Friday, November 4, 2011


La Chabola de la Hechicera, Spain
At some point during the Neolithic, people across Europe thought it would  be a good idea to build massive stone burial features that are referred to as dolmens or portal tombs by archaeologists today.  When people talk about megalithic sites, they are talking about places like Stone Henge and dolmen, like these Spanish examples.
The stone mound was exposed
The most striking features of Dolmen are the large upright boulders that are frequently supporting a big flat cap stone.  If you believe wikipedia, "dolmen" comes from a Breton term meaning "stone table".  I'm no dolmen expert, but one common form seems to be more-or-less keyhole shaped, with a large open chamber and a long passage ringed by upright stones.  Boulders, cobbles, and earth were piled up around these central megaliths to create a mound.  

Amongst the Vineyards
When excavated, the chambers often contain human remains and burial objects.  If I recall my introductory archaeology courses correctly, these things started popping up when people starting putting down roots and are tied to notions of laying claim to specific territories.  There certainly is a lot of labour involved in building them and once you start filling them up with the bones of your loved ones, I can see them being a pretty important symbol of "home".
The excavation shows the edge of the mound
The three dolmen that we visited were plunked down in the vineyards around Laguardia, Spain, in the Rioja wine growing region.  The largest and best preserved was La Chabola de la Hechicera (The Witch's Hut).  This site was originally found and excavated in the mid-1930s and a few stone axes and human remains were recovered.  When we visited there this fall, it was obviously the subject of renewed investigation.  The entire mound around the central megaliths was exposed and there were photographic markers all over the central stones.  Someone spent some time excavating, photographing, and mapping the site quite recently.  

What do archaeologists do on vacation?  Restring the caution tape around  the archaeology sites they visit.  You're welcome, Spain.

The rocks in the mound weren't that small, either.

La Chabola de la Hechicera (click to enlarge)

A few kilometres away from the La Chabola de la Hechicera, we visited El Encinal.  It was interesting to see this site, because all the soil and overburden were still in place.  A small copse of trees seemed to explode out of the edges of the dolmen.  It also wasn't cordoned off by caution tape, so we were able to get closer and explore this structure from the inside.

El Encindal didn't have a capstone in place, but the rocks tilted together to create an enclosed space.

The dolemn is in the bunch of trees.  Those are the Cantabrian Mountains in the background.

What? No one said we couldn't...
I really like how the trees encircle the tomb.

Lookin out the San Martin Dolmen
Some of us were dolmened-out by the time we got to the San Martín Dolmen, but it was right next to the highway, so John and I hopped out and we had 5 minutes to poke around.  Some say we took 7 minutes, but a lot of people were saying a lot of things, so who can be sure what really happened?  This one had a lintel stone over one end of the passage, but it also appeared that the stone mound had been mined to build a small stone shelter, presumably for vineyard workers to use.

That's Laguardia on the hill in the background.

I'm pretty sure this came later and was probably built from the stones gathered up by the Neolithic peoples who built the dolmen.
Looking into the long, narrow San Martin Dolmen. You can see the little shelter on the left side behind the tree.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts with Thumbnails