Scattered around Mallorca, the largest and most mountainous of the Balearic Islands in the western Mediterranean, are a number of walled sanctuaries built during the first millennium B.C.E. that seem to have been the setting for various ritual activities. Son Mas, near the northwest coast, is one of the largest of them but seems to have been in use for a far longer period: radiocarbon dates stretch back into the third millennium B.C.E. However, there is a curious gap around 1700 b.c.e., when the site seems to have been abandoned for several centuries for no reason that is apparent from the archaeology, before being rebuilt and reoccupied.

The reason that the earlier sanctuary was so precipitously abandoned remained unexplained until the site was studied archaeoastronomically. Like the taulas of Menorca, it faces south, but in the direction of a nearby valley flanked by steep hills. This is indicated by a curious, artificial groove cut into the side of a large upright boulder in front of the sanctuary. When the Southern Cross and Pointers appeared down low in the southern sky, passing almost horizontally, from east to west, they would have passed across this valley and hung spectacularly in the sky just above it. But due to precession they would have gotten gradually lower century by century until they were beginning to disappear in around 1700 b.c.e. The result, quite plausibly, would have been a crisis, and it was that which caused the sanctuary to be abandoned.

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References and further reading

Hoskin, Michael. Tombs, Temples and Their Orientations, 46-52. Bognor Regis, UK: Ocarina Books, 2001.

Hoskin, Michael, and William Waldren. Taulas and Talayots. Cambridge: Michael Hoskin, 1988.

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