The S’Illot visitor centre opened to the public in summer 2010. Its opening was the culmination of a whole series of steps taken to restore and improve the site. These measures began in 2008, after 40 years of inactivity on the site.
The visitor centre features a summary of the prehistoric period in Mallorca through information boards, a scale model of the settlement and a virtual theatre where a scene of everyday life in the settlement can be seen. Today the centre is visited by many school groups from all over Mallorca, as well as associations, tourists and individual visitors.
VISITOR CENTRE PANELS
MALLORCA BEFORE S’ILLOT
The Talaiotic settlement of S’Illot was built in the late Bronze Age, but people had been living on Mallorca for a long time. The earliest settlement, dated around 2350 BC, was by groups of settlers from the north-east of the Iberian peninsula and the south of France. This culture, from the transition between the Chalcolithic and the Bronze Age, is characterised by the building of long houses inhabited by family groups. Its economy was based on livestock farming, though some cereals were also grown. The dead were buried in dolmens like that of S’Aigua Dolça or caves like that of Can Martorellet.
TALAIOTIC CULTURE (850 BC – 550 BC)
The end of the Bronze Age (1100-900 BC) was marked by a series of processes shown in the complex social, economic and ideological changes culminating in the emergence of the so-called Talaiotic culture, after the “talaiots” or tower structures typical of its settlements:
CONTROLLING THE TERRITORY FOR THE BENEFIT OF THE COMMUNITY
One of the primary concerns of the Talaiotic people was to mark and control the territory occupied by the community. This is when the countryside became dotted with a series of settlements that were visible to one another and allowed a watch to be kept on the whole area.
A NEW ARCHITECTURE FOR A NEW CULTURE
Talaiotic culture involved a spread in Cyclopean architecture (built with large blocks of dry stone) and the emergence of new buildings: talaiots or towers of different kinds, burial mounds, stepped platforms and ceremonial centres.
ARCHITECTURE: SYMBOL OF POWER AND STRENGTH
Monumental architecture became each community’s way of expressing its strength and power. It also served to reinforce social cohesion: the whole group took part in its construction, and several buildings had communal functions, as places for meeting, redistributing food, ceremonies and so on.
POST-TALAIOTIC CULTURE (550-123 BC)
TOWARDS POST-TALAIOTIC CULTURE
From about 550 BC a series of changes can be seen which affected Talaiotic culture deeply: new defensive structures like walls appeared in the settlements, domestic space was reorganised with more partitioning of rooms and the talaiots themselves were re-used.
Moreover, new types of architecture seem to have appeared, as well as new burial practices: group burials, burial in zoomorph coffins in caves and so on. All this might well have been due to the influence of other Mediterranean civilisations, such as the Carthaginians, who recruited their renowned Balearic slingers here, and this together with the import of new trade goods affected post-Talaiotic society in economic, social and ideological terms.
A SUDDEN END?
Despite these major changes, Talaiotic society may have met a sudden, violent end. This is indicated by the burnt remains of the structures at Talaiotic sites such as, for example, Son Oms, Son Fornés, Capocorb Vell, Son Serralta and the settlement of S’Illot itself.
A DIVERSE SOCIETY UNDER CARTHAGINIAN INFLUENCE
Post-Talaiotic society was substantially different from Talaiotic society, even though they lived in the same places. It was characterised by the appearance of dominant groups and by being a highly diverse society, both in the domestic sphere and in burial rituals or in pottery-making techniques.
THE END OF AN ERA
Post-Taliotic culture came to an end with the conquest of Mallorca by the Roman armies of Quintus Caecilius Metellus in 123 BC. Nevertheless, it was not until the mid-1st century BC that Roman influence began to be increasingly noticeable in the island community.
LIFE IN THE SETTLEMENT OF S’ILLOT
THE COMMUNITY: SOCIAL PRINCIPLES OF THE TALAIOTIC PEOPLE
Unlike in the Bronze Age, in which social relations were based on kinship links, in Talaiotic societies the community took on a leading role. This is shown in the strong visual impact of the Cyclopean structures (turriforms, talaiots and so on), in the enormous collective effort that went into building them and in the communal activities of a social and ideological nature that went on in them. In fact, in the settlements, including S’Illot, the differentiation between communal and domestic life is shown in the architectural make-up of the settlements.
TURRIFORMES AND TALAIOTS: CENTRES OF SOCIAL LIFE
Apart from their watch tower function and primary role as landmarks in the Talaiotic landscape, the great Cyclopean tower structures, like the stepped turriform or the round talaiots, hosted activities of a communal or social nature. For example, Talaiot I at Son Fornés has been interpreted as a place where meat was prepared and distributed for the whole community. Talaiot II at the same site has been interpreted as a place where meetings of a symbolic, religious or political nature were held by a group of people. At the stepped turriform structure at Son Ferrer ceremonial activities related to the use of plants with stimulant properties were documented.
THE HOME: CENTRE OF FAMILY LIFE
Apart from the Cyclopean structures, the settlement also contains a series of rooms where domestic activities went on: cooking, making tools and the like.
The habitations had sleeping areas, food preparation areas, usually around a hearth, and mixed areas where a range of domestic activities went on.
THE TALAIOTIC DIET
Everyday food was dominated by meat, basically from sheep, goats, pigs and cattle, complemented by cereals and wild root vegetables and fruit. Domestic animals were also used for milk to make cheese. Hunting, on the other hand, was an extra activity of little importance in the Talaiotic diet. From the sea, it seems that limpets and sea snails were gathered but no fishing of any kind went on.
CENTRAL ROUND PANEL
Stone tools in Talaiotic culture were restricted to three main groups: mortars, grinders and spherical hammerstones.
The mortars were often made of hollowed-out sandstone. They were small and primarily used for grinding food (acorns, roots) or mineral colourings (iron oxide).
Less common were the hand mills, with a fixed base and a moving grindstone, that were used with two hands to generate a friction movement to grind foodstuffs. Spherical hammerstones were used together with mortars to break things up. Occasional fragments of flint have been discovered, which may have been used to light fires or as cutters.
Bone industry in Talaiotic culture was much simpler than in previous periods. In most cases it was restricted to simple needle punches made from the diaphysis of long bones, with one end sharpened by friction. These tools were restricted to the domestic sphere and the activities carried on there, such as for example sewing animal skins.
METALWORKING: FROM SYMBOLIC TO USEFUL OBJECTS
In Talaiotic culture, metal objects lost the symbolic character they had in the late Bronze Age, to become tools for everyday use. Most of the objects are bronze, though some iron ones are found as well, probably brought by the Phoenicians.
The Talaiotic communities of Mallorca display a deeply-rooted shared tradition in pottery-making methods, though variations have been observed in this.
In most cases, the raw material comes from the seams of clay close to the settlement, mixed with calcite, a mineral “temper” to aid shaping, shorten drying time and prevent shrinkage and cracking during firing. On other cases, especially in the post-Talaiotic period, plant-based temper was also used.
SHAPING AND FIRING
After preparing the clay came shaping the piece. In most cases this consisted of coiling strips of clay and working them together. Once the piece had been shaped, it was left to dry and then the surface was finished off.
This was sometimes done by polishing. In other cases a tool was used which left wide parallel striations on the surface. Pottery was fired in open ovens that reached temperatures varying between 550 and 800 ºC. The characteristic dark colour of the pottery was created by reduction firing, which involves restricting the oxygen entering in the final stages of firing.
From the late 70s up to 2008 no archaeological work of any kind was done at the settlement. This led to the site falling into neglect, becoming little more than a dunghill. In 2008 Sant Llorenç des Cardassar local council decided to restore it as part of the project to turn the settlement of S’Illot into a tourist site; it was cleared, a route was laid out with walkways and information boards and the visitor centre was set up. Next, in 2012, archaeological work on the site was resumed after a 40-year gap. This goes on today. This work has restored, re-excavated and reinforced structures previously worked on, new ones have been excavated and much of the settlement has been cleared of loose stones, making it possible to unearth new, previously unknown areas. This work has been financed by Sant Llorenç des Cardassar local council and the Mallorca island authority with support from state subsidies – the 1.5% for culture from the Spanish ministry of public works – and from Europe, through the Regional Development Fund (ERDF). Restoration of the village, together with the archaeological work carried out since 2012, have made the settlement of S’Illot one of the top prehistoric sites in Mallorca at all levels.