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 and the oldest temple in the world, Gobekli Tepe of Turkey.
The origin and purpose of the taulas are unknown, although they are the works of prehistoric humans. There have been several theories surrounding the mystery of the taulas, usually focused on religious or astronomical purposes. Some believe that they are a religious symbol. Others believe that the taulas served as a temple of healing. Finally, there is a theory that the taulas were aligned with the movements of the moon.
Menorca is a small Spanish island with a population of approximately 94,000. It reaches 1,175 feet (358 meters) above sea level at its highest point, and 37 miles (60 kilometres) wide at its widest point. In prehistoric times, Menorca saw a variety of cultures and peoples, including Jews, the Vandals, the Byzantine Empire, the Crown of Aragon, Islam, Great Britain, and Spain. 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 Menorca is best known for are the thirteen taulas. The word taula means “table” in Catalan, which is one of the main languages of Menorca. The taulas are T-shaped, with a large flat horizontal stone, perched on a tall vertical stone, and surrounded by a U-shaped wall. The tallest taulas reach 12 meters high (3.7 meters). For many years it was believed that the taulas were covered with a roof. Ultimately, however, the researchers agreed that the structures did not include a roof. Available evidence suggests that a sacrificial fire pit is at the front of the taula, with which a roof would not be practical.
Taulas are something to admire, considering that they were built long before the invention of heavy machinery or any other mechanisms to help with heavy work. It is fascinating to imagine how our prehistoric ancestors were able to lift these giant stones in place, creating well-balanced structures that will stand the test of time.
Taulas are believed to have been built sometime between 1000-3000 BC by the Talayotic culture. Many have tried to determine why the taulas were built and what significance they had. Clearly, a structure that would take such an effort to create would serve an important purpose for those who built it. There are several theories about the purpose the taulas serve, each offering potential insight into the culture and lifestyle of the Talayotic people.
Temple of the Bull God
One theory is that the taulas served as a temple for the god of the Talayotic people. There are no indicators of which religion they practice or what they call their god, but a discovery during excavations has led one of the researchers to theorize that they may have worshipped a bull god. Researchers were excavating a site known as “Torralba d’en Salort” when they came across a bronze bull statuette, which may have sat on a shelf within the “Torralba d’en Salortas” a cult item. The bull was found among other artefacts said to resemble items of worship found inside a church today. The bull is of special importance because the first people to ever inhabit Menorca came from Crete, and the bull played a prominent role in its culture. Spanish archaeologist J. Mascaró Pasarius was the first to suggest the idea of a bull god, with plates representing the face and horns of the bull. This theory has not been widely accepted.
Healing Temple – Constellation Centaurus
Another theory is that the taulas are a place of healing. Under this theory, the taulas were oriented to the constellation of Centaurus. The theory of healing has been reinforced by elements that were discovered during an excavation of the taulas. In that excavation, an Egyptian figurine was found containing a hieroglyphics inscription that read, “I am Imhotep the god of medicine.” And a bronze horse helmet representing the Greek god of medicine, Asclepius. Over the years, the constellation Centaurus became increasingly difficult to see and was barely visible at all by 1000 BC This may explain the eventual abandonment of the taulas, as they have become irrelevant when the constellation of Centaurus is no longer visible to the Talayotic was people.
The Fenn Moon Theory
In 1930 the German archaeologist, researcher, and artist, Waldemar Fenn, came to Menorca and studied its history. He was fascinated by its ancient culture and remained in Menorca for the rest of his life. Fenn eventually wrote two books about Menorca and the taulas. His theory is considered by some researchers as arguably the most realistic because it appears to best explain the twelve of the thirteen intact taulas on the island. The only taula that did not match his theory was the megalith located in the northern part of the island.
In Fenn’s studies, he noted a prehistoric cave drawing found on Menorca which showed accurate interpretations of constellations. This convinced him that he was dealing with a culture that had developed a strong interest in astronomy.
Fenn also realized that the taulas all generally faced in a southern direction. The first thing Waldemar Fenn wanted to prove was that this place was a religious monument. This should have been easy to do since many cultures throughout history would normally create their religious structures pointing to a fixed point in the sky. However, Fenn realized this may not be the case when it was revealed that the taulas did not point to any known fixed point in the heavens.
Fenn revised his hypothesis. If the taulas are not pointed to any particular fixed point in the sky, then perhaps it was created for an object in the sky that moves. This hypothesis showed positive results.
What Fenn learned was if somebody looked at the entrance of the taula in December, the full moon would be located on the left corner of the top of the taula. The following year the moon would be 1.5 degrees to the right of its position from the year before. After 9 years, the moon would be on the exact opposite side of the top of the Taula. This 9-year travel would equate to 13.5 degrees of movement and essentially create a semi-circle over the top of taula. After 18 years, the moon would have reversed that semi-circle and be located on the left corner of the taula as it was 18 years before.
Fenn also noted the number of columns surrounding the taula. There were twelve full columns, plus one half-sized column. Fenn realized the half-column was not shortened because of structural damage. It was designed like that on purpose. Returning to his moon theory, Fenn knew every year there are either twelve or thirteen full moons. The average, of course, would be 12.5. This number explains why there are 12.5 columns surrounding the taula.
But one problem still remained. Fenn knew that twelve of the thirteen taula sites accurately portrayed this moon movement. The only exception was the taula in the north of the island. This was the only taula not facing the same location as the other twelve. This perplexed him and prevented his theory from receiving wider acceptance.
It wasn’t until many years later that researchers learned the entrance to that lone taula is not in its original location. Fenn may have been right all along. Fenn believed these taulas were prehistoric calendars. The ancient people of Minorca who created these taulas over 3,500 years ago followed the moon and accurately predicted lunar eclipses.
But as we all know, a theory is just a theory. Perhaps one day we will learn the true purpose of the taulas of Menorca. Until then, they will remain a true mystery of this enchanted island.