By: Celtic Bard Jeff
Severe droughts in Spain have caused a drop in the water levels of the Valdecanas reservoir, revealing the dolmen of Guadalperal, also known as the Spanish Stonehenge for its resemblance to Stonehenge in England.
The Dolmen of Guadalperal is a megalithic monument dating from 5,000 BC in Peraleda de la Mata, a town in the region of Campo Arañuelo in Spain. The dolmen contains 150 orthostat granite stones, placed in a vertical arrangement that forms an ovoid chamber. This is accessed via a corridor with a large menhir at the entrance. The chamber consists of 140 stones originally covered with a mound, surrounded by another circular ring that contained the upper mound.
The monument was discovered in 1926, during a research and excavation project led by the German archaeologist Hugo Obermaier between 1925 and 1927. In 1963, construction of the Valdecañas reservoir inundated the monument, which has since damaged the monument by eroding the stones and their engravings.
According to state officials, the reservoir level has dropped to 28% of capacity because of one of the worst recorded droughts, leaving the Iberian Peninsula at its driest in 1,200 years according to a study published in the Nature Geoscience journal.
Archaeologists are using the opportunity to study the monument, while the Raíces de Peralêda Cultural Association has launched a petition to move the monument and preserve what remains. Already the petition has reached 45,682 signatures.
Angel Castaño, who lives near the reservoir and serves as the president of a Spanish cultural group, told the ‘Daily Heritage’, “We grew up hearing about the legend of the treasure hidden beneath the lake and now we finally get to view them.” ¹
“There certainly may have been treasures buried beneath the stones once upon a time, but for us now, the treasures are the stones themselves.”
Now, he is leading the race against time to preserve the site before the rains come.
The stones, that date from the second and third millennium BC, form the site of a sun temple on the banks of the River Tagus and were last seen by locals six decades ago before the area was flooded during the Franco-era to create a reservoir.
The collection of 144 stones, some of which reach two metres high and have engravings of serpents, are arranged in circles, but like Stonehenge, it is unclear exactly who put them there and for what purpose.
“The site would have been created over thousands of years, using granite transported from kilometres away,” explained Castaño.
“Like Stonehenge, they formed a sun temple and burial ground. They seemed to have a religious but also economic purpose, being at one of the few points of the river where it was possible to cross, so it was a sort of trading hub.”
The stones began to emerge from the receding waters earlier this summer and now stand on dry land, for now.
“We have had no rain this summer, so the drought but also a policy of extracting water to send to Portugal has combined to lower the water table and reveal the stones. But that can all change very quickly.”
Castaño is leading a group of local residents campaigning to move the stones to a site on dry land before the waters rise again and they are lost.
“If we miss this chance it could be years before they are revealed again,” he explained. “And the stones, which are granite and therefore porous, are already showing signs of erosion and cracking, so if we don't act now it could be too late.”
He hopes that the regional government of Extremadura will step in to move the stones within weeks to a nearby site, that can then put the zone on the tourist map.
“There are already lots of reasons to come to this part of Spain but there is very little tourism,” Castaño said. “This could be the kick start that the region needs to bring tourism to the area.”
The Romans were the first to value the site which was then left neglected until Hugo Obermaier, a German priest and archaeologist enthusiast visited it in the 1920s.
He excavated the site and took whatever treasures could be moved back to Germany where they are displayed in a museum in Munich.
But the stones themselves were left in situ and disappeared beneath a reservoir when a dam was built in 1963.
“It isn't a difficult thing to move them, we have machinery now to do that,” said Castaño. “Let's just hope that there is the political will to save them while we can.” ²
Sources: ¹ Daily Heritage; ² the local.es Image: Image Credit : Pleonr - CC BY-SA 4.0