The technical ability of ancient societies is reflected in the monumental structures they were capable of building. Determining the origin and transport of the enormous stones used in prehistoric megalithic monuments provides crucial information for understanding these achievements.

Recent provenance studies of places like Stonehenge and Easter Island have improved our understanding of the role of stone in monumental architecture during prehistory. Now a new investigation tracing the source of the gigantic stones that make up the Menga dolmen in southern Spain reveals that it is one of the greatest achievements of Late Neolithic engineering.

Located near Antequera in Malaga (Andalucia, Spain), Menga is part of a UNESCO World Heritage site consisting of three dolmens constructed between 3800-3600 BC. It is renowned for its enormous orthostats or vertical stones, one of which weighs nearly 150 tons.

However, the geology of the area and the exact quarry of origin of these gigantic stones remained unknown. Through detailed field mapping, petrologic analyses and comparisons with local lithologies, the study was able to determine the provenance of Menga’s colossal stones.

The hill on which Menga sits had important prior significance indicating a careful site selection. Located approximately one kilometer from outcroppings at Cerro de la Cruz, the hill offered key advantages like alignment with lunar landmarks and proximity to the quarries.

Petrologic examination identified five distinct stone types—calcirudites, calcarenites and calcareous breccias—matching sedimentary facies at Cerro de la Cruz.

The builders used porous calcarenites, or soft limestones scarcely cemented comparable to modern “soft stones”. Extracting and moving stones weighing up to 150 tons from the quarry, with an average downhill slope of 22 degrees, would have required an extraordinary technical capacity and labor resources.

Additionally, the calcarenites are fragile and susceptible to water damage over time. To prevent deterioration, the dolmen was topped by an insulating burial mound of carefully stratified slabs and compacted earth.

The largest orthostatic slab, called Stone C-5, confirms the scale of this achievement. Weighing 149.59 tons, it is the heaviest stone component ever used in a Neolithic dolmen, and the second largest megalithic stone in Europe.

Located as the primary covering slab, its placement further highlights the advanced understanding of materials engineering by Late Neolithic societies. Additional woodworking technologies were surely required to extract and transport such massive yet fragile stones for nearly a kilometer.

Beyond identifying the Cerro de la Cruz quarries as the provenance and tracing logistics of transport, the research illuminates the immense planning, calculations, labor coordination and technical skill invested in constructing Menga.

While large megaliths are found at other Iberian sites, none approach Menga’s scale or employ equally enormous pieces of fragile sedimentary stones. Therefore this study places Menga among the most ambitious feats of megalithic engineering in European prehistory, a testament to the material ability and organizational ingenuity of late Neolithic societies in Iberian prehistory.


Sources

Rodríguez, J.A.L., Sanjuán, L.G., Álvarez-Valero, A.M. et al. The provenance of the stones in the Menga dolmen reveals one of the greatest engineering feats of the Neolithic. Sci Rep 13, 21184 (2023). doi.org/10.1038/s41598-023-47423-y


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