery fragments, and a whetstone—suggest that it may have been used even earlier. A team led by German archaeologist Hugo Obermayer discovered the monument in 1926 near a town called Peraleda de la Mata.

Among the artifacts found were 11 axes, flint knives, pottery, and a copper punch. The nearby settlement probably housed the people who built the monument, given the presence of houses, charcoal and ash stains, pottery and axe-sharpening stones. Obermeier restored some of the granite stones to their rightful places and made reproductions of the engravings, which were published in 1960.

The vertical stones form an egg-shaped chamber (dolmen) that connects to a long (21 meters, or 69 feet) corridor. At the entrance to the corridor is a large standing stone, or “menhir“, with a snake-like image carved into it. The chamber was covered by a mound of earth and gravel, surrounded by another circular ring.

The exact purpose of this site remains a matter of debate, but it was most likely used as a sun temple, a trading post along the Tagus River, or a funerary enclave. Per Atlas Obscura:

If it was intact… people would have entered through a dark, narrow corridor decorated with carvings and other decorations, probably carrying a torch. This would lead to a portal of access to the larger main chamber, which was about 16 feet in diameter, where the dead were laid to rest. It is also likely that the monument was oriented around the summer solstice, allowing only a few moments a year for the sun to shine on the community’s ancestors. Building such a large space with such heavy materials would require great effort and ingenuity.

In 1963, the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco ordered to build a dam for the creation of St Valdecañas Reservoir. The massive project meant that underdeveloped areas of Spain now have water and electricity, but the dolmen and the remains of the Roman city of Augustabrigo were buried under water along with the inhabited city. (Residents were resettled.)

Sculptural menhir at the entrance to the corridor leading to the dolmen.
Increase / Sculptural menhir at the entrance to the corridor leading to the dolmen.

Residents have seen the tips of the dolmen sticking out of the reservoir water before, but in 2019 two severe heat waves brought a severe drought that swept across Europe, lowering water levels so dramatically that the entire structure was fully visible for the first time since the dam was built. NASA even released satellite images that showed “the Spanish Stonehenge”.

And now the drought is again tormenting Europe, and the Guadalperal dolmen is fully visible. Being under water for all those decades has not been kind to the porous granite rocks, some of which show signs of erosion and cracks, while others have fallen. Some are calling on the Spanish government to move the stones to permanently dry land, while others worry it could cause further damage, especially if the process is rushed.

U recent newspaper archaeologist A.J. Villa González also condemned the “massive influx of tourists to the site, despite the two-hour walk through the dirt to get there.” People not only walked on private property, but also risked their health due to the “extreme heat and difficult terrain”. The Spanish government has declared the site of cultural interest and is developing a conservation plan to preserve the monument for future generations.

DOI: Archeology Online, 2022. 10.11141/ia.60.4 (About DOI).

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