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Son Oleza:

A 2000 A.D.
2000 B.C.

William H. Waldren

New! radiocarbon dates

The dolmen is one of the oldest forms of prehistoric funerary architecture. Its physical characteristics vary from geographical area to geographical area. Perhaps, its more acceptable nomenclature is Portal Dolmen, characterised by a large, stone slab entrance with a circular hole (porthole), through which access was gained into an inner chamber, also usually formed by large stone slabs. The porthole entrance is made from a single stone slab or two half pieces each forming a part of the porthole. It seems fair to point out here that although the stone slab opening is usually round, it can be oval and even square, as it appears to have been in one of the Mallorcan dolmens (Aigua Dolca). There is a corridor of large, parallel aligned stone slabs, leading up to the porthole entrance. The whole structure is frequently referred to as a megalithic chambered tomb. Such structures are usually found in open areas where they have been exposed to damage and alteration. There is some speculation that they were originally covered by earth or cairns of stone, forming mounds that were visible on the landscape. The contents of these burial areas are normally badly preserved and the human remains that they once contained are often highly fragmentary, even destroyed. They also appear to have been periodically cleaned out, in some cases, nearly totally disassembled and used as sources of stone for modern building purposes and frequently only a few body remnants are found.

The Son Oleza Dolmen discovered at the end of 1999 and currently under excavation belongs to this class of dolmen, although as recent radiocarbon dating and associated artifacts indicates, the structure is several hundred years older than other known Balearic dolmens. Nine radiocarbon dates (seven from the interior and two from the exterior) demonstrate the use of the structure from circa 2200 BC to circa 1890 BC. The Olezian Dolmen is also the only example of these Balearic monuments to have Bell Beaker pottery associated with its use. The area of the dolmen and the dolmen itself have given us over 100 geometrically decorated Bell Beaker fragments.

In the Balearic Islands, there are only three such tombs known on Menorca (Momple I, Momple II and Roques Llises), and two on Mallorca (Aigua Dolca and Baulo de Dalt) (until the recent find) and one on the small Island of Formenterra (Can Na Costa). A series of radiocarbon dates from these monuments indicate age ranges of circa 1800 BC to 1500 BC and as can be seen the dates are considerably later than those from Son Oleza.

There are other differences between the Olezian Dolmen and the others. At Son Oleza, apart from the porthole entrance stone slab, which the structure shares in common with the other dolmens, the walls of the structure are made up of a rough stone in contrast to the worked stone of the others. However, this is understandable as the local limestone has no horizontal bedding which lends itself to forming flat slabs. In fact this convenient geological characteristic is also lacking in the raw-material from which all of the buildings and other architecture of the area of Son Oleza and elsewhere are constructed, and thus results in a highly irregular appearance of the stone elements. The only part of the Olezian Dolmen that shows preparation and skill in stone shaping is the porthole entrance (see photo). The structure's corridor and chamber were constructed from rough stone elements (150cms x 100cms in length and 70cms to 50cms wide) as were the outer circular walls. It should be noted here that in the geographical areas where the other dolmens were constructed, the geology and the characteristics of the stone resources are completely different from that of the mountainous regions of Mallorca. The local stone in these other areas is well bedded and made up of a soft, sandy limestone which lends itself easily to quarrying and shaping, while that of the northern mountainous regions have a twisted (eroded, karst-like) structure, which makes it all but impossible to shape properly.

As a matter of conservation, the Olezian structure is very badly preserved. The cause of this has been the construction of a two-metre high property wall which divides the two modern-day estates of Son Oleza and Son Ferrandell and was erected probably when the estates were officially divided several hundred years ago. Large stones that were very probably architectural elements from the dolmen and other megalithic buildings in the immediate area can be seen incorporated in the modern-day property wall. This is particularly apparent in the use and incorporation of other larger architectural elements from two nearby Bronze Age and Iron Age Talayots, which have likewise been scavenged to build the other sections of the property dividing wall near by the younger Talayotic structures. The surviving architectural remains of the Olezian Dolmen, after the use of its stones for the wall construction, were eventually covered by field stone. These stones were ploughed up over the interim centuries by the present property owners and farmers, resulting in a cairn or what is known locally as a claper or field stone accumulation which was piled up to a height of over two meters. It is this modern-day claper or cairn that was removed by hand, thus revealing the architectural remains of the Olezian Dolmen.

Regardless of the poor condition of the surviving structure, enough remains of the foundations to give us a good idea of its original form and construction. The presence of more than half of the upright, porthole stone and part of the circular wall surrounding the inner structures to a preserved height of 150cms in the north-western side of the structure, suggests its original height. Still another difference between our Olezian Dolmen and others lies in the structure's alignment, the entrance of which faces north-west, in contrast to others which are found usually aligned facing the South East. This difference may possibly be due to the difference in the age between this older dolmen type and the later younger ones. It is possible that our Olezian Dolmen may be a prototype, although this possibility is not very strongly supported other than by the radiocarbon dates and Beaker presence. In other respects, there are features in all the existing dolmens also found in common with Son Oleza. These are found in the dimensions of the foundations of the circular walls, corridor and chamber of the Olezian Dolmen, which favourably compare with other existing Balearic dolmens. Although not in the direction of orientation or the use and appearance of the stone slabs, the dimension of the various other architectural elements are nearly identical.

In the surrounding areas, apart from the presence of substantial Bell Beaker pottery fragments, the artifact assemblages and types exactly correspond with those from other local dolmens and consist of typical 'v' perforated bone buttons, so called archer's wrist guards, copper awls and fragments, serrated flint blades and sickles and a large assortment of Copper Age pottery (at current account over 43,000 fragments) not one of which belongs to a later period. It is believed that the largest part of this artifact material represents remains cleared out of the dolmen on various occasions to make room for later burials. The bone evidence, although abundant, is very fragmentary and difficult to identify for the moment. Some identifiable human bone materials has been found in the form of human teeth and small bones such as human phalanges. A major bone identification project is needed in order to determine what percentage of bone is human and what, domesticated animal. From the lack of any articulated human or animal remains and the general preservation of the monument itself, it is almost certain that whatever human remains were originally in the dolmen's chamber were probably removed and badly damaged in the course of the destruction of the dolmen's walls. Most of the major stones of the corridor and chamber were removed for the construction of the nearby property wall, leaving foundation stones of the dolmen. Field stone was piled on them during field clearance and subsequent agricultural activities.

The coming excavational season will centre on a concentrated effort to retrieve as much of the remaining artifact and bone materials believed to be still existing in the sectors and area adjacent to and outside the dolmen, as well as bedrock crevices. Some of these areas to the west and north-west of the dolmen entrance were excavated as early as 1981, before the presence of the dolmen was known. These formerly excavated areas will have to be extended and areas re-excavated to bedrock crevices in order to retrieve the maximum amount of empirical evidence. Areas within the dolmen structure will also undergo extensive retrieval of existing artifact and bone materials.

Prospections last season located what may be three other possible dolmens under clapers. The discovery of other such structures are not outside the realm of possibility, since frequently these megalithic tombs, as in the example of the Minorcan twin dolmens of Momple, are found near to one another. As megalithic tombs, they are thought elsewhere to be family or clan mortuary buildings and hence used exclusively by those that built them; similar to modern cemetery mausoleums or crypts. As the existing Olezian Dolmen is situated only approximately 60 to 70 metres to the south-west of the Ferrandell-Oleza Chalcolithic Old Settlement and as both radiocarbon dates and pottery (decorated Beaker and common, utilitarian vessels and other objects) are exactly comparative and contemporary, there is little probability that the two sites are not related to one another. In fact, there is a strong possibility that the dolmen represents the funerary burial structure of one or more of the families from the Olezian settlement. The presence of another dolmen or even two more dolmens would give us a clearer estimate of the number of families inhabiting the settlement throughout its duration.

At present, the population estimate stands at three to four families at a time living there for a duration of an estimated 1200 years, circa 2500 BC to circa 1300 BC, as determined by extensive radiocarbon dating. At present, there are still two radiocarbon dates pending from inside the dolmen's chamber and corridor, which may extend the dating of the structure. At present, the dates for the dolmen fall within the probability range of about 400 years, circa 2200 BC to circa 1800 BC, approximately one third of the known occupation duration of the nearby settlement. While it is too early to reach even tentative conclusions, especially those concerning an interpretation of the evidence, it does open the door for a great deal of speculation.

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