Taulas

Taulas are a distinctive type of later prehistoric monument found exclusively on the Mediterranean island of Menorca. Attributed to the talayotic culture—so called because it is characterized by a type of dry-stone tower known as a talayot—they date broadly to the late second and early first millennia b.c.e. Taulas consist of two large rectangular blocks of stone, one standing upright and the other placed across the top, balanced centrally, so as to form a shape resembling the letter "T." These were placed within stone-walled precincts. One side of the "T" was worked flat and smooth. This side faced the visitors as they came in through the single entrance, as well as the wider landscape beyond. Each major village seems to have had its taula, and some twenty-five examples are known, in various states of preservation, scattered about the small island.

The orientations of taulas (and the precinct entrances) are not random; they face generally southwards, within a range from southeast to south-southwest. In every case there is an uninterrupted view out to a distant horizon, suggesting that it was important to have a clear view of the sky in that direction. Yet this direction does not correspond to that of the rising or setting position of the sun, moon, or planets, leaving only the possibility that the taulas were aligned on certain stars. It is possible that the asterism of interest was the Southern Cross and Pointers, a very conspicuous group of bright stars appearing low in the southern sky at this latitude in the second millennium b.c.e. This might also explain the puzzling fact that no taulas are found on neighboring Mallorca, despite the fact that talayots are equally abundant there. Mallorca, unlike Menorca, is mountainous and the landscape around the principal Mallorcan villages (concentrated in the fertile northern part of the island) would not have permitted a clear view of the southern sky. In other words, people living on Mallorca had no possibility of seeing the Southern Cross and so did not build taulas. However, if the Menorcan taulas were indeed linked inextricably with the Southern cross and Pointers, then the passage of time would have presented the ancient

The taula at Talatt de Dalt, Menorca, viewed from the entrance of its enclosure. Leaning against it is a pillar, with a small capstone of its own, which incredibly became wedged when it fell from the vertical. (Courtesy of Clive Ruggles)

Menorcans with a problem. Owing to precession, these stars dropped lower and lower in the southern skies as the centuries progressed, until by the onset of the first millennium B.C.E. they were hardly visible at all.

Taulas certainly had sacred associations, as is clear from broken statues and sacrificed animal bones strewn about the precincts. In one case these included a statue of the Egyptian god of medicine, Imhotep, complete with a hieroglyphic inscription; at another, excavations uncovered a hoof from a bronze statue, evidently of a horse (or centaur), the remainder presumably having been plundered. Since there is no other evidence of local horse gods, this again suggests links with the eastern Mediterranean. In ancient Egypt, it was common to associate gods and goddesses with stars and constellations, and in Greek mythology the god of medicine, Asclepius (counterpart to the Egyptian Imhotep), was tutored by a centaur—Chiron. Tentatively weaving together these threads, the British historian of astronomy Michael Hoskin suggested that the taula sanctuaries may have been places of healing and were oriented upon the constellation of the centaur— Centaurus. The Southern Cross and Pointers are at the feet of the centaur in the sky, the Pointers (a and P Centauri) forming the two brightest stars of the modern constellation.

See also:

Son Mas.

Precession.

References and further reading

Hochseider, Peter, and Doris Knösel. Les Taules de Menorca: Un Estudi Ar-queoastronomic. Maó (Mahón), Menorca: Govern Balear, 1995. [In Catalan.]

Hoskin, Michael. Tombs, Temples and Their Orientations, 38-46. Bognor Regis, UK: Ocarina Books, 2001.

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

Pasarius, J. Mascaró. "Las Taulas: Testimonio de la fe religiosa y de la capacidad creadora de los paleo-menorquines." Revista de Menorca, número extraordinario (1968), 215-330. [In Spanish.]

Waldren, W. H., J. A. Ensenyat, and R. C. Kennard, eds. Recent Developments in Western Mediterranean Prehistory: Archaeological Techniques, Technology and Theory, Volume II: Archaeological Technology and Theory, 217-236. Oxford: Tempus Reparatum (BAR International Series S574), 1991.

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