Son Oms Field: The airport that destroyed a national monument | Culture


At the beginning of the 20th century, the great prehistoric ceremonial center of Son Oms in Palma (Majorca) It had a hundred buildings, including a sanctuary, three talayots (tower-shaped buildings), a 25-meter tumulus with tiers and circular corridors, an artificial grotto, a necropolis, a labyrinthor … In 1964, there were only about ten visible and, in 1971, one, the only one that archaeologists could save. It is now four decades since the destruction of the impressive Son Oms site, declared a national monument since 1963. His sin? It was where a track was projected from the Son Sant Joan airport. As much as the scientific community implored his salvation, the authorities had no mercy. Article The Son Oms site, an example of heritage destruction, published in the magazine Artyhum by the historical popularizer Domingo C. Hernández Jiménez, from the National Distance Education University (UNED), now recalls that disaster. “His fate was sealed,” he writes.

In the 4th century BC, a Talayotic community – a culture that established itself in the Balearic Islands some 3,000 years ago – settled in what are now lands within the municipality of Palma. They built a town (Som Oms Vell) and just one kilometer away, a great ceremonial complex (Som Oms). Such was the entity of the complex, that it survived until Roman times. However, during the Middle Ages, agriculture and the need for large blocks of stone made it a quarry for the area, but even so its enormous structures were visible until the beginning of the 20th century.

The settlers chose the place because, when they built the complex, it stood on the banks of a lagoon (dried up between the 19th and 20th centuries), which allowed them access to the resources of the Mediterranean. Between 1959 and 1964, it was excavated by archaeologists Guillem Rosselló Bordoy and Lluís Pericot i Garcia. The Joan March Foundation, to which the Palma City Council now wants to remove its street by virtue of the Law of Memory and Democratic Recognition, paid all the expenses. A decree of April 25, 1963, given its importance, declared it a Historic-Artistic Monument, the maximum possible protection, at the same level as any Gothic cathedral or Roman aqueduct.

Workers carrying the stones of the Talayotic sanctuary in Son Oms in the late sixties.
Workers carrying the stones of the Talayotic sanctuary in Son Oms in the late sixties.Museum of Mallorca

But in 1969 it was decided to expand the nearby Majorcan airport. The archaeologists then returned to the place and, given the refusal to change the layout of the new track, proposed its transfer. It was in vain. The devastated ceremonial center was dominated by a tumulus, a building 19 meters on a side and three heights – which was named for its configuration The labyrinth-, a sanctuary, two circular talayots and one square, and, at least, a necropolis with children’s burials.

The tumulus, for its part, consisted of a stepped building about 25 meters in diameter, with three tiers and four radial rooms attached to an interior circuit. It also contained a zigzag corridor and another building stood on top. In front of its access door, there was a courtyard with a well that led to a deep man-made cave with chambers. Burials were found everywhere, dating back to the 4th and 2nd centuries BC. As Roselló Bordoy wrote, “it would have a magical or ritual function, which over time lost its main function as a place of worship for the dead.”

The burials found inside corresponded to burials of adults with trousseau. In the access tunnel, eight corpses were found, while in the antechamber, five, “of which three were squatting, lying on their left side, without furniture, covered with earth and secured with large stones,” recalls Hernández Jiménez . In the first chamber there also appeared a ninth body buried in a supine position and surrounded by ceramic with a spear or arrowhead close to its hand.

An archaeologist numbers the stones of one of the walls of the sanctuary for their transfer.
An archaeologist numbers the stones of one of the walls of the sanctuary for their transfer. Museum of Mallorca

Three of the bodies were not buried when they died, so, according to experts, they could have died of violent or natural causes, possibly due to some type of epidemic. About 250 meters from them, a necropolis of infant burials was excavated, with bodies kept in stone urns and vessels. Roman and Balearic ceramics were also unearthed, as well as stilettos, punches and spatulas, mixed with loom weights, hand mills, as well as pieces of metal (bronze rings and appliques). The items were transferred to the Museum of Mallorca.

Archaeologists, given the planned destruction of the complex, only had time to excavate “a quarter of its surface, so they do not have all the information they could have contributed to fully clarify its function and use,” says Hernández Jiménez . “An attempt was made to proceed to a second stage of excavation campaigns and preservation with the transfer to another place, but it was not possible. Due to the weight of the stones and because many, when trying to transport them, cracked or broke, they gave up and the only thing that could be done was to change the location of the sanctuary. [ahora entre los ramales de la autopista de acceso al aeropuerto]. The rest of the complex disappeared forever, due to the institutional neglect of both the state and local administration, along with other archaeological elements, ”Hernández complains.

Two archaeologists transport the stones from the Son Oms sanctuary in Palma.
Two archaeologists transport the stones from the Son Oms sanctuary in Palma.Museum of Palma

The sanctuary, for its part, is a rectangular building with an irregular layout. It has a double wall, with an exterior facing with large blocks of sandstone and the interior is built with a low wall formed in courses. Its main facade measures 11.90 meters. Inside, there are six columns. Its function was religious, as a place of worship and sacrifice. According to the chronology provided by the excavation, the lower level corresponded to the indigenous-Roman period and the middle level around 50 AD, which is when it was abandoned, although it was reused in the second century AD. C.

In its interior, remains of ceramics from Roman times with graphites were found. These are pieces of Balearic ceramics, with a chronology that places them between the pre-Augustan era (50 BC, before Augustus ruled) and that of Nero (50 AD). These graphites corresponded to two Roman divinities, Jupiter and Mercury. According to the historian Maria Jose Pena, According to Hernández’s study, “the association of Jupiter and Mercury in the same sanctuary seems to lead us to Italic and / or Celtic environments, not indigenous or properly Roman”. None of this has been proven with the destruction.

The talayot, for its part, was close to the previous monuments. It was circular, with an entrance hall and a central column, with four adjoining rooms. Catalina Cantarellas was one of the archaeologists who excavated Son Oms in the 1960s. Now he remembers it: “Everything was destroyed without mercy. There were many internal complaints, but no one paid any attention to us. In the end, like a real paripe, some soldiers arrived with metal detectors to see if they could find any metallic element to save. They found, they said, nothing. I think the detectors were not working. It was very sad ”.

“Unfortunately, the visit of this complex in its entirety is impossible, since everything was destroyed during the seventies for the expansion of the airport. Given its importance, an attempt was made to modify the second runway project, but due to the null interest of the local and national authorities, and despite having the declaration of Historical-Artistic Monument, his fate was sealed “, concludes the disseminator.


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