Aug 21, 2022 I Paul Seaburn

Mysterious Spanish Stonehenge Emerges as Lake Disappears -- and Neither is Good News

A recent report looked at the impact of climate change on Bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster and other cryptids whose potentially hidden existence could finally be revealed as global warming drives them north to colder climates (Bigfoot), droughts shrink their lakes and rivers (Loch Ness monster), and cutbacks in farming shrink their food sources (Chupacabra). That same climate change is affecting paleontology, as the melting permafrost reveals more frozen carcasses in Siberia, and archeology, as lakes and rivers recede to free bodies (Lake Mead) and lost towns. It is that last consequence that has allowed an ancient megalith known as the Spanish Stonehenge to emerge from a reservoir and remind the world that England is not the only country with stone circles and mysterious monuments. And, while the appearance of the ancient monolith is good for archeology and local tourism, it could be bad for the granite stones themselves.

"It's a surprise, it's a rare opportunity to be able to access it."

That sentiment expressed by archaeologist Enrique Cedillo from Madrid's Complutense University to Reuters is shared by many, but they shouldn’t be surprised because humans are the reason why the Dolmen of Guadalperal, also known as the treasure of Guadalperal, disappeared in the first place. Located in Peraleda de la Mata, a town in the region of Campo Arañuelo in eastern Extremadura on the west coast of Spain bordering Portugal. The standing stones were first discovered in 1926 by German archaeologist Hugo Obermaier on the Guadalperal estate where he was a frequent summer guest.

Hugo Obermaier

After the end of World War I, Obermaier moved to Spain to focus on the many Neolithic sites in that country. Shortly before finding the stones, he had worked in the Cave of Altamira (a cave filled with prehistoric rock art) and studied Neolithic rock engravings of south Oran in Algeria. On the Guadalperal estate, Obermaier uncovered 140 standing stones in an oval shape with a diameter of 5 meters (16.4 feet). He determined that the stones were dolmen – funerary megaliths or single-chamber megalithic tombs that generally consisted of two or more vertical stones supporting one flat capstone. (Current photos here.) Most dolmen date from the early Neolithic (4000–3000 BCE) and are often covered with earth to form a burial mound. Because of their age and unsteadiness, the capstones are usually found on the ground. That appears to be how Obermaier found the Dolmen of Guadalperal, which he dated to between 2000 and 3000 BCE. Many of the stones were engraved and Obermaier and his team made reproductions of them, which were published in 1960. This was fortunate, as we will soon see.  

In addition to the standing stones, Obermaier found Roman artifacts -- a coin, ceramic fragments and a grinding stone – inside the oval, and 11 axes, ceramics, flint knives and other relics nearby. Also uncovered in the area was the remains of settlement, dating to the same time as the stones, which included houses, charcoal, pottery, mills, and sharpening stones, lending credence to the theory that the occupants were the builders of the dolmens. The total collection makes this Spanish Stonehenge an important historical site that should be worthy of protection. Unfortunately, progress overcame archeology in this case.

In 1963, Spain’s dictatorial leader Francisco Franco approved the building of the Valdecañas reservoir – the floor of the massive project included the site of the Dolmen of Guadalperal. At the time, archeologists decided that moving the stones would ruin their historical significance and opted to let the location be flooded as a way to preserve it. Thus, the Dolmen of Guadalperal were not seen again … until 2019 when a severe drought reduced the level of the Valdecañas reservoir to a point where the Spanish Stonehenge could be seen in a NASA satellite image. Eventually, most of the stones emerged, but the rains soon returned and the stones sunk back to their hiding place.

An example of a dolmen

"It is a megalithic dolmen of great value that is now, for the first time, and who knows if it will be the last, fully accessible."

The Raíces de Peraleda Association launched a Change.org petition at the time to raise money to do something to save the Dolmen. They pointed out that the stones showed clear signs of deterioration as the porous granite cracks and crumbles. In addition, the waters have eroded the engravings and many are no longer visible – showing how fortunate it was that Obermaier's team made reproductions of them.

“It currently sits fully exposed in one corner of the Valdecanas reservoir, in the central province of Caceres, where authorities say the water level has dropped to 28% of capacity.”

It is now 2022 and Europe is in the midst of a record-breaking drought. Spain and Portugal have implemented restrictions on water usage because reservoirs like the Valdecañas are drying up. While that is bad news for farmers, businesses and anyone who drinks water, it is good news for the Dolmen of Guadalperal, the archeologists waiting to study them and unlock their mysterious origin, and the preservations who hope this will give them enough time to get the approvals and support to finally move the stones or figure out a way to protect them. If they need some incentive to convince local officials of the benefit to saving the Dolman, it comes from Ruben Argentas, who owns a small boat tours business.

"The dolmen emerges and the dolmen tourism begins."

Sadly, this is turning out to be a zero-sum problem. While local businesses are taking advantage of increased profits due to archeological tourism, the local farmers have no water for crops or livestock. With the reservoir down by nearly a third of its normal level, it will take a lot of rain over a long season to recover – and the dry conditions now make the ground hard for absorption and set the stage for damaging floods. For those who believe in karma, it appears payback is finally happening for the dictatorship of Francisco Franco.

As of this writing, no decisions have been made concerning the future of the Dolmen of Guadalperal. Let’s hope the important historical structures can be saved. It’s too bad Franco isn’t around to get his karma payback.

Paul Seaburn

Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as "The Tonight Show", "Politically Incorrect" and an award-winning children’s program. He's been published in “The New York Times" and "Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humor. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humor to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn't always have to be serious.

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