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1 April 2015
Unearthing an Iron Age Sanctuary in the Mediterranean

In the summer of 2015 a team of archaeologists will begin excavation of a cyclopean sanctuary on the western Mediterranean island of Menorca - a monumental type of building exclusive to this island. The sanctuary of Sa Cudia Cremada ('The Burnt Farm') is a Talayotic cultural site on the outskirts of the island's capital.
     Menorca is the easternmost of the Balearic Islands. More than 1500 archaeological sites have been found on the island, which has a total area of just 700 square kilometres. The majority of sites date to the Bronze and Iron Age, a period known there as the Talayotic, in reference to the society who lived on the island from approximately the 2nd millennium BCE to the Roman conquest in 123 BCE.
     Formed by a community of indigenous peoples confined to the neighbouring islands of Menorca and Majorca, their society evolved from relatively egalitarian to hierarchical from the beginning of the 1st millennium BCE, although many other aspects did not change, such as their construction technique, pottery production, farming and stock-breeding, and complex funerary rituals and practices. The society developed unique cultural manifestations while at the same time acquiring some traits from other Mediterranean peoples.
     Sa Cudia Cremada preserves a talayotic settlement along with its necropolis. The most visible structures are three monumental towers called talayots, which could have served several functions.
     The site also features a hypogeum - an artificial cave which served as a collective inhumation cemetery for all the inhabitants of the settlement, regardless of age, sex and social status. Funerary practices included storing locks of hair dyed red in containers made of bull horns, usually heaped in hidden corners of the caves.
     The most important building is the taula sanctuary, a horse-shoe shaped building with walls composed of large stone blocks, defined by a large monolithic standing pillar with a lintel forming a T-shape - called taula, meaning 'table' - usually in the central part. There are 32 taula sanctuaries on the island, and this is the only one which has not been excavated.
     As in many other Mediterranean cultures, the talayotics worshipped the bull. Bronze bull statuettes and bronze bull horns have been found in several sanctuaries, and scholars have suggested the T-shape monuments were emblematic of this animal.

Edited from Popular Archaeology (16 March 2015)

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