In Spain, an incredible discovery has been made in an area soon to be planted with avocados: A Stone Age megalithic complex! One of the largest collections of standing stones in all of Europe.
Stonehenge has long fascinated people around the world. The tradition of our ancestors stacking stone monuments is so impressive that in the 1850s a completely new term was coined to describe the huge boulders used to erect monuments: “megalith”.
Megalithic complexes in various forms have been found on all continents, from Africa to Asia, from Anatolia to Europe. They were built for a variety of purposes, from cemeteries to devices used to track the seasons. These large stones, called megaliths, are formed by placing them on top of each other without mortar.
And now, archaeologists have found another Stone Age megalithic complex. The University of Huelva reports the discovery of a new site in the province of Huelva, in the southernmost part of the Spanish-Portuguese border, near the Guadiana River. The size of this site, unearthed on a plot of land set aside for avocado cultivation, is a sight to behold. It is one of the largest megalith complexes ever discovered in Europe.
“This is the biggest and most diverse collection of standing stones grouped together in the Iberian peninsula,” said Jose Antonio Linares, a researcher at Huelva University. The discovery was made on an area of approximately 600 hectares (1,500 acres). Given the potential archaeological significance of the site, a survey was initiated. What started as a routine step turned into an incredible find.
The standing stones at the La Torre-La Janera site consist of numerous megaliths of various types and sizes. These include standing stones, dolmens, mounds, cists (coffin like stone boxes) and various areas surrounded by stones. Based on the team’s preliminary analysis, the oldest standing stones here were erected in the second half of the sixth or fifth millennium BC, Linares said. The stones here range in height from one to three meters (3-10 ft).
“Standing stones were the most common finding, with 526 of them still standing or lying on the ground,” said the researchers. Stonehenge originally consisted of approximately 160 stones in various arrangements, although many have been lost or damaged over the millennia.
While standing stone sites do not always have the stunning architecture seen at Stonehenge, they are the remains of places that were very important to Stone Age cultures and are the only evidence they leave behind.
One of the most famous megalithic sites in the world is Carnac in northwestern France, which contains some 3000 stones. However, the new site at La Torre-La Janera stands out for the richness of its megalithic species found together in one place and for being well preserved. Prof. Primitiva Bueno at the University of Alcala:”Here you find everything all together: alignments, cromlechs, and dolmens and that is very striking.”
‘Alignments’ are arrangements of standing stones following a common axis on a line, while cromlechs are stone circles. Dolmens are a type of structure typically used as a tomb and topped with a large, usually flat capstone. Individual standing stones are known as menhirs.
Most of the menhirs at the site are grouped in 12 alignments and two cromlechs. Both were placed on hills facing east, the direction of sunrise. This leads the team to believe that the site has a ritualistic connection to the summer and winter solstices and the spring and autumn equinoxes, similar to how some believe Stonehenge functioned as a giant astronomical calendar.
Archaeological work is still ongoing at the site. Many of the stones are still partially buried and there may be stones completely covered with soil. Excavations at the site are scheduled to last until 2026, but next year at least part of the complex will be open to visitors.