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Neolithic engineers built massive burial mound with 150-ton stones

The Menga dolmen, nestled near Antequera in Málaga, Spain, emerges as a testament to Neolithic prowess, according to a collaborative study involving archaeologists, geologists, and historians from multiple Spanish institutions. Published in Scientific Reports, the research harnessed cutting-edge technology to delve into the composition of the stones forming this burial site and unravel the mysteries surrounding the use of wood and rope in its construction.

Dating back approximately 5,700 years, the Menga dolmen stands as one of Europe's largest megalithic structures, strategically perched atop a hill. Constructed with colossal stones, some surpassing 100 tons, the burial mound posed intriguing questions about the origin and transportation of its components. Employing petrographic and stratigraphic analyses, the team unveiled that the stones primarily consisted of calcarenites, a delicate sedimentary rock known for its modern-day fragility. This fragility implies that transporting such stones without damage demanded a sophisticated level of engineering, challenging conventional notions.

(a) Geological map of tectonic jointing on DTM, showing the location of Menga and Viera and the likely quarrying areas at Cerro de la Cruz. (b) Stereographic representation of the groups of joints. (c) Overview of the tectonic fracturing present in quarry areas #2 and #3. (d) Groups of joints observed in Quarry #1. (e) Example of a possible discarded megalithic stone at Quarry #1. Credit: Scientific Reports (2023). DOI: 10.1038/s41598-023-47423-y

The endeavor of relocating and positioning these massive stones, especially the 150-ton capstone serving as the chamber's roof, necessitated meticulous planning and engineering ingenuity. The researchers assert that erecting these stones likely involved the use of scaffolds and ropes, while transportation required well-designed roads. The revelation of such advanced techniques underscores the elevated level of sophistication achieved by the ancient builders.

Beyond the structural aspects, the study illuminates the dolmen's intentional alignment with nearby mountains, creating intricate light patterns within the chamber. The researchers note that this intentional orientation served a purpose, unveiling the ancient architects' understanding of celestial dynamics. Furthermore, the burial ground showcased innovative stone placement at the chamber's edges, forming an interlocking pattern to divert water seepage and mitigate erosion—a testament to the early engineers' holistic approach in ensuring the monument's longevity.

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