Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Ancient Secrets: Mallorca's archaeology

European Cultural Routes Transfer Experiences Share Solutions. A very long title that is abbreviated to CERTESS and which refers to "an inter-regional project prepared by twelve regional partners of ten European countries, financed by the European Regional Development Fund and implemented under the INTERREG IVC programme". God, how the EU loves its meaningless acronyms.

To try and make sense of what this means, it is a project to establish a common framework for developing cultural routes, combining "good and best practices and governance instruments to formulate ten route implementation plans, all targeted to foster sustainable cultural tourism in their reference areas". No, this doesn't really help, does it.

Whatever it all means, the Balearics Tourism Agency is party to it. The agency is one of the partners. And it has dragged the Balearics environment ministry into a sustainable CERTESS project. Yes, there is a new initiative to tackle tourism seasonality while at the same time being environmentally correct and sustainably touristic. It is a pilot plan to create an archaeological tourism route.

What one assumes this doesn't entail is tourists being invited to come to Mallorca, get down on all fours and start rummaging around in archaeological digs. Being a rummager requires more than just an ability to be like a dog digging up a bone. You have to take courses on rummaging. No, what it appears to be is a way of giving what already exists a different name. A route name. Mallorcan and Spanish tourism loves its routes as much as the EU loves its acronyms. Routes for wine, routes for culture, routes for religion, routes no doubt for roots.

There have, however, been rummaging tourists. Son Real near Can Picafort has established something of a trend in this regard. American archaeology students have been invited to volunteer to spend summers at the finca with its ancient burial sites. And they have come, filling a gap of discovery that has lamentably been created by regional governmental indifference to this gem of pre-history and of Mallorca's antiquity.

Indifference or not, the government's tourism agency wishes to further promote Son Real and other archaeological sites on Mallorca and the rest of the Balearics. Which is a laudable enough aim, but one that raises the question as to what the agency and government have been doing to promote all this archaeology up until now. There is a lot of archaeology on Mallorca, a lot of important and ancient sites, but many of them have, for tourism purposes, been largely ignored.

The best known and most developed of the sites is the old Roman city of Pollentia in Alcúdia. It most certainly has been promoted but even it doesn't receive (or hasn't received) the attention which it should do. Not so long ago, I was asked to supply an English translation of the various parts of the site - the Forum, the Theatre and so on. Was this the first time that a detailed explanation had been made available? I wasn't aware of there having been one previously.

Mallorca doesn't have a history that places it in the same league of for example Crete when it comes to ancient Mediterranean culture. The island was not a great cradle of civilisation, but it is nevertheless important in fostering a better understanding of that culture, both pre-Roman and post-Roman. Pollentia reinforces what is very well known of Roman times in general, but it also has secrets yet to be revealed about the period after the Romans left, new surveys casting doubt on the accepted wisdom regarding Pollentia's fate. Specifically, there is a Byzantine-style wall which is reckoned to date from the fifth century. If this is so, then this may change that accepted wisdom, i.e. that the Byzantines didn't appear until the following century and that Pollentia was not abandoned when the Vandals arrived.

But it is the older pre-history which is in many ways more important. There is still plenty of inexactitude which surrounds the origins of the ancient Talayotic sites and only hypotheses as to what existed on Mallorca before these. When was Mallorca genuinely settled by human occupation? It is thought that there would have been people on the island from the fifth or even sixth millennium before Christ, but that they did not settle. They were only transient. But little is understood of this transient population. Of the later established population there is a wide variance in times given to sites, even those which are close together, such as the necropolis at Son Real and the dolmen in Son Bauló, itself only now being shown a certain amount of official respect.

The idea for an archaeology route is a good one. But it is something which needs to be backed up by genuine support for the efforts being made to reveal the island's ancient secrets.

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