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Dolmen de Guadalperal in Spain Credit: Rubén Ortega Martín/Raíces de Peralêda

5,000-Year-Old Temple Emerges from Underwater in Spain


An ancient megalithic complex in Spain comparable to England’s Stonehenge has emerged from receding waters in Spain, but within two weeks it might vanish again, forever, if action is not taken now.

Receding waters in a reservoir outside Peraleda de la Mata in Cáceres, the Arañuelo Field, Spain, have revealed an ancient Bronze Age stone structure dating to the second and third millennium BC, which was believed to have held a ceremonial function. This vast collection of 144 megalithic standing stones with an oval chamber measuring five meters in diameter with an access corridor of 21 meters in length is known as 'Dolmen de Guadalperal’ and archaeologists know it was once damaged by Roman soldiers two millennia ago.

The site was greatly neglected until the 1920s when Hugo Obermaier, a German priest and archaeologist, dedicated two years to excavating the stones and any remaining treasures were shipped back to Germany where they were displayed in a Munich museum. The site was submerged after a dam was built in 1963 during the Franco-era to create a new water réservoir.

Ancient Serpentine Protector

Some of the megaliths reach two meters high and have been engraved with stylized serpents, and the primary reason it resembles England’s Stonehenge, aesthetically, is that both sites are thought to have been temples of sun worship. A La Vanguardia report talking about the 144 megaliths and the oval chamber informs that it was at the end of this corridor a menhir carved with a snake and several cups was discovered.

The snake, according to Castaño, was “a dragon that protects the treasure, the guardian of the sacred zone” that he says was of constant religious and economic importance because it coincides with the ford of Alarza, which was a strategic crossing on the Tagus. While Stonehenge is located amidst rich agricultural fields and the Dolmen de Guadalperal is located on the banks of the River Tagus, and just like Stonehenge the stones formed a vast open air temple of worship and burial ground, serving both religious and economic trading functions which is evident in the temple having been located where people could cross the river.

A report in the Spanish daily, The local, says that the Raíces de Peralêda cultural association have been actively “fighting to save the stones” and the group leader Angel Castaño said, “We grew up hearing about the legend of the treasure hidden beneath the lake and now we finally get to view them.” Now, in the latest round in Castaño’s fight he says his team is in “a race against time” to preserve the 144 stones before the rains come.

Some of the megaliths reach two meters in height. Credit: Rubén Ortega Martín/Raíces de Peralêda

Saving One of the Oldest Maps In The World

Perhaps the most interesting aspect to all this is that according to an article in El Espanol Castaño thinks “The Spanish Stonehenge hides a menhir with a possible millenary map of the Tagus” which he believes is “one of the oldest maps in the world,” but this finding is yet to be confirmed by the Extremadura and Government Board.

If the megalithic monument, which was erected about 4,000-5,000 years ago, with its elongated wavy engraving, does indeed correspond to the passage of the Tagus river by area, Spanish reporters are saying it would be a discovery of “incalculable historical relevance.”

Castaño has collated a sketch of the possible menhir map of the pre-reservoir Tagus River, and the resemblance really is quite remarkable, suggesting he might be right, and that the lines on the carved stone might indeed be much, much more than random. Is it the oldest map in the world? Only time will tell.

Archaeologists Vs Weather and Time

The 144 ancient standing stones were exposed this year by the lack of summer rain, but also because of Spain’s policy of sending water to Portugal, which together have greatly reduced the natural water table. Castaño, and his group of active local residents are currently campaigning to have the stones moved to dry land within two weeks, and this act of preservation, according to Castaño, will also “kick start tourism to the area.”

A cynical reader might sneer and think, of course having the world’s oldest map would bring in tourist dollars, so let’s now watch as the lines ‘become the oldest map’. But there is no space for that attitude here for Castaño’s fight extends far beyond that somewhat controversial claim and told The Local  “If we miss this chance it could be years before they are revealed again,” and because the stones are granite they are porous, and already they are showing signs of erosion and cracking, and says that if action is not taken now “it could be too late.”

Top image: Dolmen de Guadalperal in Spain Credit: Rubén Ortega Martín/Raíces de Peralêda

By Ashley Cowie

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Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

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