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ARCHAEOLOGY

Drought reveals long lost ‘Spanish Stonehenge’ in Extremadura reservoir

This year's drought may be a nightmare for farmers, but for archaeology buffs it has an unexpected silver lining.

Drought reveals long lost 'Spanish Stonehenge' in Extremadura reservoir
Photos by Rubén Ortega Martín / Raíces de Peralêda

As waters in a reservoir outside Peraleda de la Mata in Cáceres receded, a circle of megalithic standing stones emerged from the deep.

The stones, that date from the second and third millennium BC, form the site of a sun temple on the banks of the River Tagus and were last seen by locals six decades ago before the area was flooded during the Franco-era to create a reservoir.

Excited locals have been making trips out to view the stones that had formed a part of local legend.

“We grew up hearing about the legend of the treasure hidden beneath the lake and now we finally get to view them,” Angel Castaño told the Local.

“There certainly may have been treasures buried beneath the stones once upon a time, but for us now, the treasures are the stones themselves.”

Now, he is leading the race against time to preserve the site before the rains come.

The collection of 144 stones, some of which reach two metres high and have engravings of serpents, are arranged in circles, but like Stonehenge, it is unclear exactly who put them there and for what purpose.

“The site would have been created over thousands of years, using granite transported from kilometres away,” explained Castaño, who is part of the Raíces de Peralêda cultural association fighting to save the stones.

“Like Stonehenge, they formed a sun temple and burial ground. They seemed to have a religious but also economic purpose, being at one of the few points of the river where it was possible to cross, so it was a sort of trading hub.”

The stones began to emerge from the receding waters earlier this summer and now stand on dry land, for now.

“We have had no rain this summer, so the drought but also a policy of extracting water to send to Portugal has combined to lower the water table and reveal the stones. But that can all change very quickly.”

Castaño is leading a group of local residents campaigning to move the stones to a site on dry land before the waters rise again and they are lost.

“If we miss this chance it could be years before they are revealed again,” he explained. “And the stones, which are granite and therefore porous, are already showing signs of erosion and cracking, so if we don't act now it could be too late.”

He hopes that the regional government of Extremadura will step in to move the stones within weeks to a nearby site, that can then put the zone on the tourist map.

“There are already lots of reasons to come to this part of Spain but there is very little tourism,” Castaño said. “This could be the kick start that the region needs to bring tourism to the area.”

The Romans were the first to value the site which was then left neglected until Hugo Obermaier, a German priest and archaeologist enthusiast visited it in the 1920s.

He excavated the site and took whatever treasures could be moved back to Germany where they are displayed in a museum in Munich.

But the stones themselves were left in situ and disappeared beneath a reservoir when a dam was built in 1963.

“It isn't a difficult thing to move them, we have machinery now to do that,” said Castaño. “Let's just hope that there is the political will to save them while we can.”

A change.org petition is collecting signatures calling for the monument to be saved, if you want to lend your support  CLICK HERE. 

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HISTORY

Why Spain is still in the wrong time zone because of Hitler

As Spain again prepares to put the clocks forward on Saturday night, we look at the fascinating reasons why the country has been in the wrong time zone for the last 75 years, the possible effects of this historical blip on Spanish society, and why there's still no sign of it changing.

Nazi leader German Chancellor Adolf Hitler (R) shakes hands with Spanish Generalísimo Francisco Franco at Hendaye train station on the French-Spanish border in October 1940. (Photo by AFP)
Nazi leader German Chancellor Adolf Hitler (R) shakes hands with Spanish Generalísimo Francisco Franco at Hendaye train station on the French-Spanish border in October 1940. (Photo by AFP)

Why is Spain in the wrong time zone?

Madrid lies directly south of London. Spain is geographically in line with the UK and Portugal. It makes sense, then, that Spain was in the Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) zone until around 75 years ago.

But that all changed in 1940. With Nazi Germany occupying Belgium, Holland, and recently invading France, Spain’s own facist dictator, Francisco Franco, travelled to the French border to meet with Hitler, the man he and many other believed would go on to dominate Europe.

The momentum was clearly with the Nazis, at the time, and Italy had already pledged its support to Hitler. Although he wanted the same from Spain, Franco, however, didn’t have much to offer. With the country ravaged by its own recent Civil War – in which Franco’s victory was heavily supported by Hitler –  Franco felt obliged to make a gesture of some sort.

Although ultimately remaining neutral in the war, Franco decided to show his support for Hitler by agreeing to put Spain’s clocks forward by an hour in an act of solidarity with Nazi Germany. 

Spain has remained in the Central European Time zone ever since, in line with countries as far east as Poland. That means that Madrid currently has the same time as Warsaw in Poland 2,290km away but is one hour ahead of Lisbon which is only 502 km away. 

The consequences of Spain being in the wrong time zone

But Franco’s decision all those years ago isn’t just a quirk of Spanish history, or testament to the extent to which the legacy of that period still looms over Spanish society, it was a decision that, experts say, has had a lasting impact on Spanish culture and society that underpins everything from Spaniard’s sleep cycles and meal times to the country’s birth rates and economic growth.

In recent years there have been calls to make the switch back to GMT because many believe the time zone quirk is affecting Spaniard’s productivity and quality of life. In 2013 a Spanish national commission concluded that Spaniards sleep almost an hour less than the European average, and that this led to increased stress, concentration problems, both at school and work, and workplace accidents.

Some experts believe this explains the Spanish dependence on siestas – that is, that the lack of sleep makes them necessary – but in reality the siesta has been a consistent feature of Spanish life for centuries for many of the same reasons it still is today: in southern Spain, the fierce summer temperatures make it necessary to stay at home during the afternoon. 

Spain's most famous clock is the Puerta del Sol in central Madrid. Photo: Jorge Franganillo/Flickr
Spain’s most famous clock is at the Puerta del Sol in central Madrid. Photo: Jorge Franganillo/Flickr

One effect of the siesta however is that the break in the day means Spaniards work the most hours in Europe yet at one of the continent’s lowest levels of productivity. A lack of sleep contributes to siesta taking which, in turn, means Spaniards work later into the evening and could partly explain Spain’s notoriously nocturnal lifestyles and late meal times. 

Despite the country running on CET, Spaniards’ eating patterns roughly mirror GMT. Many Spaniards eat lunch at what would be 1 or 1.30pm in London (the traditional 2 or 2.30pm in Spain) and dinner at a reasonable 8pm in London (but 9pm or even 10pm as is customary in many parts of Spain).

Making the change and returning to GMT would, according to Nuria Chinchilla, professor at Spain’s IESE business school, help Spaniards “return to the natural order of our circadian rhythm (our 24-hour physiological cycle) that goes with the sun… and the sun in Greenwich, not Germany”.

“If we don’t (change to GMT) we lengthen the day, eat very late and then don’t sleep,” she added.

Why hasn’t Spain moved to the right time zone yet?

The debate about which time zone Spain belongs in was reinvigorated following recent proposals at the EU level to scrap entirely the daylight savings custom. 

In 2018 the EU Commission announced a proposal to abolish the custom after polling showed that 80 percent of Europeans are in favour of staying permanently on summer time.This debate naturally had many in Spain wondering about whether they were in the right time zone.

But owing to a combination of the COVID-19 pandemic, Brexit, and various other bureaucratic difficulties, the proposal was shelved. Member states cannot decide unilaterally on the question of daylight savings, but they can decide which timezone they want to be in. 

Spain has had various commissions over the years exploring the impact of daylight savings and timezones, but no concrete proposals over a return to GMT have ever been made, despite the benefits experts claim it could bring.

Although the government’s focus has been drawn by more pressing issues in recent years – and the issue of time and daylight savings shelved at the European level – expect discussion of whether Spain is actually even in the right time zone this weekend when the clocks do go back, or if the linked issue of daylight savings is eventually taken off the shelf at the European level.

Article by Conor Faulkner

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