The Talaiotic culture. | R.C.


When did civilisation start to destroy Mallorca? Was it from the moment that someone first set foot on Mallorcan land, whenever this was? Was human intervention an immediate catalyst for destruction?

For Myotragus balearicus, the Balearic goat-rat, humans were probably to blame rather than climate change. It became extinct around 3,000 BC, which roughly corresponds to when - subject to debate - there was permanent human settlement. The Mallorcan giant dormouse and the Balearic shrew suffered a similar fate. For millions of years, species such as these had survived. And then man came along.

While certain fauna might have suffered, flora - of an imported nature - were to thrive. At some point, the likes of olive trees became de facto indigenous, even though they were originally invasive. If there were now no olive trees in Mallorca and a proposal was made for their planting, it is likely that the environment ministry would have a screaming fit. What would become of biodiversity and habitats?

In general, ancient interventions were constructive rather than destructive, and construction was one aspect of this. The Talaiotic Culture is a vital part of Mallorca’s heritage, the clearest evidence of old civilisation. That settlements were destroyed owed a good deal to a process of recycling, and the same applied to Roman developments.

As an example, when the Catalans set about building the walls in Alcudia, they weren’t overly concerned with seeking to preserve remaining parts of the old Roman city of Pollentia. That stone work would do nicely, and it didn’t have to be transported any great distance. This was a form of circular economy in action.

A great deal was destroyed, but in cultural heritage terms - as viewed from the modern day - there was much that was positive. Cases can probably be made for all sorts of destruction over the centuries, but it wasn’t until comparatively recent times that the destruction became questionable or irresponsible.

Some of it continued to be benign. The drying-out of some of Albufera in the late nineteenth century was a necessity from a health point of view, while it also allowed cultivation. The later reclaiming was a different matter. Hectares of wetland disappeared as residential and tourism demands conspired to eventually create the City of Lakes, as the new resort was termed.

Around the same time as this development in Alcudia was taking shape, there was an extraordinary example of destruction, one that would be inconceivable now. A Talaiotic settlement was all but eliminated. This was Son Oms. By 1971, only one element survived, there having been the remains of some one hundred buildings at the turn of the twentieth century.

An archaeologist who was involved with excavation at the site in the 1960s said that it was “mercilessly destroyed”. And why? In order to make way for expansion of Son Sant Joan Airport. The fact that it had been declared a national monument in 1963 counted for absolutely nothing.

The needs of tourism and economic growth did for Son Oms, but its passing was as nothing compared with the coasts. “Balearisation” was a term coined for what happened in the development of resorts, and that development caused the loss of dunes, the conservation of which is nowadays a major environmental priority, not just because of habitats and biodiversity but also because of climate change.

I can never forget being shown photos of Can Picafort at the very end of the 1950s when sand tracks passed for roads and at the end of these tracks were dunes. Within a few years they had been flattened, removed and built on. This was not unique to Can Picafort.
Lax planning, indifference to the environment; these are two reasons cited for what happened.

Town halls adopted expansionist policies and were only too happy to accede to the wishes of developers. But behind this were two laws of 1880 and 1928, both to do with ports, and a 1969 Ley de Costas - Coasts Law. The latter failed to rectify the status of dunes systems that was implicit to the earlier ports laws.

Dunes were excluded from the category of the public domain. They could therefore be owned under the provisions of private property law and pretty much be used as owners saw fit.

Dunes were worthless from an agricultural point of view, but they had value for sand to be used for construction and for development. As urban planning regulations were in their infancy, as dunes were often privately owned, there was little to stop what happened.
Regulations can nowadays seem onerous and complex in the extreme, but it is understandable that they are, given past experience.

We enjoy the resorts, of course we do. There is no point in complaining about what happened, as it can’t be undone. Nevertheless, lessons have been well and truly learned. Reflecting on some five thousand years of human settlement, it is remarkable to think that it only took a few short years.