The Spanish Island of Menorca lies in the western Mediterranean and is the easternmost island of the Balearic group. It is a relatively small, rocky island measuring 50 km across at its widest. Although this island is just a speck in the vast sea, it has attracted the attention of many archaeologists due to 35 mysterious stone megaliths scattered throughout the island. One glance at these megaliths, named locally as taulas, and they become instantly familiar. The taulas of Menorca look remarkably similar to the famous megalith of England called Stonehenge.
Humans have been known to exist on Menorca since at least 2000 BC, perhaps even earlier. Some experts suggest the first seafaring people to arrive were of the eastern Mediterranean, such as the Minoans in Crete. The period during which their culture would flourish and evolve would become known as the Talayotic period of Menorca. The Talayots would thrive there for thousands of years until the arrival of the Romans in 123 BC.
The Talayotic people who created these megaliths never documented the exact purpose of the mysterious stone monuments they left behind. Now, thousands of years later, researchers and archaeologists are trying to identify why they were built.
What we do know is that the megaliths of Menorca are known locally as “taulas,” which mean tables in the Catalan language spoken on the island. The name originated when the only remaining feature of these buried megaliths were the flat, table-like tops, protruding from the surface of the earth. Because many of these taulas were buried long ago, some have been unearthed and found to be in almost pristine condition.
The taula of Torralba d’en Salort*, is one of the thirteen most preserved taulas of Menorca, and is the most intact taula on the island. Just like most of the other taulas, it was also buried under dirt and rock before being found again. If one looks closely at the stone support structure of the Torralba d’en Salort taula, the maroon color of the soil still stains the stone post. The stain, so high on the post, reveals just how deep this megalith was buried.
The Menorcan taulas all share the same basic features. They are set in a horseshoe enclosure with a wall of surrounding stones. Its entrance lays opposite the front face of the stone monument. Another common feature of the taulas is that they generally face a southernly direction with an unobstructed view of the horizon. Additionally, these taulas are unique to the Island of Menorca and located nowhere else in the Balearic Islands.
Temple of the Bull God
There are no records identifying the religious practices of those who built these taulas. In fact, if they did worship a god, we do not know its name. One theory states that the taula was a representation of their god, much like a cross would be to Christians.
The Torralba d’en Salort is almost completely surrounded by a wall, with the exception of an opening in the front. Rectangular shelves were purposefully included in these walls, which may have been used to display their religious figures. During the excavation of the Torralba d’en Salort, a bronze bull was found which may have been an object of worship originally housed on one of these shelves. Another discovery was a clay perfume burner in the shape of a goddesses head. These artifacts bear a strong similarity to the decorations one would find in churches today. The discovery of the bronze bull is significant, since the original people of Menorca are believed to have come from Crete. The bull played a prominent role with the Minoans of Crete during the Bronze Age. In 1967, Spanish archaeologist J. Mascaro Pasarius boldly suggested that the taula was a representation of a “Bull God,” the vertical slab representing the face of the bull and the horizontal slab its horns.
There is some disagreement to this theory. Up to a few years ago, it was believed the taulas had a roof, but now researchers agree that they did not. Remnants of a sacrificial fire pit were found in a semi circle enclosure towards the front of the taula. It is the believed this fire pit was used to sacrifice animals to their god. The pit was fairly large, so a roof over this taula would be impractical.
Remnants of another fire pit used as a stove were also found just right of the entrance to the taula. This kitchen, so to speak, was probably used to prepare food for the tribe following their celebrations. Stone seats next to this outdoor stove were most likely reserved for important tribal leaders, families or the elderly.
Healing Temple Theory
Another theory suggests the taulas were oriented to the Centaurus constellation, which includes the Southern Cross and the bright stars Beta and Alpha Centauri. Although these clusters of stars are no longer visible in the night sky of Menorca, they were clearly visible over the southern horizon 3,000 years ago. This may also explain why no taulas are found on the the neighboring island of Mallorca, which is mountainous with no clear view of the horizon for the majority of islanders who lived inland.
The connection to the Centaurus constellation originates from another discovery found while excavating the taulas. In one excavation, an Egyptian figurine was found containing a hieroglyphics inscription which read, “I am Imhotep the god of medicine.” Also found was a bronze horse hoof. Using this evidence with our understanding of Greek mythology, we know the Greek god of medicine, Asclepius, was tutored by the centaur named Chiron.
As time passed, the Centaurus constellation became harder to see in the southern sky. By 1,000 BC, this star cluster was barely visible at all. This may explain why the taulas were eventually abandoned. Once Centaurus was out of sight, the Talayots no longer found the taulas to be relevant. Ceremonies became fewer and far between and eventually the practice ceased all together. The Talayots, no longer seeing a use for these taulas, buried them in the rocky soil.