If History is Written by the Winners?…

I have this sneaking suspicion that maybe…just maybe…I went too far with the “honesty thing” in my last blog post. “Why?” you ask, “Dan, what clue led to your ‘sneaking suspicion’?” It started yesterday afternoon Mediterranean time (US morning time). Rhett, Sunny, and I are hanging out on Hazel James and Rhett gets a video call from her sister Lamarr and niece Allie. Rhett didn’t have her ear buds handy so she put them on speaker. I’m elsewhere on Hazel and doing other things but still within earshot (how can you not be within earshot on a rainy day on a 31-foot boat?). After the pleasantries, I hear Rhett’s niece say (half jokingly and half seriously), “Aunt Rhett, blink twice if you are under duress.” (Sigh) Oh well, it’s all in the spirit of exorcising the beast.

If you read that last blog post and follow our satellite tracker (on the HJ Sailing home page), you may have wondered why we haven’t moved although I said we were on the eve of sailing for mainland Italy. Well, our old buddy Poseidon must have read the post as well and decided that Rhett and I (and Sunny) needed some more “alone time” together. As soon as I published the post, I started my procedure of readying Hazel to sail. While Ox (Hazel’s diesel engine) has been nearly flawless on our odyssey, I had done some maintenance to her fuel system a couple days ago and wanted to run him for 10-minutes as part of my prep. Poseidon must have been watching (and giggling) because, although Ox fired up without problems, seawater was not exiting our her tailpipe as it should. So my next hour was spent patching up Ox’s seawater pump while Poseidon belly-laughed. Then, I set my alarm for a 3 a.m. wake-up as I wanted to get an early start sailing. I woke the next morning at 2:50 a.m. on my own steam and adrenaline, excited at the prospect of sailing, only to find absolutely no wind blowing—ahhh Poseidon again and the Med. Long story short, in the early-morning darkness and quiet, with Rhett and Sunny sleeping soundly in their berths, I looked through all the online weather models again and searched the skies and decided that we should wait a day or two to depart. This weekend’s forecast was scheduled for rain, thunderstorms, and wind up and down and all around. The good news is that it gives us a couple days to catch up on some things including this blog post and do a better job repairing Ox’s seawater pump. From a blog perspective, it’s a chance for me to lighten things up a bit and cover my honesty-tracks at the same time 😉

Let’s lighten things up with a little travelogue!…

Up until a couple weeks ago I had never thought too much about the words “prehistory” or “prehistoric” as it relates to humans. I guess to me it always seemed to me like the term “prehistoric” was all about dinosaurs and whatnot and then—all of the sudden—we’re presented with written human history, maybe not in a language we are accustomed to and maybe there are a lot of unsolved mysteries but at least something is written down! Yes, of course I knew that humans were around prior to written language but it seemed so remote, so distant, so abstract—nothing that I would ever see with my own eyes or touch with my own fingers.

All that changed for me as we approached the island of Menorca from Mallorca under a brilliant (but windless) blue sky (yes, Ox was chugging away and pushing us along as we motored the 30 nm between the islands).

Leaving Mallorca in our stern wake, bound for Menorca.

We had decided to visit the town of Cuidadela on Menorca’s western coast and as we motored along and I was reclining in the cockpit and reading our pilot book about the island (like a nautical travel guide). I ran across the sentences, “…Cuidadela is a town oozing antiquity and interest on every side. This is also a good base to explore the bronze-age talayotic megalith sites around the island.” Rhett was at Hazel’s helm and keeping her eye on a couple other boats in the area, I read the paragraph to her and added, “Are you familiar with the words ‘talayotic’ or ‘megalith’?” She wasn’t. We were without internet access at the time and pieced together that “megalith” must be related to “monolith” to connote enormous size in several pieces. “Talayotic,” however remained a mystery to us until we made landfall and could look it up on the internet.

Looking west across Cuidadela’s harbor (Hazel James to the far left on the first dock with the turquoise sail covers).
Enjoying our first evening in the historic town (after we had cleaned up in the marina’s showers!).
The Mediterranean town was just stunning at night.

After we tucked into the Cuidadela marina and did some research, we discovered that Menorca has the highest density of registered prehistoric sites in the world and that
“Talayotic Menorca” refers to the period from 1500 BC to 100 BC. While the first settlers came to Menorca around 2300 BC, it would be another 800 years or so (1500 BC) before they started building permanent settlements and erecting megalithic taulas (Catalan for “table”), taliots (large round stone structures), and excavating caves to bury their dead. We were both enchanted by the prospect of visiting these sites and arranged to rent a car for a couple days to tour the Talayotic settlements. We started at the excellent Museu de Menorca that had a wonderful collection with both Spanish, Catalan, and English annotations. While neither of us have ever been to Stonehenge (yet), we found our couple days in Menorca to be life-changing. It was awe inspiring to walk through these prehistoric settlements and wonder not only how the inhabitants constructed these monuments and caves, but also marvel at the energy, time, and resources it would take and therefore the importance of higher powers, the afterlife, and central meeting places to their culture.

Rhett and Sunny walking through 3,000 year old archway on the way to the first talayotic settlement we toured. Crazy.
The first “taula” we toured (Catalan for “table”). Note the surrounding stone pillars. There are always 12 1/2 of them around a taula, most likely for the 12+ moons (months) per year (see Further Reading below if you are interested in learning more).
A dwelling.
Caves (partially natural, partially excavated by the inhabitants).
Me looking out the cave.
It’s a mystery if the prop on this taula was original or added after, to stabilize it.
Rhett conquering some claustrophobia.
Me on the edge of total consciousness.
A talayotic settlement on a headland of the north coast of Menorca (and looking north, out over the Mediterranean).
The concave stone that looks like a saddle must have been a grinding stone for milling grain. It was wild to touch it and feel it and think about what had happened there.
A view from the same settlement but looking south, back to the island of Menorca and the the modern-day town of Cala Morrell. Archeologists think the settlement was located on the narrow headland so the inhabitants could better defend themselves.
The Naveta d’es Tudons, a communal burial place. It’s arguably the oldest building in all of Europe!
Amazing days.
Most every settlement had its own taula (per previous caption, note the surrounding pillars).
Archeologists think the taulas were constructed by bunting earthen and gravel inclined planes, rolling the monolithic stones on logs, up the ramps, then removing the ramps.

As we scrambled through stone arches, and in and out of caves, we found ourselves talking in reverent and hushed tones. We thought about that old quote that has so many variants, “History is written by the winners.” It got us thinking that, if that was the case, then what about prehistory—who writes that? I guess by definition it is not written (otherwise it would be history). However, it clearly seems like prehistory is “written” by those with the best and longest-lasting monuments.

Months ago, in Sines, Portugal (south of Lisbon on the Atlantic coast), we had toured the ruins of a Roman fish processing operation from 100 BC. At the time, we had thought that was old. Now, in Menorca we were walking through settlements had had been abandoned for hundreds of years before. It was dizzying. Still, as a species Homo sapiens have been on the earth for 200,000 years and our distant ancestors began walking upright six million years ago. That makes a 3,500 year old talayotic settlement a drop in the bucket. It was (and still is) a lot to think about—especially given how we had reached the island by boat as the first settlers did.

Fair winds and following seas! We hope to depart Stintino, Sardinia for Gaeta, mainland Italy—Poseidon willing—tomorrow (Monday, September 26). We’ll probably have a bit of wind for the sail (we call it “sporty”) but it should be all behind us and were thinking (hoping?) that’s better than no wind at all (that we have today).

PS: If you’d like to do some further reading on the subject, here are some starting points…
Museu de Menorca
Good Wikipedia entry

4 thoughts on “If History is Written by the Winners?…

  1. I’m really enjoying reading your blogs. It’s especially nice to see pics of you and Rhett exploring the world and hearing of your adventures along the way. Be safe. Godspeed.

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